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The Conservatives haven't a clue

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As the Canadian economic crisis deepens with new layoff announcements every day, with the economy shrinking, and with Canadians anxious about their own future and the future of their communities, the Harper government still has not figured out how serious things have become.

On the eve of the budget, we already knew enough to say that what the Harper government will unveil tomorrow will not be remotely sufficient to stem the loss of jobs and to put Canada on the path to sustainable recovery.

The Conservatives have announced that over the next two years the Government of Canada will have a $64 billion deficit, $34 billion this year and $30 billion next year. At least half of this deficit flows directly from the tax cuts the Harper government has already made. As for stimulus -- the injection of new direct government spending into the economy -- we are to have precious little of that.

At a news conference yesterday John Baird, the minister in charge of infrastructure, announced that the government will announce at least $7 billion in new infrastructure spending in tomorrow's budget. The minister broke down the elements of the program as follows: $4 billion for infrastructure projects to be carried out by provinces, territories and municipalities; $2 billion for repairs and new construction of universities and colleges; and $1 billion for green infrastructure projects.

Although he seemed confused about the details, the minister said that this spending is to take place this year and next. If this were to occur -- and remember that most of the infrastructure spending announced by the Harper government in its last budget never materialized -- we are talking of spending of about $3.5 billion a year.

To put numbers like this on the table to relaunch an economy with a $1.5 trillion GDP is a bad joke. This level of stimulus would do next to nothing to turn the economy around.

Are the Conservatives really proposing to leave it up to the Obama administration to provide the stimulus to pull the Canadian as well as the American economy out of the doldrums? That's what the puny numbers Ottawa has released so far would indicate.

Today, when we get the full budget, the key will be the overall number for direct government spending. Without direct federal government spending of at least $50 billion in 2009 and again in 2010 ($50 billion is about three per cent of Canada's GDP), Ottawa's efforts will leave Canadians floundering in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

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