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Michael Ignatieff should focus on the economy, not on the politics of the budget

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Yesterday, after reviewing the Conservative budget, Michael Ignatieff posed a very perceptive question: "My concerns about the budget are have they underestimated the seriousness of the crisis? That affects all the numbers. If they make that judgment wrong, pretty well everything goes south, including their deficit projections."

The truth is, and I am sure that Ignatieff understands this, the Conservatives have underestimated the seriousness of the crisis. The stimulus, through direct government spending, that is offered in the budget, is far too puny to lift an economy with a GDP of $1.5 trillion a year. Instead of about $6 billion a year in direct spending, Canada needs roughly $50 billion a year this year and again next year.

That's the hard fact about this budget. It's what the Liberal leader needs to focus on when he addresses the nation this morning at 11.00 a.m. EST.

Especially in the cloistered environs of Ottawa, it is very difficult for political leaders to remember what is happening to Canadians and their communities during this economic crisis. Surrounded by the jaded, cynical figures of the media in the capital, who have become as frozen as the gargoyles on the Centre Block, a politician can be forgiven for losing track of reality.

In the short-term, enormous pressures are being brought to bear on Ignatieff to support the Harper government budget, perhaps with some amendments. The problem is that as hundreds of thousands of Canadians lose their jobs in coming months and as communities lose their major employers, reality is going to come home to Canadian political leaders. The economic crisis is real, even though the Ottawa media are treating it as though it is a parlor game about which political leader is more strategically gifted than his foes.

If Michael Ignatieff keeps his eye on the country and the actual problems of Canadians, he can get this one right. We'll see later this morning.

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