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New jobless numbers expose the utter inadequacy of the Harper budget

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When the terrible Canadian job loss numbers for January came out yesterday, the horror of the economic crisis hit home as it had not before. The Canadian figures were worse than those in the United States. Canada lost 129,000 jobs last month, compared to 598,000 jobs south of the border. Ontario was hit with the loss of another 71,000 jobs. The manufacturing sector is not simply being hit. It is being devastated.

What the numbers make clear is the utter inadequacy of the Harper government's budget. Ottawa's plan, which involves direct spending of only about $6 billion this year and the same amount next year is not nearly enough to lift our $1.5 trillion economy out of the downward spiral in which it is caught. Last month alone, Canada lost twice as many jobs as the government's whole stimulus package will create. And the numbers in future months, as even Stephen Harper acknowledges, will continue to be bad.

When confronted with the numbers and the demand to do more, Harper's reaction was that "we cannot have in Parliament, quite frankly, instability every week and every month, every time there's a new number, people demanding a different plan..."

Hard luck, he's saying to the opposition parties, and much more importantly, that's what he's saying to Canadians. South of the border, meanwhile, where proportionately the rising toll of job losses was less severe that in Canada last month, there is a president who does understand the scale of the crisis and what it means for people and their communities.

In Ottawa, we have no such good fortune, politically. We have a government that did the little it did in the budget because it was forced to do it. The leading members of the government still cling to their Friedmanite delusion that cutting interest rates and letting wage rates fall ought to be enough to turn the nation's economy around. Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty are not much different from the large majority of Congressional Republicans who refuse to vote for the Obama administration's stimulus package. Antediluvian and proud of it...

In Canada, though, despite the Conservative government's minority status, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff blew it when he had the chance. He could have brought down the government and formed a new one in coalition with the NDP, a government that could have come up with a program that suited our times. The program could have created jobs on the needed scale and could have pointed our economy down the road, not only to recovery from the present crisis, but toward the renewal of our manufacturing sector around the theme of sustainability. The centerpiece could have been the rebuilding of Canada's transportation equipment sector -- automobiles, trains, urban public transit and aircraft -- to meet the needs of this century.

But Ignatieff would have none of it. Instead of leading the country in its time of need, he asked for report cards, more than one, to be fair to him. He said the Liberals would watch the performance of the government like "hawks."

Just what will Michael Ignatieff, the Hawk, do in coming months, as the layoffs continue? He could ask for even more reports from the Conservatives, I suppose. That would put a few people to work, churning them out.

The Hawk had his chance. At his press conference last week, the Hawk pulled the trigger and out came a little flag that read "I am a Liberal in a land of Liberals." Harper's back in charge and he knows it. He shrugged off a Liberal hint yesterday that if the jobless toll continues to rise, the party might force additional spending in June. Harper faced down the Hawk when the threat was serious. He's not likely to be stampeded by the sight of his feathered foe next time.

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