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This article was published 9/4/2011 (3817 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Conservatives were forced to defend their new election platform Saturday from opponents who derided it as a fiscal fantasy that sugar-coats the bitter reality of impending budget cuts.
Other parties heaped ridicule on the Tory promise to not only erase the deficit a year early -- in 2014 -- but to do it while handing huge tax breaks to two-income families and also ramping up health-care spending.
Their plan relies on cuts to the federal budget that would reach $4 billion annually, following a review of program spending dubbed the most comprehensive since the mid-1990s. It's unclear where the slicing and dicing would occur.
The Tories promise it won't be a painful exercise. They say their target -- which amounts to a five per cent clawback in Ottawa's $80 billion in annual program spending -- should be easily achieved.
But while Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a day off to watch his son play volleyball, his opponents served up a number of examples of programs that could suffer.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff pegged the value of the cuts, added up over four years, at $11 billion. He said they would "have a devastating effect on the capacity of the Government of Canada to serve our citizens."
"Eleven billion dollars is slash and burn," said Ignatieff. "And what matters here is, who's going to get hurt? Immigrant services will get hurt. (Employment Insurance) might get hurt. Investment in education. And, above all, health care.
"And it's not just that they'll have a devastating effect on government. They undermine the credibility of this regime as managers."
The government inherited a large surplus five years ago and continued to insist it could keep the books balanced, even as late as December 2008, before tabling a record deficit one month later.
It then announced a cost-cutting exercise in the 2009 federal budget, led by then-treasury board president Stockwell Day, which met with limited success.
Now the Tory platform promises cuts of $1 billion in 2012, $2 billion in 2013, and a total of $4 billion in subsequent years.
"This will not be a painful exercise," the Conservatives said in a statement. "We absolutely will not cut transfers to provinces or individuals. On the other hand, the Liberal government of the (1990s) cut $25 billion in health-care funding to the provinces."
The upcoming round of cuts was announced in the recent federal budget -- but while the savings have not yet been identified, they are now taken for granted in the Tories' fiscal projections.
A few minutes after releasing their platform this week, the Harper Tories then added another expensive promise: They would continue ramping up health-care spending by six per cent a year -- about $2 billion annually -- after the current federal-provincial health accord expires in 2014.
"I'm speechless," Ignatieff told a news conference. "Seventeen days ago, we had some numbers. And hey, presto! Seventeen days later, whoops, we've got a whole set of new numbers. Go figure. This attacks their basic credibility as a government -- as managers."
Ignatieff has been railing for two weeks against what he calls Conservative spending priorities on jets, jails and corporate tax cuts. He's now mocking Harper's assertion the purchase of F-35 fighter jets will come in on budget.
Some analysts say the Liberal platform also contains a fiscal hole that could hide several billion dollars.
The Liberals claim their promises are fully costed, citing increased revenues from raising the corporate tax rate back to the 2010 level of 18 per cent.
Some economists dispute the Liberals' estimate the move will boost revenues by $3 billion in the first year, $5.2 billion in the second and by $6 billion in the following years.
The NDP says neither of the two other parties is blameless. Leader Jack Layton told a Saskatoon audience that the Conservatives will hurt Canadians' quality of life with budget cuts -- but aren't informing voters what those cuts will be.
As for the Liberals, he said, they have a history of making painful budget cuts.
-- The Canadian Press