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This article was published 22/3/2011 (3903 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- So much for a budget olive branch.
The Harper government, which tried to barter for NDP budget support, could fall as early as Thursday, with all three opposition leaders thumbing their noses at the Conservatives' latest fiscal blueprint.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the budget took no steps to dial back billions of dollars in spending on prisons, fighter jets or corporate tax cuts, leaving a "black hole" in the budget for Canadian families.
"Like I promised, I said I would read the budget and I have done so," Ignatieff said. "And we find that the priorities of this government are not the priorities of ordinary Canadians."
Ignatieff's rejection was expected. So was that of Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe.
But NDP Leader Jack Layton had left the door open for his party to support the budget if the government met four key demands.
The budget touched on three of them -- increasing the guaranteed income supplement (GIS), extending a popular home energy retrofit incentive and offering more money to help Canadians access doctors and nurses.
But the olive branch wasn't long enough for Layton, and instead of NDP support, there came the opening salvo in what will be the fourth federal election in seven years.
"Mr. Harper had an opportunity to address the needs of hard-working, middle-class Canadians and families and he missed that opportunity," Layton said. "He just doesn't get it."
Layton wanted a $700-million increase in the GIS to bring all Canadian seniors at least to the poverty line. The government responded with a $312-million increase, which will add a maximum of $70 to the monthly income of seniors who receive less than $370 a month.
He said the budget's promise to forgive up to $40,000 in student loans for doctors and up to $20,000 for nurses who practise in rural or remote regions does not meet his demand to train and hire 1,200 new doctors and 6,000 new nurses nationwide.
"I want to build a Canada where no senior lives in poverty, a Canada where no family has to go without a doctor, a Canada where every Canadian can retire with dignity. Clearly, Mr. Harper doesn't."
Conservatives expressed surprise at the outright rejection of their budget, but say they are absolutely prepared to fight an election on it.
"This is a budget I think Canadians will be satisfied with," said Manitoba MP Shelly Glover, parliamentary secretary for finance.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he listened to the NDP and feels his budget walked the difficult line of appeasing opposition demands without breaking the bank or putting the plan to eliminate the deficit on ice.
"Its cornerstone is strong fiscal management," Flaherty said of his budget.
The Conservatives seemed to be trying to get a repeat of the NDP budget support of 2005. That spring, Layton propped up the minority Liberal government after then-prime minister Paul Martin agreed to add $4.6 billion in new social spending to the budget. The Liberals were down in the polls in the wake of the sponsorship scandal and wanted to avoid an election.
Flaherty had far less money to play with, and his party -- unlike Martin's Liberals -- is still ahead in the polls. His offerings to the NDP totalled a little more than $700 million a year.
The first budget vote is expected Thursday but the government could delay it. If that happens, it's widely expected the government will fall Friday when the Liberals bring in a motion of non-confidence in the government, alleging Harper is unaccountable, untrustworthy and undemocratic.
Either would likely result in a May 2 election.
Most MPs left Parliament Hill on Tuesday expediting plans to find campaign offices and comfortable walking shoes, knowing they will likely be hitting the election trail by week's end.
"We're ready," Winnipeg South Centre Liberal MP Anita Neville said.