Jack Layton’s budget two-step

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
Sun Media, Friday, January 28, 2011

Tom Mulcair just got his chain yanked by his leader, Jack Layton.

Mulcair, the NDP finance critic, mused on Wednesday it would be “highly unlikely” for the Dippers to support a budget that included “blind, across the board (corporate) tax cuts.”

These would be the corporate tax cuts currently opposed by the Liberals, even though the Grits didn't oppose them in 2007 and which, when fully implemented in 2012, will have cut the rate to 15%, lowest in the G7.

It’s highly unlikely, Mulcair allowed, “that the NDP caucus would ever vote for such a budget.”

Never mind that the cuts have already been legislated, and won’t be in the March budget. Michael Ignatieff is voting against them anyway, stealing the NDP’s thunder on the left.

Since making the rich pay has always been an NDP mantra, Mulcair was articulating his party’s annoyance with the Libs stealing a page from the socialist playbook.

But on Thursday, Layton took a longer view.

“Now you’re into a world of probabilities when you use words like ‘unlikely,’ ” he said during a break from a caucus retreat in Ottawa.

He went on: “You always have to look at the whole budget. There’s a great many things that could be there.”

Having reined in his own finance critic, Layton fired a broadside at Iggy:

“Unfortunately, Mr. Ignatieff, I don’t know why he did this, but he went and allowed and supported a (2007) budget bill that locked in a multi-year phase-in of the corporate tax cuts so that they probably won’t even appear in the budget now, so he’s campaigning against something that he supported. That I can’t understand.”

In other words, it’s your hobby horse, Iggy, you ride it. I’ve got my own shopping list for the budget.

“We want to get results and if we close the door to any opportunity to making Parliament work, we are not in the game,” Layton said. “We are not engaged.”

Jim Flaherty just got himself a date for the budget dance. And in this minority House, the government needs only one dance partner to pass the budget.

With the Bloc holding out for $5 billion of boodle for Quebec, including $2.2 billion to harmonize the federal and provincial sales taxes, the price of a deal with the NDP just went up.

But rescinding corporate tax cuts is a complete non-starter. No government can ever allow itself to get rolled like that. And Layton knows it.

“We’ve put forward a whole series of suggestions,” Layton said.

Most of them for less fortunate Canadians, such as topping up the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Or dropping the GST/HST on home heating fuel, which would help those having a tough time getting through this long winter.

From Morocco, where he launched bilateral free trade talks, Stephen Harper said he is “very interested in hearing from the opposition on any particular measures that would help the Canadian economy, and obviously we are listening very carefully in that regard.”

The prime minister also noted: “I think the Canadian people don’t want an election. I think there is no reason for an election.”

The NDP should be careful not to overplay their hand. But Layton’s got the balance of power, and he’s about to take it out for a spin. Move over, Mulcair.

 
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