NDP 'unlikely' to support budget, favours coalition

GLORIA GALLOWAY,  From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Representatives of the federal NDP met with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty late yesterday but walked away unconvinced that his forthcoming budget would prompt them to abandon their desire to form a coalition government with the Liberals.

"He gave us a hearing, he was very polite and courteous and welcomed our suggestions. But I didn't get any real sense from him that he was really buying into what we think is absolutely essential for Canadians at this time of economic crisis," Judy Wasylycia-Leis, an NDP MP from Winnipeg, said after the meeting with the Finance Minister.

Thomas Mulcair, the deputy NDP leader, and Ms. Wasylycia-Leis told reporters earlier in the day that they expected the stimulus package included in the budget to amount to about 2 per cent of Canada's GDP - or $30-billion.

That money must be used to preserve jobs, said Mr. Mulcair.

The New Democrats want investment in what they call "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects. And they want financial help for families with children that would see parents receive up to $400 a month, per child, adjusted according to their income.

What they don't want, said Mr. Mulcair, is more tax cuts for corporations. The NDP campaigned during the fall election on a promise to rescind $50-billion in proposed federal tax cuts.

But it was clear before they even entered the meeting with Mr. Flaherty that neither Mr. Mulcair nor Ms. Wasylycia-Leis is inclined to support a Conservative budget.

Rather, they are looking forward to defeating the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and proceeding with the coalition they formed late last year with the Liberals. If the Conservatives were to be defeated on the budget, a confidence motion, the Governor-General could allow the opposition to take the reins of Parliament.

"We're not going to say it's impossible," said Mr. Mulcair when asked if the NDP could vote in favour of an economic plan put forward by Mr. Flaherty. "But I am going to say that it's highly unlikely."

If the Conservatives managed to incorporate some of the measures being promoted by the opposition into the budget that will be read on Jan. 27, "then the coalition will make sure we put those thing into our first budget," he said.

The Liberals, and particularly Michael Ignatieff who was not yet leader of his party when the coalition was formed, have not publicly given up on union with the NDP. But neither have they been as enthusiastic as their New Democratic partners.

Mr. Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton met behind closed doors in Toronto yesterday.

"I think it's a happy marriage and we had a nice cup of coffee and a good discussion," Mr. Layton said of the meeting during an interview on CTV's On The Hill. "The coalition plan really is that bold plan that we need in this country right now."

Mr. Layton said even if Mr. Harper embraces the opposition demand for measures that provide economic stimulus, Canadians have no reason to believe he will act upon them.

"I hope that the Liberals are going to look at the choice they are facing," said Mr. Mulcair. "It is very simply this one: either we leave the Conservatives there or we replace them. I greatly prefer by far, in the interests of the population, to replace them."