Liberals place cards on table

October 9, 2008

OTTAWA—The “richer, fairer, greener” Liberal government proposed by Stéphane Dion would spend millions to clean up Lake Winnipeg, protect the boreal forest, resurrect the Kelowna Accord and pour funding into Manitoba’s dream of becoming a clean energy hub for Canada.

Dion unveiled his party’s platform Monday in the nation’s capital with a document he said brings the economy and the environment together.

“This is the plan we need,” said Dion, flanked by a number of senior members of the Liberal team including former leadership rivals Bob Rae, Scott Brison and Martha Hall Findlay.

The Liberal party is the first of the major parties to release its full platform. Many of the promises reverse Tory initiatives including cuts to arts funding, or resurrect previous Liberal government initiatives including the Kelowna Accord for aboriginals.

The 72 pages of promises include small pledges such as a $350 child tax credit, as well as promises already unveiled in the campaign such as the $70-billion, 10-year investment in infrastructure.

For Manitoba, there will be money to clean up Lake Winnipeg, a fund to help build the east-west electrical power grid, and an environmental protection strategy that will safeguard parts of the boreal forest.

But the backbone of the platform remains the Green Shift, which Dion stressed is an economic strategy as much as an environmental plan.

“The goal of this plan is to have a profitable and sustainable economy,” Dion said.

The plan will lower taxes and make Canada more competitive while pulling in investments into new technologies, he said.

“If we had done the Green Shift 20 years ago we would be selling the cars of the future today,” Dion said.

The plan applies a carbon tax to emissions worth about $40 billion and offsets the impact with $40 billion in personal and corporate tax cuts and a series of targeted tax credits.

Dion also attacked the Conservatives for doing away with the $3-billion annual surplus the former Liberal government had built into budgets as a contingency measure.

He said a Liberal government would reinstate that cushion.

Dion, and Liberal finance critic John McCallum said their platform is based on the budget projections in the last Conservative budget but acknowledged if the economy doesn’t grow as predicted some of the party’s plans would be postponed.

“The speed with which we phase in our plan will be a function of the economy,” McCallum said.

He said the eight consecutive balanced budgets produced by the former Liberal government serve as proof that the Liberals do not run deficits.

The Liberal plan also proposes to find $12 billion in savings by combing through government programs to identify efficiencies.

The Conservatives immediately attacked the Liberal plan as unsustainable, repeating that under the Green Shift, Canadians will pay more for everything and the government will run a deficit.

Dion denied that, saying a Liberal government absolutely will not run a deficit.

Releasing the entire platform is a strategic move from a party that is on the defensive against Conservative attacks.

University of Manitoba politics Prof. Kim Speers said it’s “about time” one of the parties produced a voter-friendly document that outlines its entire vision.

She said it’s difficult for voters to keep track of the daily promises on their own.

The Kelowna Accord—signed in 2005 as a $5-billion plan to shrink the prosperity, health and education gaps between First Nations and other Canadians—will be slowly resurrected by the Liberals, Dion said.

But he said it can’t be implemented in its entirety right away because the money isn’t in the budget.

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