CAMBRIDGE, Ont. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a rosy report Thursday on the progress of his government’s stimulus spending as he attempted to stave off a summer election, saying 80 per cent of the money earmarked under the plan had been rolled out across the country.
The second of his government’s quarterly progress reports, which Harper delivered in southwestern Ontario’s economically-beleaguered manufacturing belt, was being closely watched by his political foes.
The Liberals have threatened to try to pull the plug on the minority government if the report did not show real progress in the rolling out of $22.7 billion in stimulus spending.
“Fully 80 per cent of our plan’s funding has been committed and is being implemented across this country,” Harper said.
“Some 3,000 individual projects across the country are now getting underway – no small feat only 72 days into a new fiscal year.”
Harper also put a hard number on the deficit: $50.2 billion.
The Conservative government had forecast a $34-billion shortfall for 2009-2010 before Finance Minister Jim Flaherty admitted in late May that the deficit had ballooned to more than $50 billion.
Although the deficit is significant, it is affordable, the prime minister said.
The government’s economic plan, although costly, is putting Canada on the path to recovery, an upswing that would only be sidetracked by “needless political instability,” Harper said in a shot aimed at the opposition.
In Montreal, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said he needed to review the report more closely, but added “I voted to stimulate the economy.”
“My intent was that the money would leave Ottawa. It hasn’t left yet,” he said.
To force an election, the Liberals would need the support of both the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, who have shown no indication of being eager to face the electorate.
The quarterly performance reports were demanded by the Liberals as a condition for supporting the Jan. 27 budget.
Canada has lost 363,000 jobs since October, but the deterioration in the labour market has slowed noticeably since the massive losses of the December-February period.
Harper admitted the employment insurance system is not perfect and promised to make more improvements for the fall – although he did not outline what those changes might be.
But he maintained EI was responding to economic realities and noted his government had already made several improvements.