Canada's political parties unfold platforms to pledge help for working-class families

13:16, April 13, 2011      

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by Mark Bourrie, Zhang Dacheng

Canada's Conservative leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe (L to R) attend the leaders debate at the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on April 12, 2011. The leaders of the four major political parties took part in the first debate in English Tuesday night with the French debate Wednesday night. Canada will hold the 41st federal election on May 2. (Xinhua/Christopher Pike)

Canada's four national political parties are gearing their campaign promises toward working-class families and the elderly in their pitches for power in the May 2 federal election.

No over-riding issues have emerged at midway point in the election, although opposition parties have pounced on Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his government's decision to buy F-35 fighter jets.

On Monday, the prime minister promised to extend a popular home renovation tax break that was used by thousands of Canadians to improve their homes. Brought in as a recession stimulus program to help the building trades, the program was supposed to end on April 1, 2011.

When he released his party's platform on April 7, Harper promised to balance Canada's national budget a year ahead of time and to get tough on crime. The prime minister has pledged to pass a raft of laws to toughen the country's criminal laws if he has control of parliament after the election.

Harper's Conservative Party is promising an income tax cut for working families, but the tax reduction will not be introduced until the country's budgets are balanced in 2014-2015.

The Conservatives also promised to strengthen Canada's military and, echoing a long-term personal interest of Harper's, pledged a stronger Canadian presence in the Arctic. They would also continue free trade negotiations with India and the European Union.

Harper pledged to balance the budget by reducing the size of the federal bureaucracy, which has grown dramatically during his five years in power. His party also hopes the economy's revival from the recession will increase tax revenues.

All of the political party leaders seem wary of making expensive promises at a time when the federal budget deficit is near 50 billion Canadian dollars (about 52 billion U.S. dollars) this year and the national debt sits at a new record of 562.5 billion Canadian dollars.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who seeks to replace the Conservative leader Harper as Canada's prime minister, announced his party's platform at a party meeting in Ottawa on April 2. Ignatieff unveiled a five-point plan to help families, which he called the "Liberal Family Pack."

Ignatieff said he would get the best deal possible for new fighter planes to replace Canada's aging fleet of F-18s, but he stopped short of promising to cancel the current government's deal to buy 65 F-35 Lightning stealth fighters at 475 million dollars per plane.

Ignatieff promised to raise the money for 8 billion Canadian dollars in breaks for individuals and families by raising the corporate tax rate from 16.5 percent to 18 percent and by cutting the size of the government. The Conservatives have pledged to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent.

Ignatieff pledged 4,000 Canadian dollars for each student to pay for college and university education. Echoing Liberal platforms in other election campaigns, he also promised money for pre-school daycare.

The Liberals also promised 140 million Canadian dollars to pay the education costs of Canadian war veterans. Most of the eligible soldiers have fought in Afghanistan since 2002.

Ignatieff also promised tax breaks for people looking after their sick and elderly relatives. He recalled that his father and brother had struggled to take care of his mother when she suffered from Alzheimer's Disease.

A stronger national pension plan that would charge higher premiums to working people and pay out more to low-income seniors is also being promised by the Liberals.

And the Liberals are promising a tax break to families that refit their homes to save energy. That program would cost about 400 million Canadian dollars a year.

Ignatieff also promised to reduce Canada's national budget deficit from some 50 billion to 18 billion Canadian dollars in two years.

On April 10, the New Democratic Party (NDP), a left-of-center party that relies on support from union members and students, unveiled a platform it called Giving Your Family A Break: Practical First Steps.

The NDP leader, Jack Layton, said the New Democrats would spend 8.9 billion Canadian dollars in the first year. Layton said he will deliver a balanced federal budget by 2014-15.

He promised 25,000 new daycare spaces and better tax breaks for university and college students. He also promised to freeze tuition fees.

Layton said he would pressure banks to cut the interest rates on credit cards, give every Canadian access to broadband Internet and regulate Canada's cell phone companies, which charge some of the highest rates in the world.

Layton promised tax breaks to help small businesses create jobs and hire more employees. He also pledged money to hire 2,500 more police officers and 200 food inspectors.

The New Democratic Party has never held power in Canada and, at most, could come out of this election holding the balance of power in a minority parliament. In that case, Layton could demand a larger party adopt some of his policies in return for support.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, the Green Party released its platform at a press conference last Tuesday. Its "Green Book" contains tax cuts for low-income Canadians, the same tax break promised by Harper, and measures to clean up the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Green party got the fifth most votes in the 2008 federal election, but failed to get even a seat in the House of Commons.

Harper's Conservative government was defeated on March 25 by the opposition parties' non-confidence move, which found the government in contempt of parliament.

The parliament was dissolved the following day and Canada's 41st federal election, the fourth in the past seven years, has been slated for May 2 with 308 seats to be decided in the House of Commons.

None of the political parties have been able to generate what Canadian media term a "ballot question," an overriding issue that dominates the campaign. Canadian governments are usually turned out of office in campaigns that have ballot questions that embarrass the government.

In 2006, the Liberals lost power to the Conservatives because of public anger over a kickback scandal involving government advertising in the province of Quebec.

The political party leaders' debate on Tuesday night may break open a campaign that so far has not engaged the attention of Canadians. The standing of the political parties in most recent polls showed Canada returning the same kind of minority parliament that has caused political deadlock since 2004.

Source: Xinhua
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