Tories dangle tax cuts; NDP, Bloc oppose Throne Speech -- Liberals hold the key

PUBLICATION: The Windsor Star
DATE: 2007.10.17
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A1 / FRONT
ILLUSTRATION: Colour Photo: Reuters / IT'S OFFICIAL: Gov. Gen. MichaelleJean delivers the Speech from the Throne Tuesday in Ottawa. ; Colour Photo: Chris Wattie, Reuters / GST CUT PLEDGED: Prime Minister Stephen Harper receives a standing ovation from his caucus after the reading of the Speech from the Throne in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday. ;
DATELINE: OTTAWA
BYLINE: Norma Greenaway, Andrew Mayeda and Juliet O'Neill
SOURCE: CanWest News Service
WORD COUNT: 1161

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Tories dangle tax cuts; NDP, Bloc oppose Throne Speech -- Liberals hold the key

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OTTAWA - The minority Conservative government has promised broad tax cuts and challenged the opposition parties to pass a massive anti-crime bill and accept a non-Kyoto approach to climate change in a throne speech that could become the opening volley in an election campaign.

NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe immediately vowed to oppose the speech, leaving it up to the Liberals to either throw the government a lifeline or vote to bring it down and force an election.

However, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion refused to immediately declare one way or the other. Under pressure from within his party, he criticized the speech, especially the "weakness" of the plans for tackling climate change, and predicted the caucus would have a "very lively" meeting today over what it wants to do.

DON'T WANT ELECTION

"We know that Canadians want, as a priority, this Parliament to work. They don't want a third election in 31/2 years," he told reporters.

The speech, which outlined the government's legislative plans for the coming months, also pledged federal action to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, including construction of a "world-class Arctic research station that will be on the cutting edge of Arctic issues."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, long a critic of federal interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction, moved on a subject near and dear to the hearts of many Canadians, but Quebecers in particular.

His government vowed it would introduce legislation to limit the use of federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.

On the hot-button issue of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan, the government renewed an old promise to allow a vote on the future of the mission after its current term expires in February 2009.

On the environment, the government said it would take action to combat climate change and cut greenhouse gases, but in a direct contradiction of the position taken by the opposition parties, it reiterated its view that "Canada's emissions cannot be brought to the level required under the Kyoto Protocol."

It also reiterated its election campaign promise to cut one more percentage point from the GST during its mandate.

The throne speech was delivered Tuesday night by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean in the Senate chamber, an ornate, wood-panelled room that was packed with MPs, senators and members of the media. Among the special guests was Jodie Lamers Worden, the widow of an RCMP officer killed last week in Hay River, N.W.T.

It marked the first time the speech was delivered during prime-time viewing hours on television.

The government said it was committed to demonstrating Canada's international leadership through concrete action, rather than rhetoric, and to supporting those who share the values of democracy and freedom.

In that spirit, it announced it would ask Parliament to confer honourary citizenship on Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been under house arrest for years.

LAW AND ORDER

The law-and-order package would combine at least five pieces of legislation that have already been studied to varying degrees by MPs and senators, but which died on the order paper when the government opted to prorogue Parliament and begin a new session.

By putting all the bills into one giant omnibus bill, the government hopes to put more pressure on opposition parties to go along with the government rather than risk losing all the measures because they don't like one or two items.

"Canadians expect prompt passage of this crucial legislation," it said.

The speech is considered a confidence matter, meaning the government could fall, and the country would be plunged into an election if all three opposition parties voted against it. There are three possible confidence votes stemming from the speech over the next week or so.

It was the second throne speech by the Harper-led Conservatives since they won power almost 21 months ago.

Layton took strong exception to the government's plans to ignore the Kyoto targets, and what he said was its failure to address poverty in this country. "We have a mandate to oppose the direction Mr. Harper is taking. It's wrong," he told reporters.

Duceppe, who rushed to speak to reporters before Jean had finished reading the speech, said the speech missed the mark on the environment, the economy, protecting provincial rights, and Afghanistan.

"On Afghanistan, not only are they not proposing to put an end on that mission by February, 2009 -- we're talking about staying there until 2011," he told reporters. "And they are putting more money into the military. Kyoto? They are abandoning Kyoto. They are following (U.S. President) Bush -- we can't support them on that."

Harper moved last week to address one of the hottest issues hanging over Parliament, namely the future of Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan beyond its scheduled expiry in February 2009. He appointed a five-person panel, led by John Manley, a former Liberal cabinet minister, to come forward with recommendations by the end of January.

MP Brian Masse (NDP -- Windsor West) said he was upset that Tuesday night's throne speech did not include a commitment to Canada's manufacturing and auto industries.

"We had produced a report that included 22 recommendations for the manufacturing sector. Corporate tax cuts were not in those recommendations," he said.

Masse said the protection of manufacturing jobs is especially important in Windsor and Essex County, where the unstable economy and a rising Canadian dollar are putting the sector in jeopardy.

"If the government doesn't do anything about this, we will continue to see more and more companies going elsewhere."

The government, which has 126 of the 308 seats in the Commons, would fall only if the opposition parties united to bring it down. The Liberals have 96 seats, the Bloc Quebecois has 49, and the NDP has 30. There are three independents and four vacancies.

Recent polls have put the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals by five to 12 points.

A poll conducted last week for CanWest News Service by Ipsos Reid said Harper was inching towards majority government territory with 40 per cent of the popular vote. It was the first time the Conservatives, leading the Liberals by 12 points, had hit the magic number since last April when it unveiled what was seen as a popular budget.

The party's strength, however, has hovered mostly in the mid-30s since it won the 2006 election with 36 per cent of the vote.

MINORITY TERRITORY

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's ruling Conservatives have the support of 34 per cent of Canadians, according to an opinion poll Tuesday.

Thus, if an election were held now, the Conservatives would likely win a second minority, in spite of ongoing troubles for Liberal opposition leader Stephane Dion, according to the Strategic Counsel poll.

"They are way better off avoiding an election and continuing to govern as much as possible," pollster Tim Woolstencroft told the Globe and Mail.

The Conservatives were five points ahead of the Liberals at 29 per cent support. The New Democratic Party mustered 15 per cent support, while the separatist Bloc Quebecois hovered at 10 per cent.

In August, the Conservatives and Liberals were tied at 33 per cent support.

At least 40 per cent is typically needed for a majority.

The poll, which surveyed 1,000 respondents, had a 3.1 per cent margin of error.

If all three opposition parties thrash the Conservatives' lineup, effectively toppling the government, a third general election in three years would follow in late November or December.

The Bloc and the New Democrats have signalled they will vote against Tuesday's throne speech, while Dion, who faces internal dissent over his lacklustre style, has said he would try to avoid an election unless the speech is "radical."

-- Star News Services