Friday, January 16, 2009

Expect 'significant deficits' in short term: Harper

Friday, January 16, 2009
The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the federal and provincial governments are looking at "very significant deficits in the short term."

Harper emerged from a day-long pre-budget meeting with provincial premiers in Ottawa to say the first ministers are in broad agreement on immediate measures to help the economy.

He said they were all in agreement that collaborative efforts are required because "we are in a very dangerous time for the world's economy."

The prime minister did not announce any specific funding commitments. The multibillion-dollar price tag will be disclosed in the Jan. 27 federal budget.

However, federal officials have signalled that the government is poised to run a deficit of up to $40 billion, most of it as a direct result of economic stimulus measures.

Labour mobility deal signed

Earlier Friday, Canada's first ministers finalized a labour mobility deal that will allow skilled Canadians to work in other provinces without having to recertify.

Premiers and territorial leaders, along with Harper, signed the amendment to the Agreement on Internal Trade during their pre-budget talks in Ottawa.

In short, the change means skilled workers such as nurses, plumbers or welders who have valid certification in one province can work in another part of the country without having to be reaccredited.

The revision "will provide that any worker certified for an occupation by a regulatory authority of one province or territory is to be recognized as qualified for that occupation by all other provinces and territories," said a news release from the first ministers.

The ministers are meeting in a bid to reach agreement on a massive economic stimulus package the federal government plans as the centre of its budget. It could include infrastructure spending, changes to the employment insurance program, money for job retraining and aid for struggling industries.

Satisfying the premiers is a crucial step in ensuring a favourable reaction to the budget, on which the fate of Harper's minority government rests.

Opposition leaders have said they are prepared to vote down the government and seek permission to form a coalition government if the budget is not in the best interests of Canadians.

Harper on Thursday told the National Post that middle-income Canadians can expect tax cuts, an idea dismissed by Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams on Friday.

Williams said in the face of massive job losses, it's more important to improve the EI system in order to support the unemployed.

"Marginal tax cuts for people who have jobs will not have as big an impact as significant support for workers who have lost their jobs," said Williams.
Mayors meet with Baird

On Thursday, mayors from Canada's largest 22 cities met with Transport Minister John Baird, whom Harper placed in charge of federal infrastructure spending.

They issued a list of more than 1,000 infrastructure projects that could be launched shortly after the budget is issued, but said the money must flow immediately after the budget is passed.

"We don't want the recession to be over by the time we get infrastructure dollars spent," Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday afternoon.

The mayors also joked that they are willing to hang hundreds of posters around the country giving credit to federal and municipal governments for infrastructure spending.

Carl Zehr, the mayor of Kitchener, Ont., and the chair of the big city mayors caucus in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said the issue of taking political credit was raised during Thursday's meeting with Baird.

"If the federal government in providing these additional funds as a stimulus would like to make sure it gets credit for that, we're more than prepared to do that and put up hundreds — thousands! — of signs indicating where the money came from," Zehr said at a news conference.

A chorus of mayors around Zehr laughingly corrected him — "hundreds" — while alluding to the cost of such a communications campaign.

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