Although this at first sight appears to be a good situation for the Liberals the Liberals are already showing disunity. The Great Helmsman Dion is already making noises about not wanting the government to go into deficit. He sure knows how to make minority government work but maybe he thinks he needs more practice at it right up until the fixed election date.
Conservatives confident they can kill surprise $900 million tax cut bill
1 day ago
OTTAWA — The chances of Canadian parents getting a $5,000 tax deduction by saving for their children's education grew slimmer Friday as the government vowed to kill the private member's bill and its author offered to compromise.
The Conservative government was taken off guard Wednesday night when Liberal MP Dan McTeague's bill, estimated to cost the treasury $900 million, passed third reading and was sent to the Senate for approval.
If passed unamended in the Senate, the bill would likely get Royal assent and Canadians would be able to put up to $5,000 in a registered education savings plan for each child - and deduct the amount from their taxable income like an registered retirement savings plan..
But Conservative Ted Menzies, the parliamentary secretary for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, said Friday that he has confidence the Senate will kill the bill and, if not, the government would resort to other measures.
"There is always a plan B," Menzie said. "My assumption right now is that we have reasonable minded senators who can do the math, and they won't do that (pass the bill)."
Talking to reporters after a speech in London, Ont., Flaherty repeated the assertion: "This is the kind of thing Liberals bring forward. They want to drive us back into deficits and we're not going to go back into deficits."
But Friday afternoon, McTeague said he was willing to compromise on the limit that can be deducted, although he said he was prepared to fight for the bill in the Senate.
"Perhaps it's time that they begin to discuss with the author of the bill how they plan to see this bill implemented," he said. "I offer to Mr. Menzies and his government to pick up the phone and let's talk about how to make this thing work for the future of our kids."
The bill, which Menzies called "underhanded" and a threat to government's ability to stay in surplus, has presented the government with the unenviable position of both killing a bill that offers a tax break to parents with children, and of having to ask the Liberals they have derided in the Senate for a favour.
Although he must be enjoying the Conservatives' discomfort, Liberal leader Stephane Dion was far from wholeheartedly supportive of his colleague's private member's bill, although he called it a good idea.
"We don't want a deficit," Dion added. "The fact is that this government over the last two years destroyed the fiscal room of Canada. We don't want a deficit, it's sure."
Menzies would not say what the government would do if the Senate passed the bill, but procedural experts say several options remain, although none are foolproof.
One option is for the government to introduce legislation to undo the bill, or seek to amend the budget implementation legislation, making both a matter of confidence.
"But that might be contested because there's a rule in the House that you can't consider the same business twice in the same session, so there's no guarantee it would get through," said Ned Franks, a professor emeritus at Queen's University, who is an expert in parliamentary procedure.
Another option is for the Conservatives to try and pass a motion declaring that they would consider passage of the bill in the Senate a matter of non-confidence in the government, triggering an election.
If the Conservative amendment is considered out of order, "then they are up you know what creek," Franks added.
For now, most observers believe the best way for the government to defeat the bill is in the Senate, even if it is dominated by Liberals.
A Conservative filibuster in the upper chamber could tie up consideration for many months, noted Jerry Yanover, the Liberal expert on procedural matters.
"And I don't think the Senate is a slam dunk for the Liberal bill," he added. "As you may have noticed, the Senate doesn't do things in sync with the House of Commons."
The bill, while it could prove popular to Canadians, would bring the federal government to within a whisker of a deficit based current projections hold.
In last month's budget, Flaherty calculated the surplus at $2.3 billion this fiscal year and $1.3 billion next, meaning the government would be left with virtually no fiscal room in the 2009-2010 year.
As well, Menzies said it would cost the provinces about $450 million, noting that many provinces had already introduced budgets without accounting for the measure.
Franks said the irony is that if the government had approved the requested salary level for an independent Parliamentary Budget Officer, whose duty would be to cost private members bills, the bill might never have been approved in the House once a price tag was attached.