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Conservatives to deliver early budget

Tories back down on plan to ban public sector strikes

Last Updated: Sunday, November 30, 2008 | 5:39 PM ET

NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair said at a news conference Sunday in Ottawa that the Conservatives illegally intercepted a private meeting between NDP lawmakers and that the party was consulting legal experts on whether the Criminal Code was violated.NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair said at a news conference Sunday in Ottawa that the Conservatives illegally intercepted a private meeting between NDP lawmakers and that the party was consulting legal experts on whether the Criminal Code was violated. (CBC)

The Conservative government moved up the federal budget date and scrapped a second element of its economic update Sunday in a bid to stave off opposition efforts to take power with a Liberal-NDP coalition.

Three days after delivering a financial statement that sparked coalition talks, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he will hand down his budget on Jan. 27, about a month before one is normally tabled.

"The stability of the government and the economy is paramount," Flaherty told reporters, adding that the business community has recommended against any change in government.

Shortly after that announcement, Transport Minister John Baird said the minority government won't try to eliminate the right to strike for federal civil servants over the next couple of years, as pledged last week in Flaherty's fall update.

On Saturday, Baird also announced the government had shelved its contentious plan to eliminate political party subsidies that are based on the number of votes received during elections.

In a conference call with reporters Sunday, Flaherty said the government now proposes to freeze the subsidy at $1.95 a vote and will campaign to abolish it later. The annual payment has been indexed to inflation.

As the Official Opposition, the Liberals have been threatening to bring down the Conservative government — with help from the NDP and the Bloc Québécois — over the lack of economic stimulus in Flaherty's update.

Tories release transcript of NDP meeting

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have released details of an NDP caucus meeting they say was held in the form of a conference call on Saturday.

The Tories say they released a portion of the transcript on Sunday because it shows the NDP was working very closely with the Bloc long before last Thursday's economic update to replace the government.

"Let's just say we have strategies," NDP Leader Jack Layton said during the call. "This whole thing would not have happened if the moves hadn't been made with the Bloc to lock them in early because you couldn't put three people together in … three hours. The first part was done a long time ago. I won't go into details."

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre told CBC News, "Today, we learned that this was all a backroom scheme, which involved at least the NDP and the separatists. They concocted this well before they even saw the fall economic update."

NDP strategist Brad Lavigne refuted the charge, saying Layton was referring to a commitment between the NDP and the Bloc to keep the lines of communication open.

NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair said at a news conference that nothing in the NDP-BQ talks is any different than the contingency planning Stephen Harper himself engaged in with the two parties during the last Liberal minority in 2004.

He said the meeting, the co-ordinates of which were inadvertently given to a Tory, were illegally recorded and broadcast and that the party has consulted two experts, including a legal specialist, for an opinion on whether the Criminal Code was violated.

Opposition parties say they have lost confidence in the government of Prime Minister Harper, and the Liberals have drafted a no-confidence motion on the economic update that will be put to a vote Dec. 8.

Liberal finance critic John McCallum said he doesn't trust the Conservatives to make proper plans in their budget to shore up the slowing economy.

'It's the economy'

"I still think they don't get it," he told CBC News, citing a Clinton-era slogan: "It's the economy, stupid."

"The fundamental point is that whereas other countries like England, France and Japan are pouring tens of billions of dollars into stimulus, and China and the U.S. hundreds of billions, what does this government do? Nothing. All it does is cut."

He said the Liberals will forge ahead with negotiations to form a coalition with the NDP and that the concessions made by the Conservatives this weekend have done nothing to change his party's view that Harper must go.

"The government had an opportunity to act last week, and it went in the wrong direction, so we no longer have confidence," he said.

McCallum said Canadians can't count on the budget to save the economy and it's only being delivered early to help the Conservatives maintain their grip on power.

"They're desperate to save themselves, so they will promise the moon in order to have us back down," he said.

Baird said the Conservatives were disappointed that the Liberals didn't want to lead by example in accepting the plan to drop political party subsidies.

He also said the government has a "productive, constructive relationship with the public service."

Baird said the government felt that since it now has a tentative agreement with the largest group of federal civil servants, there is no need to restrict their right to strike.

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