Ignatieff's balancing act: support the budget, but not too much

By Harold Jansen on Jan 27, 2009

And it all comes down to this: budget day! Things in Canadian politics have been pretty slow over the last month or so. But today we see the budget that will determine not only the way the government responds to the recession we're experiencing, but also the future of the Liberal-NDP coalition. The NDP and the BQ have pretty much indicated that they oppose the budget and want the coalition to proceed. Since Michael Ignatieff has become the leader, he's been decidedly cooler about the coalition idea than his predecessor, Stephane Dion. It seems clear to me that the Liberals are going to support the budget. There's enough there that they can take credt for and support and not enough to justify bringing down the government.

But this is Michael Ignatieff's first test as leader. Ignatieff has to take some credit for forcing the government to be more responsive to the economy. He needsto do this so that his party can justify the coalition drama we experienced in late November and early December. At the same time, he has to be not too cozy with the Conservatives, either. Although polls show a majority of Canadians support a deficit, it is in fact a dramatic reversal of Canada's fiscal position. The Liberals need to keep some room to beat up on the Conservatives in the next election for their record as economic and fiscal stewards.

It's a delicate balancing act and the thing I'll be watching most closely this afternoon. Most of the budget has already been telegraphed to us, so there probably won't be many surprises. Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe's responses are predictable. All eyes will be on the new Liberal leader.

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