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Today's Big Story

Homeless, Newfoundlanders Lose in Tory Budget

Recapping the day that was on Election Central.

By Richard Warnica 20 Mar 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Richard Warnica is a senior editor at The Tyee.

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In the lead up to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget speech in Ottawa Monday, the big question was: can it pass? Without the support of at least one opposition party, the budget, and Stephen Harper's government, would collapse, throwing Canada into its third general federal election in four years.

Early on, it did not look good for Harper's digits. Jack Layton was telling reporters he would not support the budget before Flaherty was half done his speech; the Liberals, and Stéphane Dion, weren't far behind.

But, just as the networks were rolling out their campaign 2007 graphics, a reprieve: the Bloc Québécois, after huddling with their provincial counterparts in the Parti Québécois, decided the hundreds of millions of new money for their province was enough; their vote would prop the Tories up.

So no election, at least for now.

But that's far from the end of the story. As readers who followed Election Central's live blogging know, some big issues for B.C. and Canada were addressed in Monday's budget, others, ignored.

Here's a quick recap:

Housing

Advocates for affordable housing in Vancouver were looking for money that was promised when the federal government in 2002 backed the 2010 Olympic bid. They didn't get it. As Tyee regular Monte Paulsen wrote:

"The $300,000 the City of Vancouver paid to (purportedly) well-connected political insider Ken Dobell seems to have yielded absolutely nothing in the way of help from Ottawa.

"There is nothing in this budget (or the related documentation online) about relief for homelessness -- a surging problem not only in Vancouver but in every Canadian metro area. And there is nothing under the health care section for addiction treatment.

"Translation: Vancouver and British Columbia will get no support from Ottawa to build the hundreds of millions of dollars of low-income housing, supportive housing and transition housing needed to alleviate North America's worst homelessness crisis."

B.C.

Before the speech, UBC's David Gillen told Election Central big money was on the way for B.C.'s transportation sector. The reality: an extra $1 billion in the budget for the Pacific Gateway Project.

Equalization

Changes to the federal equalization program were a big story in many parts of the country. To sum it up: Quebec won, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan lost, but in a way no one expected.

Laura Drake:

"Harper managed to keep his equalization promise and still piss off Newfoundland and Saskatchewan: under the budget plan there are two equalization options. Provinces are slotted into one of the two depending on which results in a higher payment...

"The tricky part comes in when you consider this: if Alberta now affects the standard that provinces are measured against, but their natural resources aren't included, then the entire standard is lowered drastically. In addition, there is a cap in the budget that ensures that no receiving province can have a higher fiscal capacity than Ontario after receiving equalization. So Saskatchewan, for example, is capped at $226 million in equalization payments under either plan. That's a lot less than the $800 million Calvert told me he wanted.

"And B.C.? They get zero, no matter what formula you use."

Quebec

To win Canada, Stephen Harper must win Quebec. So how did his second budget do? Pretty well, all things considered. It will likely pass with the support of the Bloc Québécois, the party against which Harper must compete for the francophone nationalist vote. What's more, all three Quebec provincial parties had positive words for the deal before the day was out. But that doesn't mean Jean Charest and provincial Liberals can now cruise to victory in next week's election.

Political Scientist Eric Belanger told Election Central that he doesn't think the new money will rescue Charest's tanking numbers.

"The campaign has been going on for almost four weeks now," he said, "and from what I see, people's opinions have started to crystallize already and I think it will not be enough to help Mr. Charest."

Tomorrow on Election Central, more on the budget aftermath and a special look at the players in the election game.  [Tyee]

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