OTTAWA — Federal cabinet ministers have made almost $1.6 billion in spending promises in the last two days, as the hours tick down to an expected election call.
Between Thursday morning and end of business on Friday, the Conservatives made 111 announcements offering either new infrastructure money or spending promises recycled from the April budget.
Add in 12 reminders about how much the provinces will receive in federal gas tax funding to pay for infrastructure this year and the total dollar figure for all the announcements totalled almost $3.53 billion.
The promises run the gamut from cash to upgrade a curling club in Dawson Creek, B.C.,to $1.25 million for the town of Skinners Pond, P.E.I., to pay for the Stompin' Tom Centre and Schoolhouse.
The spending flurry comes as Prime Minister Stephen Harper is widely expected to officially open the election campaign on Sunday.
Once that happens, the government spending taps close and the only pledges the Conservatives can make are campaign promises. The loss of that power was reportedly why a $58-million federal contribution to automaker Toyota was announced Friday even though it had been slated for next week.
The last-minute handouts on Friday followed a report from Statistics Canada that said the economy shrank again in May, the fifth consecutive monthly decline.
That has left the economy limping into the summer as the parties geared up for a campaign where the economy and who is best positioned to manage it, are expected to be key ballot questions.
"The economy is suffering and Stephen Harper's government is more concerned about wasting taxpayers' money with an early election call," NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen said in a news release.
Liberal MP Marc Garneau said the Conservative record as good managers of the economy is "in tatters" given Friday's economic report.
"I don't know where Mr. Harper goes and gets the information on which he comes out and tells Canadians that he's the best manager of the economy, because it doesn't tally up for me," Garneau told an Ottawa news conference.
The Prime Minister's Office fired back, saying Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau didn't know "how to manage a G-7 economy," and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair wants to raise business taxes.
"Now more than ever we must continue with our low tax plan and not take unnecessary risks," spokesman Stephen Lecce said in an email.
The Bank of Canada and the federal government have said that the country isn't officially in recession, but the central bank has already adjusted its outlook for the year and predicts the economy will grow by about half of what was expected when the Conservatives put together their last budget.
If the bank's growth forecast is right, the $1.4-billion surplus projected in the 2015 budget could well become a deficit, since federal coffers would be $4.1 billion slimmer, according to an analysis in the April budget.
The situation means the government has to defend its record and explain to voters just how it plans to cover any shortfall in the budget, either by cutting more spending or raising taxes, said Aaron Wudrick, national director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
The opposition parties, he said, need to explain their campaign promises anew since many pledges depended on financial projections in the April budget.
"The question that the incumbent government has to answer is, how can we be sure you won't get us in this mess again? The question the opposition parties have to answer is what would you do differently?"
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