First off, in terms of numbers and allocations the Conservative budget isn't too bad but it isn't terribly good, either. The tax cuts should have been focused more on the lower- and middle- classes. If the goal is to increase disposable income and/ or encourage spending then the two largest groups of Canadians, who have also been the hardest hit by the downturn, should have been the focus. The bulk of the need lies with them and any extra spending will come from these groups and therefore providing them with more would go further to achieving those goals. However, an across-the-board tax cut could be considered the most fair for all Canadians. After all, we're all in this together as no one has been left untouched by the economic downturn. It's just that the broad tax cut, ultimately, isn't as effective.
There is also the issue of some of the policy matters that are contained within the budget. While it's nice that EI has been expanded by five weeks there are still lingering issues that weren't addressed. Something such as timely and easier access to people's own money should have been included. As well a balancing of the EI payments should have been included. Ontarians should have gotten a slight increase in the payments to match the other provinces. Since Ontario has taken the brunt of the downturn and cost of living is slightly higher than most provinces, these changes should have been a no-brainer. And let's not forget, contrary to what Harper or Finlay might say, the money in the EI program belongs to Canadians.
The EI program is essentially a government mandated 'savings' program for those rainy days, like when you lose your job and need money to get you by until you find other employment. To refuse easier access on the basis that the Conservatives don't want to make it "lucrative" to be unemployed or that they don't want people relying on the government is to distort and betray the purpose of EI and denying people access to their own money could be seen as theft since Canadians do not have a choice about paying into EI.
There is also the concern over women losing the ability to take pay equity issues to court. I'm not sure what the Conservative's problem is with women's equality but it has reached a sickening level over the course of their tenure. However, this being left over from the Fall Update shouldn't have been a surprise because of the Conservative's track record. What is a surprise is the Liberals' poor response to this issue.
The Liberals' amendment, while necessary (if you're attempting to make parliament work), isn't as strong as it could have been. Sure they're putting this Conservative government on 'probation' but the how is ill defined. It's great to have the Cons check-in every few months with updates but there is confusion over what this really means. Are they just giving government numbers, are the books being opened to the opposition or is an independent auditor doing a review? The amendment should have laid out all of this in greater detail. It should have also been much more demanding of accountability given the past record of budget deception and lack of transparency, especially on the part of Flaherty.
Furthermore, at the very least the Ignatieff and the Liberals should have demanded that the women's pay equity issue be dropped from the budget. I actually think that the Conservatives included it with the expectation it would be amended out. If an amendment were to ask for its removal and subsequently passed, the Cons could have saved face with their SoCon supporters because they proposed the idea but also saved face with critics and opposition because they would have been viewed as conciliatory.
The Liberals could have also explored changes to the proposals regarding EI, tax cuts, and areas that could have had an infusion of 'green' and next-generation technology and manufacturing. However, I believe the Conservatives would have fought to the end to not have these pass. We would then likely be heading into an election rather than a coalition government.
I don't have enough faith in our GG, Ms. Jean, to make the right decision between a coalition and election. She showed last Fall that she neither had the leadership or the fortitude to do what she should have. She made her last decision in secrecy and without full consultation. The same would have likely occurred here. And this budget is centrist or 'Liberal'-ish enough, at least on the surface, that inciting an unwanted and costly election over it would have put the Liberals in a tough position to defend their actions. Putting out a strong amendment, stronger than what was proposed, would have been the best maneuver.
The biggest loser out of all of this - besides women, the most vulnerable and the environment - is the Conservatives. With this budget they showed that they are more interested in power than conviction. However, even in the off chance they are being honest about their feelings on the necessity of this budget they still come out on the losing end. On one hand they would be admitting that Canadians don't believe in or won't accept conservatism (which I have been arguing for quite some time) or they are admitting that conservatism doesn't work. Either way, conservative Canadians aren't happy with Harper and his crew and the Conservatives are showing their cracks in large part because of this budget. Either side of this is a positive in my books.
Ultimately, Canada didn't even have to be in this position. If it weren't for the lack of judgement, common sense and leadership of the Conservatives, Canada's financial situation could have been much stronger prior to being hit by the economic downturn. If income taxes were cut rather than consumer taxes, if the surplus hadn't been completely wiped out, if social programs were strengthened rather than weakened, and if there had been greater attention paid to environmental technologies and next generation manufacturing, Canada would have dealt with this crisis much better. The stimulus package would have still been necessary but maybe there would have been fewer lost, more resilience on the part of our industries and a smaller deficit would be incurred. However, we've been governed by conservative ideologues who are more interested in their personal situations and beliefs, and trying to destroy the opposition. So much for leadership...