'We are putting this government on probation'

The full text from Ignatieff's morning press conference

Michael Ignatieff is a bewildering, but entertaining performer. His preferred hand motions this morning were the clenched fist and the back-handed swipe. He walks and talks like a man who considers himself to be walking and talking from an advantageous position. Which is particularly disorienting because for the past two years one could only say as much of Stephen Harper.

He deviated only marginally from his script, so the prepared text after the jump.

Good morning.

In the last few months, we’ve participated in an unprecedented national conversation about our economy, our politics, and the future of our country.

Canadians are worried about the human consequences of a once-in-a-generation economic crisis. They’re worried not only about themselves, but also about their neighbours, their coworkers, and their friends.

In the face of this crisis, we have a government that has mismanaged our public finances for the last two years.

The Conservatives chose reckless spending and irresponsible tax policy over prudence and fiscal discipline. They drove Canada towards a deficit—long before this recession began. And, in so doing, they harmed the federal government’s ability to act in the national interest in times of crisis.

For that failure—the failure to plan and act responsibly as a government—we hold them responsible.

We hold them responsible for telling us that there would be no recession, while the rest of the world was already taking action, and while Canadians were losing their jobs.

We hold them responsible for their disastrous fall economic statement, with its fanciful forecast of a surplus and its arrogant and divisive partisanship.

And we hold them responsible for proroguing Parliament—at a time when Canadians wanted their Parliament to work.

This is a record of reckless, arrogant and short-sighted government.

Canadians will long remember this sorry episode.

They didn’t actually enjoy the political theatre. They were too busy worrying about the nest egg they’ve saved up over their entire working lives, only to see it cut in half overnight.

They were too busy worrying about how they’d pay for their kids’ education, or how they’ll put food on the table for their families.

Too many of them were feeling that sickening combination of powerlessness and hopelessness, that fear in your guts that what’s happened to your neighbour is going to happen to you.

They didn’t find the spectacle in Ottawa interesting. They wanted action and they haven’t seen any from this government.

Thousands of jobs have disappeared since the Prime Minister shut down Parliament last month.

It’s now the end of January.

To say that action is overdue is an understatement.

Yesterday’s budget is a flawed document.

It doesn’t go far enough to protect Canadians who have lost—or will lose—their jobs.

It extends EI benefits but fails to extend EI eligibility.

It opens the door for attacks on pay equity for women.

It does not seize on the wealth of opportunities in the green economy.

It breaks their promise to all provinces from only two years ago on equalization.

It attaches strings to infrastructure dollars that may delay projects and delay jobs.

It promises to sell government assets for cash, without saying which assets and for how much.

And it lacks a credible plan for getting us out of the $85-billion hole the government will dig us into over the next five years.

But the budget also contains important concessions—concessions forced on Stephen Harper by the force of a united Opposition.

Affordable housing.

Skills development.

Expansions of the Working Income Tax Benefit and the Child Tax Benefit.

Measures to make credit available to business.

Investments in colleges and universities: the incubators of the jobs of tomorrow.

These measures are only in the budget because the opposition parties did their job, because the Liberal Party in particular remained resolved to hold Mr. Harper to account.

We will not abandon that resolve now.

If the stimulus contained in this budget has any hope of helping Canadians, it actually has to reach them. But this is a government that is more inclined to make commitments than to keep them.

And so, this afternoon, I will move to amend the budget motion to include new measures to ensure the government is held accountable for its promises.

We are putting this government on probation.

Accountability is something that Stephen Harper has always said is important. I agree with him.

But this budget does not include one word about accountability.

We will require regular reports to Parliament on the budget’s implementation and its cost – one in March, one in June and one in December.

Each of these reports will be an opportunity to withdraw our confidence should the government fail Canadians.

We will vigilantly monitor its effects on our economy and on every region of our country.

We will be watching like hawks to make sure the investments Canadians need actually reach them.

And should Mr. Harper fail to satisfy the expectations of Canadians, we will be ready to defeat him and lead in his place.

Canadians don’t want another election, and they’re tired of political games. They have waited too long for action on the economy for us to fail them now because of partisan interest.

Let there be no doubt—if we act responsibly, we will emerge from this episode stronger than when we went in.

Overcoming monumental challenges together is woven into our national DNA.

We are ready to act in the national interest, as the gravity of this economic crisis demands. I hope Mr. Harper is prepared to do the same.

Thank you.