When the MPs returned to the House of Commons on Jan. 26, it marked the run-up to the federal election scheduled for Oct. 19, 2015.
Last year, opposition parties hammered away at Julian Fantino, former Veteran Affairs minister, for his mishandling of the Veteran Affairs portfolio.
Veterans and their advocate groups will certainly continue to put the heat on the federal Conservatives by trying to make the clawback of more than $1 billion from Veteran Affairs, veteran office closures and the lack of “proper” financial and health support an election issue.
Canadians also heard a lot about suspended Senator Mike Duffy’s expense account and pay-back fiasco.
Mr. Duffy’s trial is scheduled for April 7 and it involves 31 criminal charges relating to his Senate housing and travel expense claims, and a $90,000 “gift” that Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, gave him when Mr. Duffy was under pressure to pay the taxpayers back.
This will be a hot-button issue for the Conservatives, especially for Mr. Harper who has categorically denied being involved in the process.
However, the main focus for Mr. Harper and his cabinet will be the state of the economy and status of the his party’s promise to provide a balanced budget.
That’s exactly where the opposition parties are going to be firing their salvos.
The economic changes the Conservatives are facing are going to make it tough for the Tories to make the balanced budget election promise a resounding success.
The biggest issue the Tories are facing is crude oil prices, as they continue to spiral downward. There are others, but crude oil revenue is huge for Canada.
The problem for Finance Minister Joe Oliver and the Tories is the economy is very unstable because no one knows where crude oil prices are going to be in the next six to eight months, and low prices are already causing massive job losses in the industry.
This is why Mr. Oliver has delayed the federal budget until at least April.
If the budget presented by the finance minister shows its balanced or if it limps in with a small surplus, it will definitely soften the economic prowess election plank the Tories had hoped to hang their hats on this year.
What will they do?
Mr. Oliver says he won’t cut services to balance the budget.
While the government maintains it hasn’t increased taxes, it has embarked on tax and tariff changes, eliminated some tax credits and hiked service charges and fees to help the government’s bottom line.
Perhaps the Tories will be thankful there is the $3-billion contingency fund, but where did the money come from?