OTTAWA - Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale is urging the federal Conservatives to abandon what he calls their obsession with austerity in Tuesday's budget.
The former finance minister says it's the wrong policy when households are carrying record levels of debt, the country is running a chronic trade deficit and businesses aren't boosting their investments.
Goodale says the government should allot more money for infrastructure and access to post-secondary education, while eliminating tariffs on consumer goods and reducing the burden of higher employment insurance payroll taxes.
He says the Tories should also stop spending millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising unless there's some accountability on how that money is spent.
Goodale says he doesn't know whether the Tories should delay their self-imposed deadline of 2015 to balance the books because he doesn't have access to all the financial information they do.
But he says he's skeptical of the Conservative math because they're planning to balance the books, in part, by simply not spending the money they've promised in the budget.
"On one page of the budget plan, you announce big spending in things like infrastructure or national defence, for example," he said.
A few pages later, however, the government says it won't be spending that money after all.
"That's a great hocus-pocus sleight of hand that really raises serious doubts about the government's arithmetic."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty insists he won't balance the books on the backs of the provinces, but that's not the case, said Liberal MP John McCallum.
Ontario has already complained that its equalization payments are being cut and Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to claw back money Ottawa gives the provinces for a contentious new federal jobs training scheme that's yet to be created.
"I do think he's showing signs of riding roughshod over the provinces in his efforts to balance the federal books as quickly as possible," McCallum said.