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Opposition accuses Tories of more broken promises 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:20 p.m., February 5, 2007]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

OTTAWA  — The federal Conservative government came under fire on Monday after reports on the weekend that two more election campaign promises appear like they will be broken.  

The Tory election promise to work with the provinces to develop a patient wait times guarantee, one of the Tories' five priorities, will not be delivered before the next election, Health Minister Tony Clement said in an interview on the weekend.  
 
And Prime Minister Stephen Harper's promise to beef up Arctic sovereignty by building a deep water port in Canada's North and creating a fleet of armed ice breakers is not included in a copy of the federal government's first defence strategy paper that was leaked to CanWest News. 

The Tories are still being criticized in the House and behind the scenes for the October reversal of another promise to not tax income trusts. A Commons committee held a week of hearings last week to examine that issue. 

Both the prime minister and Clement came under fire in the House during question period on Monday for the wait times guarantee promise apparently being broken. 

"We know the prime minister breaks his promises," said NDP Leader Jack Layton. "We've seen it on lobbyists, we've seen it on appointments, we've seen it on income trusts. But I think (Canadians) expected better when it comes to something as important as health wait times."

"Why won't the prime minister honour his word to Canadians on health care?"

Harper responded by describing the issue of wait times as "a long-term objective" and said the Tories "didn't promise a quick fix for a generation." 

"We are making a serious long term effort and we will have results," Harper said.

Both Harper and Clement pointed to the findings of a study released Monday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information that found 42,000 additional procedures in wait time priority areas were performed in Canada outside Quebec in 2005–2006 compared to the previous year. 

"These are the facts," Clement said of the study in the House. "We are meeting our wait time targets." 

However Jennifer Zelmer, CIHI’s Vice-President, Research and Analysis, noted in the report that while the number of surgeries in priority areas have increased "it’s not clear what impact this is having on actual wait times for Canadians, because we do not yet have comparable data to track trends in how long patients across the country waited for surgery."

After question period, when asked by PoliticsWatch about CIHI's caveat about its findings, Clement said "I think for those 42,000 people that got that surgery earlier that's good news for them absolutely.

"But does more have to be done? Absolutely it does and we're not going to rest until more is done."

The Liberals also criticized what they called the government's "broken promise" on the deep water port for the North. 

"Several communities are now actively lobbying and preparing construction for this deep water port," said Liberal northern affairs critic Larry Bagnell, who represents the Yukon. 

"Leaked documents suggest the Conservatives will now only build a refueling site for naval ships and the construction of six small Arctic patrol vessels that cannot even go in the ice. This is a far cry from an Arctic deep sea port and a fleet of icebreakers."

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, however, discredited the CanWest leaked document and said "this is a case where Canadians cannot always believe what they read. The government will meet its commitments."

NDP MP Dennis Bevington, who represents the Western Arctic riding, said in an interview with PoliticsWatch, that the NDP never "bought into" the ice breaker project and did not view the deep water port as something that should be a military project. 

"We think we need to spend money on the North on Arctic sovereignty," he noted, but said the preference was through advance research and not a focus on defence. 

"If it's simply for defence purposes that you're creating a deep water port than there are probably better ways to ensure Northern sovereignty than going through these large capital expenditures."

Bevington said the Tories' promise for the North was primarily "retail politics" that "doesn't work out so well" when the policy has to be implemented.  

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