Flaherty hints next week’s budget will focus on restraint
Published Thursday, March 14, 2013 11:57AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 14, 2013 10:34PM EDT
With Canada’s economy hitting a rough patch, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty hinted that the government’s upcoming fiscal plan will focus on restraint rather than spending.
Flaherty announced Thursday the federal budget will be tabled on March 21.
The budget is widely expected to steer clear of any significant new spending in light of Canada's sluggish economic growth -- pegged at an annualized increase of 0.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2012.
“The economists…were a little more pessimistic for this year, and a little bit more for next year,” Flaherty said during Thursday’s announcement.
Months of low oil prices and weak exports have strained Ottawa's bottom line.
But Flaherty insisted the economic slowdown is temporary.
“It's an interim concern; it’s not a long-term concern in terms of real GDP growth,” he said.
But government officials say the country should brace for some austerity until the economy improves.
Canadians got a sneak peek of the fiscal plan in the main budgetary estimates released in late February.
According to those figures, a broad range of departments are in line for budget cuts -- with Defence bearing the brunt in a possible budget reduction of up to $2.7 billion, or 13 per cent.
Border Services could see up to $350 million slashed, while the prisons budget could be cut by $427 million.
Still, the finance minister has held firm to his forecast that the government is on course to balance the budget before Canadians next head to the polls in 2015.
That may be an ambitious goal, but steady economic growth next year could boost the chances of reaching it, according to Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist of CIBC World Markets.
"It will require all kinds of actions, including cuts in spending,” Tal said. "I think the hope is that 2014 will actually be a better year."
John McCallum, Liberal Critic for Infrastructure, Cities and Communities, told CTV’s Power Play the budget is likely “to be 100 per cent austerity.”
He added, “With the economy being so weak, (Flaherty’s) going to have to have major cuts,” to reach the 2015 goal.
Flaherty has said the government plans to take measures such as closing tax loopholes and controlling spending in order to balance the budget, but will not raise taxes or cut transfer payments to provinces.
Critics say the government should put off balancing the books for at least a year and spend billions on a new stimulus plan to fix roads and bridges.
“We've got high unemployment. So let's put people to work, let's invest in badly needed infrastructure. It'll help growth,” said NDP finance critic Peggy Nash.
Conservative MP Kellie Leitch on Thursday told Power Play she expects the budget will focus on job creation and economic growth. Leitch is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour.
According to a report this week by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, slow economic growth could cost Canada its title of best economic performer among the most industrialized countries.
With a report from CTV's Richard Madan