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Freeland promises to 'unlock pathways' to middle-class life in April 16 federal budget

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The 2024 federal budget will be presented on Tuesday, April 16, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Monday.

The 2024 federal budget will provide Canadians a full picture of the state of the country's finances and an overall economic outlook, as well as further Liberal spending plans amid an ongoing affordability crisis.

According to the finance minister, the massive fiscal document will "unlock pathways to a good middle class life for the next generation."

"Our economic plan is about building more homes, faster, making life more affordable, and creating more good jobs… because Canada is stronger when everyone has an equal chance to succeed," Freeland said in a statement announcing the date of the next budget.

Freeland broke with the tradition of rising in the House of Commons to confirm the date of the annual economic presentation, as MPs are not in Ottawa this week.

For months the Liberals have been holding weekly press conferences to provide often incremental updates on various affordability measures, from grocery competition to homebuilding initiatives. 

Noting Canadians continue to feel the squeeze of inflation and high interest rates in their everyday lives, while increasingly becoming preoccupied about looming mortgage renewals, Freeland's last fiscal update in November 2023 focused on housing affordability, while trying to maintain a degree of fiscal restraint.

As the minority Liberals continue to scale back new spending and try to find billions in savings, that economic check-in was not a major spending package, with the more sizeable financial commitments earmarked to roll out the door in 2025, the year of the next scheduled federal election.

As of the fall economic update, the federal deficit was projected to be $40 billion in 2023-24, and $38.4 billion in 2024-25. In the revised look at the books, Freeland also stopped forecasting federal coffers will get back to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's stated goal of balance, at any point in the next six years. 

At the same time, the finance minister pledged to maintain a declining deficit-to-GDP ratio in 2024-25 and keep deficits below one per cent of GDP in 2026-27 and future years.

With this upcoming federal budget, Freeland will be seeking to balance the federal government's stated goal of fiscal prudence, with the more than 300 recommendations of what to include, as presented by the House of Commons Finance Committee in its pre-budget consultation report last week. 

The next budget will also be a key political document. While the federal New Democrats continue to back the Liberals on confidence matters—a two-party deal recently strengthened by the introduction of pharmacare legislation— Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has maintained a double-digit lead over the Liberals with his largely economy-focused partisan attacks.

Further, international pressure on Canada to meet its NATO two per cent target for defence spending has ramped up in recent weeks. 

Reacting to the news of the budget date, and noting the decline in GDP per-capita for six straight quarters, the Business Council of Canada is calling for the federal government to prioritize economic growth.

"The government has an opportunity to implement growth policies, including many of its own previous commitments, without putting an unfair financial burden on future generations," said Business Council of Canada CEO Goldy Hyder in a statement. "This approach will ensure the long-term viability of our cherished social programs and living standards, while allowing Canada to compete and succeed on the world stage."

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