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Morneau, Charest push for focus on economic growth ahead of federal budget

Bill Morneau, left, rises in the House of Commons after delivering a fiscal snapshot, July 8, 2020, in Ottawa. Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, right, speaks during a round-table discussion on international economic issues in Montreal, Oct. 18, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld/Graham Hughes Bill Morneau, left, rises in the House of Commons after delivering a fiscal snapshot, July 8, 2020, in Ottawa. Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, right, speaks during a round-table discussion on international economic issues in Montreal, Oct. 18, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld/Graham Hughes
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Former federal finance minister Bill Morneau and former Quebec premier Jean Charest are both urging the federal government to focus on economic growth ahead of the April 16 federal budget.

In a joint interview airing Sunday, CTV Question Period host Vassy Kapelos asked both former politicians from different political parties what they view as the biggest challenge facing the Canadian economy right now.

Morneau told Kapelos while there is incentive for the government to focus on short-term challenges like inflation, there is also a need to "think about the long term."

"What we really need to be focused on is growth. We need to recognize that more investment is critically important. In particular, more investment from other sources than the government. We need to encourage businesses to invest. That needs to be a focus of attention," the former finance minister said.

Charest agreed with Morneau and said "growth is also about increasing productivity."

"Canada has a very real issue in terms of increasing our productivity, which really means more growth and more value added in our economy," Charest said.

In a speech in Halifax on March 26, Bank of Canada Senior Deputy Governor Carolyn Rogers referred to Canada's weak productivity as an "emergency" and said productivity in Canada's business sector is "more or less unchanged from where it was seven years ago."

"You know those signs that say 'In an emergency, break the glass?' Well, it's time to break the glass," Rogers said.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian productivity – a measure of output for the economy – fell in six consecutive quarters before making a small gain at the end of 2023.

Charest also says the federal government needs to find ways to address the deficit.

In the 2023 fall economic statement, the federal deficit was projected at $40 billion for the 2023-24 fiscal year. But unlike the last fall economic update, there is no path to balance at any point in the next six years. The fall economic statement also said Ottawa will spend $46.5 billion on paying off the debt in 2023-24.

"This is something that's going to creep up on us. Maybe not tomorrow, but could very rapidly creep up on us in the future if we don't keep a very tight rein on our public finances," Charest said.

Morneau also stressed fiscal responsibility.

"Obviously there's going to be short-term things that the government will want to do, trying to find a way to be both fiscally responsible, and thinking about growth is important at this moment," Morneau said.

Ahead of budget day, the federal government has made several pre-budget announcements promising billions of dollars in spending and loans to address Canada's housing crisis, create a national school food program and create more child care spaces.

Call for civility

Morneau and Charest also spoke to Kapelos about their call for political leaders in Canada to improve civility in public discourse.

In an open letter published in The Globe and Mail on April 2, both Morneau and Charest joined a group of more than 50 former politicians, human rights advocates, religious leaders and artists to urge political leaders "to address urgently the rise of incivility, public aggression and overt hatred that are undermining the peace and security of Canadian life."

The letter argues that geopolitical events like the Israel-Hamas war and domestic issues like the trucker convoy protests have helped fuel growing discord.

The letter goes on to say: "We are calling upon you, the senior political leadership of Canada, to put political affiliation and partisanship aside and demonstrate your shared commitment to fostering a safer, more cohesive and respectful Canada, where hatred has no home."

When asked by Kapelos what could be at stake if public discourse is not improved, Morneau says "we do need to think about the long-term damage that we can have."

"Canada is a safe haven for people from around the world. It's a place where people want to come and invest. They want to invest because it's a nation that's been successful at resolving differences for generations," Morneau said.

Kapelos also asked Charest if there is incentive for politicians to be less civil due to the impacts and reach of social media.

Charest said "in the short term, it may get you clips," but added "whenever I made that effort to reach out and to be more consensual, and to recognize the arguments of my adversaries, it always paid off in spades. Not just for the debate, but also for me politically in a selfish way."

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