The Harper government “will not engage in reckless new spending schemes” when the federal budget returns to balance, Joe Oliver said Monday in his first major speech as finance minister.

But Canadian families can expect “tax relief” when the government not only balances the books but also posts a surplus in 2015, Oliver said.

Oliver made the remarks during a lunch-hour speech at The Canadian Club of Toronto.

Oliver told the crowded room of business leaders that his top priority as finance minister will be to “create jobs and economic growth right across the country.”

A booming economy creates jobs and promotes “long-term prosperity” for families, he noted, and generates revenue for social programs without having to increase tax rates.

“At the end of the day, economics is about people, standards of living and our quality of life,” Oliver said.

Oliver’s predecessor, Jim Flaherty, promised a return to balance next year when he unveiled his spring budget in February.  On Monday, Oliver said he will hold consultations to hear Canadians’ ideas for how to deal with next year’s projected $6 billion surplus.

But, he said, “Our government will not engage in reckless new spending schemes that will lead to increased taxes or higher debt, or both.”

“We worked too hard to return to a balanced budget to throw it all away,” Oliver added. “So do not expect a big stimulus program.”

However, balanced books will mean “tax relief for hard-working families.”

“That is what we committed to do in the last election, that is what we have delivered, and that is what we will continue to do,” Oliver said.

He did not mention specific tax measures, such as income-splitting, which the federal government included among its election promises during the 2011 campaign. Before stepping down, Flaherty expressed doubt about the wisdom of going forward with the policy, questioning how many families would actually benefit.

Since then, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has expressed support for income-splitting as have other members of his caucus. However, Oliver has not specifically pledged to fulfill the promise.

At the beginning of his speech, Oliver had the audience laughing as he told the story of how he learned he was to be Canada’s next finance minister.

Oliver was sitting on a plane in Toronto when he received an email from his staff that Harper wanted to speak with him. His wife also emailed with the same message, but neither note explained what the prime minister wanted to discuss.

“But then the plane takes off,” he said. “So I have five hours to contemplate what it might mean.”

Oliver said he was “deeply honoured” to be named to the post, and hailed his predecessor’s efforts to return the budget to balance after the economic downturn.