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Projected deficits in fall economic statement 'modest,' allows government to 'invest in Canadians': Freeland

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Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland insists her government’s latest fall economic statement is in line with its 2015 election promise to run “modest” deficits and “invest in Canadians.”

Freeland unveiled her government’s fall economic statement on Tuesday, which includes billions of dollars in new spending, targeted policy measures aimed at increasing Canada’s housing supply, and a projected deficit of $40 billion in 2023-24.

In an interview airing Sunday, Freeland was pressed by CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos on the modest deficit promise her party made eight years ago. The finance minister told Kapelos the promise was a “guiding impulse and philosophy” in this latest fiscal outlook.

During the 2015 federal election campaign, the Liberals pledged not to run deficits over $10 billion, and said they would return to balance by 2019.

“The future prime minister outlined this plan of investing in Canada and Canadians, investing in infrastructure, and running modest deficits,” Freeland said. “And that's a plan that I think you see carried through in this fall economic statement.”

“That's what we believe in, that's what we're doing,” she added.

She added the “key” is “to invest in Canadians” — namely in housing, childcare, and “this industrial transformation” — in a “fiscally responsible way.”

Freeland has faced pressure to address Canada’s housing and cost-of-living crises while limiting new spending to help rein in inflation.

The fall economic statement includes plans to put billions of dollars into building new homes, increase the number of construction workers, crack down on short-term rentals and grocery competition, as well as roll out anticipated green investment tax credits.

The document also forecasts the public debt charges to rise from $46.5 billion in 2023-24 to $60.7 billion in 2028-29.

When pressed on other Liberal spending line items that are not housing, childcare, or geared at industrial transformation — such as the ArriveCAN app, the federal public service growth rate, and the tripling of contracting costs — and whether she understands the skepticism of some Canadians that her government can cut back on spending, Freeland didn’t directly say.

"What I would say to you, but even more to people listening to us and watching us, I get that you don't want me to grade my own homework,” she said. “And I get that hearing me say, 'government is fiscally responsible,' you want some proof points.”

“So I'll give you two quick proof points," she added, before highlighting that Canada has the lowest debt in the G7, and its Standard & Poor’s AAA credit rating.

Freeland has also pledged to maintain a declining deficit-to-GDP ratio in 2024-25, and to keep deficits below one per cent of GDP in 2026-27 and future years.

But when asked whether those fiscal anchors will prevent her government from future significant new program initiatives with large price tags in the run up to the nexy election - similar to its marquee Canada Child Benefit -

Freeland wouldn’t specifically answer.

She said, however, the Liberals have a “fiscally responsible economic plan” that give them “the capacity to invest in Canadians.”

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello and CTV’s Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha

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