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'Targeted inflation relief' coming in 2023 federal budget, Freeland says

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The coming 2023 federal budget will "exercise fiscal restraint" while also making "significant" investments in Canada's health-care system and building a clean economy, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday.

In a speech detailing the Liberal government's priorities ahead of next week's budget release, Freeland said the budget will include "targeted inflation relief" to help Canadians who are most acutely feeling the pinch as a result of rising prices.

This echoed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's commitment last week that the massive fiscal document being tabled will include affordability measures meant to "directly help Canadians."

Though, with the federal government remaining mindful of the need to not pour fuel on the fire of inflation, Freeland is vowing to "exercise fiscal restraint."

"This support will be narrowly focused and fiscally responsible. The truth is, we can't fully compensate every single Canadian for all of the effects of inflation or for elevated interest rates," Freeland said. "To do so would only make inflation worse and force rates higher, for longer." 

Addressing the state of the Canadian economy, the finance minister touted Canada's near-record low unemployment rate post-COVID-19 recession, but admitted that inflation is "still too high."

She said that higher interest rates are having their intended impact of slowing the economy down, however that means the federal government's revenues are lower, and no longer in a place where the massive pandemic-era support programs can be sustained.

"Our ability to spend is not infinite," Freeland said, pointing to existing supports for lower-income Canadians as an appropriate place to focus specific cost-of-living efforts.

Speaking about what she said she's heard from Canadians during her pre-budget consultations, the finance minster spoke about how, whether she was talking to someone doing well or struggling to get by they shared a common concern for their neighbours.

"What Canadians want right now is for inflation to come down and for interest rates to fall. And that is one of our primary goals in this year’s budget: not to pour fuel on the fire of inflation."

PRIORITY SPENDING ON HEALTH AND CLEAN ECONOMY

She signalled that with economic prudence in mind, the 2023 federal budget will still be prioritizing "two significant and necessary investments": health-care funding and building Canada's clean economy.

Freeland confirmed that as expected, the budget will include the one-year, $196-billion health-care funding deals recently secured with all provinces and territories, and the $2-billion one-time top-up to the Canada Health Transfer to address urgent pressures being experienced at pediatric hospitals, emergency rooms and surgical centres.

"We will ensure that Canadians can rely on a world-class, publicly-funded health-care system… And we will ensure that a strong and effective public health-care system can continue to care for and nurture a strong and healthy Canadian workforce," Freeland said. "Universal and high-quality health care is rightly a priority for every single Canadian. It is also a national competitive advantage."

As for what kinds of clean economy investments are ahead, Freeland was light on specifics in Monday's speech, but it's expected that it will include measures aimed at ensuring Canadian companies can be resilient in the face of a challenging economic landscape and competitive global markets.

A top concern in this regard is the United States' Inflation Reduction Act, which has the Americans investing heavily in clean energy and net-zero industries.

Freeland said this global pivot to clean technology, and the recently-put-into-focus need to build critical supply chains with allied democracies in light of the pandemic and Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine, has Canada uniquely placed to benefit.

"These two fundamental shifts represent a huge economic opportunity for all of us… Because Canadian workers and Canadian businesses have the necessary expertise, and because Canada produces what the world needs," Freeland said.

She set this up as a clear choice in her mind: Canada can either capitalize on this historic opportunity, or be left behind as other countries seize the call for a clean economy.

"That's why the plan we will release next Tuesday will include a serious investment in Canadians, in good jobs, in more vibrant communities, and in a new era of economic prosperity that we will build together," Freeland said. "We will build a Canadian economy that is more sustainable, more secure, and more affordable."

Taking a shot at the Conservatives' call for the 2023 federal budget to present a plan to cut taxes and spending, Freeland called it a "reckless approach." 

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