OTTAWA — Canada’s new finance minister doesn’t dispute the economy is facing increasing threats to growth, but Bill Morneau did not indicate he was backing down from the Liberal pledge to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure projects before rebalancing the budget.
During the Oct. 19 election campaign, “we were — and continue to be — concerned with the state of the economy,” Morneau said Tuesday during his first news conference since being chosen by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the No.2 cabinet job.
“We need to find a way to enhance growth in Canada,” he said.
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“So our platform talked about significant investments in infrastructure, investments that we believe will help us to enhance growth, investments that we see will have the possibility of creating jobs, and investment that will enable us to improve the lives of Canadians across the country — improve their ability to get to work on time, improve their ability to get housing.”
Morneau also told reporters that he would be “happy to take a look” at a report Tuesday by the Parliamentary Budget Office that questions the government’s ability to balance its books by the 2019-20 fiscal year after a three-year, multi-billion-dollar infrastructure spending program.
The PBO report “is something that does not form a part of our formal analysis, but it’s helpful to see,” he said.
“For me to come to a conclusion based on information that’s actually not our information today, that’s different from what our platform is, would be premature.”
But the minister did say the PBO report “doesn’t change our point of view.”
“We believe we’re challenged in growth. And so, infrastructure investments — investments that we can see can make a real difference in people’s lives and potentially improving our economy at the same time — are important,” he said.
“So, really no change in that perspective.”
Meanwhile, Morneau said no decision has been made on when the federal budget will be tabled. Traditionally, the government’s annual spending budget is released in February or March.
Even before the budget, however, the Liberals are expected to present an initial look at the country’s finances after meeting with private-sector economists, as is the usual practice.
But, like the timing of the budget, no decision has been made.
“We have not decided on a date, but we would like to be releasing some form of economic and fiscal update this calendar year. That’s our goal,” Morneau said. “Whether it will be one date versus another, I don’t know yet.”
Asked whether the update would come before Christmas, the minister responded: “I suspect so.”
On the issues of the fledgling national securities regulator, the minister said “finding ways to make Canada work more efficiently is always going to be better.”
“But we need to recognize that there are regional differences and there are points of view that are based in history and based in the situation we have in different provinces.”
Morneau said he planned to meet with provincial finance ministers sometime in December, but he could not confirm the regulator issue would be discussed.
“It will be on the list of things to talk about,” he said. “I’m not sure, because we haven’t gone over the agenda yet, but I’m sure it will be a pretty fulsome agenda and I suspect there will be at least one or two (finance ministers) who will want to talk about things that aren’t even on the agenda.”