The Conservative government has no excuse if it goes into a deficit after inheriting a $12-billion surplus from the Liberals just two years ago, former prime minister Paul Martin said Tuesday.
"We just didn't eliminate the deficit; we built up surpluses," the former Liberal leader told CBC Radio's The Current. "Our deficit has not been gutted, not been eviscerated because of the financial crisis, but because the government cut the GST and then embarked on the biggest spending spree in government history."
Martin, speaking in Toronto while promoting his memoirs Hell or High Water, was finance minister when Jean Chrétien was prime minister, and is known for having eliminated Ottawa's deficits.
'The economy has changed fundamentally.' — Former prime minister Paul Martin
On Tuesday morning, Martin warned that Canada risks slipping back into deficit, and said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government could have anticipated the current global economic crisis.
"The economy has changed fundamentally. It is no longer the domestic economy," Martin said. "I don't think it's something new — we knew about it for quite some time."
Martin insisted that if the federal government runs a deficit now, it can only blame its own taxation and spending programs, not the global financial crisis, which was precipitated by the U.S. subprime mortgage disaster.
In a later interview on CBC Newsworld, Martin said he "went through five financial crises," and added: "You have to anticipate the future. These [crises] are not the exception to the rule, unfortunately."
Harper calls first ministers meeting
Martin's comments come the same day Harper announced a first ministers meeting for Nov. 10 in Ottawa to discuss the effects of global economic turmoil on Canada.
Earlier this month, shortly after the Conservatives won a minority government in the Oct. 14 general election, Harper said protecting the Canadian economy was his top priority and his government would take further action in response to the global crisis.
"The No. 1 job of the prime minister of Canada is to protect this country’s economy, our earnings, our savings, and our jobs, during a time of global economic uncertainty," he said in Calgary.
Martin is on a national month-long book tour, which began in Ottawa on Monday and will end in Windsor, Ont., on Nov. 27.
He succeeded Chrétien as federal Liberal leader in November 2003, and became prime minister that December.
Martin, finance minister from 1993 to 2002, held the prime minister's job from 2004 to 2006. He served as member of Parliament for the riding of LaSalle-Émard in Montreal from his election in 1988 to his retirement earlier this year.
As finance minister, Martin oversaw many changes in the financial structure of the federal government, and his policies helped eliminate the country's chronic fiscal deficit by reforming various programs, including social services.