Bill Morneau kicks off pre-budget consultations with Halifax speech
'The challenge is greater than we expected' when elected, federal finance minister says
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau started a week of pre-budget consultations today with a warning to Canadians that there are "no quick fixes and no easy answers" to Canada's economy.
In a speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, Morneau said Canada isn't facing the problems alone.
"The global economy is weak, and we are facing an uphill battle," he said Monday. "But we are facing these challenges from a position of strength."
Morneau pointed out Canada's low debt to gross domestic product ratio and highly educated workforce are positives for long-term economic growth.
"Longer term growth is the hallmark of this government," the Liberal minister said.
He also said challenges to long-term growth include Canada's aging population and the shrinking labour force.
Morneau said labour force participation could be much improved with assistance to get more people with disabilities, as well as aboriginals and immigrants employed.
The minister is on a six-day cross-country consultation trip to ask Canadians for input into what should be in the coming federal budget.
The meetings will be a mix of traditional closed-door sessions with stakeholder groups, ranging from manufacturing to cultural organizations, plus a couple of public events in each location where people will get a chance to offer their opinions directly to the federal minister.
Morneau's cross-country trek is called "Growing Our Economy Together," and moves to Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary, ending in Surrey, B.C., on Jan. 16.
In Halifax, he started with a warning.
"The challenge is greater than we expected [when elected]," he said.
Despite the challenges, Morneau said it's time to focus on things Canada can control, such as our openness to markets, better support of trade and diversifying trade to include emerging markets.
He also said the middle class will get a break in the form of the Canada Child Tax Benefit in the first budget.
Morneau said nine out of 10 families will receive the tax-free monthly payment given to eligible families, and it will be more generous.
"We need to make sure we are investing in people," he said.
He also said government needs to make it easier for companies to innovate.
"Canadian businesses are generally less innovative than businesses elsewhere. This is pretty frustrating," he said.
'Haven't yet written the budget'
After the speech, Morneau travelled to Dalhousie University where he took questions from the media.
When faced with questions about global financial challenges, he emphasized the importance of investing in infrastructure projects. He said the goal is to invest in projects that will give the economy a short-term boost, but have a long-lasting impact.
When asked about the national shipbuilding program, Morneau would not commit to the number of ships to be built, only saying the Liberal government was committed to the project.
"We remain committed to making investments in shipbuilding here ... We have nothing new to announce."
Morneau said he has not yet written the budget.
In November, a briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was leaked to CBC News and warned overruns could scale back the number of vessels being built under the $39-billion national shipbuilding procurement strategy launched by the Harper government.
The note said costs for some projects were soaring by as much as 181 per cent and others are on the cusp of being cancelled. Work has already started on the six Arctic offshore patrol vessels.