Finance Minister Bill Morneau told an audience in Montreal today that Canada's economy is facing "considerable head winds," but that his government will make the investments needed to "get Canadians moving" again and improve conditions for exporters.
Morneau made the comments at a luncheon hosted by the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations in advance of a series of budget consultations with industry leaders and advocacy groups in the city.
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The Liberals are preparing their first budget after winning a majority in the 2015 federal election.
"There has just never been a better time to make targeted investments to support economic growth in this country," said the minister promising to focus on "restoring middle-class economic progress," while maintaining his government's commitment to fiscal responsibility. Included in those investments are enhancements to the Canada Pension Plan.
Morneau also said Canada's economic progress cannot come without "placing environmental sustainability at the heart of our resource sector," adding "Canada, with its North American partners, can and should be one of the world's most efficient and responsible energy producers."
He was asked directly if in light of worsening economic conditions, the falling dollar and sinking price of oil, his government would consider increasing the $10 billion in annual deficits the Liberals promised to run during the election campaign in order to stimulate the economy.
"Canadians believe in our strategy around growth and we are going to continue on that strategy because we think it's the right thing to do," he responded.
Morneau is on his second day of a six-day cross-country consultation trip asking Canadians what they want to see in the coming federal budget. The meetings, which began yesterday in Halifax, are a mix of traditional closed-door sessions with stakeholders, ranging from telecom companies to cultural organizations, offering their opinions directly to the minister and a number of public meetings with advocacy groups.
The minister said the consultations are important because "as a government we understand that we are not the only actors. And as a minister, I certainly recognize that I don't have all the answers."
The budget is expected to be presented in the House of Commons in the spring, but Morneau did not offer new details about its exact timing Tuesday.
The new Liberal government attempted to get the Commons finance committee up and running before Christmas so it could use Parliament's winter break to conduct its own pre-budget consultations.
But the Bloc Québécois repeatedly blocked consent to strike the committee. The BQ, which does not have enough members for official standing in the Commons, objected to not having one of its MPs on the committee.