Politics

Justin Trudeau leaves some deficit wiggle room

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is giving himself a bit of wiggle room on just how big his government's deficits could be if he's elected.

Liberal leader has promised to balance the budget in 2019, assuming economy grows

'We are, as Liberals, always are committed to balancing the budget,' Justin Trudeau says. 'But how long that will take will depend very much on the size of the mess Mr. Harper has left us.' (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is giving himself a bit of wiggle room on just how big his government's deficits could be if he's elected.

For the past few weeks, Trudeau has faced a series of questions from reporters travelling with his campaign about his fiscal plans and when he will release a fully costed platform.

During a town hall meeting in downtown Toronto Monday, Trudeau hinted that his deficits could grow beyond the planned $10 billion a year.

Infrastructure boost

The Liberal platform is to run a series of deficits of up to $10 billion a year in the next three years in order to kickstart the economy by investing in big infrastructure projects. Trudeau has promised to balance the budget in 2019.

Trudeau was asked by Radio-Canada reporter Daniel Thibeault if those deficits could go above $10 billion per year given the low price of oil.

The Liberal leader responded in French, saying, "We are committed to balancing the budget in 2019, and we have always said that we will have modest deficits for the first three years." 

But then he added, "We have also said that, if the situation gets radically worse, we might revise these numbers."

It is the clearest answer Trudeau has given to date on that issue, possibly giving himself a bit of wiggle room if the economy performs worse than expected.

"But as of now, we have been conservative … prudent in our evaluation and I am confident in our plan, and in our fiscal framework, that you'll see during this campaign," he told the audience in the Trinity-Spadina riding, where his party is battling it out with the NDP.

Trudeau's staff were quick to follow up after the event, pointing out that the Liberal leader has said this before and that he's not changing his tune mid-stride.

They point out that background material sent on Aug. 27 included this statement: "If the fiscal situation deteriorates due to a further slowdown of the economy in the weeks ahead, Liberals will be honest with Canadians about the facts."

Trudeau also hedged his bets on deficits two days before that when talking to reporters after a rally with former prime minister Paul Martin:

"We are, as Liberals, always are committed to balancing the budget. But how long that will take will depend very much on the size of the mess Mr. Harper has left us." 

Both the NDP and Conservatives have accused the Liberal leader of heading toward a slippery slope of ever-increasing deficits with his borrow and build infrastructure plans.

In a statement to CBC News, Conservative campaign spokesman Stephen Lecce said Trudeau is "either unable or unwilling to control his spending."

"He has pledged to repeal the Balanced Budget Act, a necessity if he plans to run permanent, structural deficits," Lecce said of the Liberal leader. "This will inevitably end in higher taxes for Canadians, even beyond the payroll and employer tax hikes he has already promised."

But Liberal campaign press officer Zita Astravas points out that their deficit plan is based on economic projections from both the OECD and from the parliamentary budget officer.

"It's also important to note that the OECD recent numbers were aligned with the PBO projections for July," she wrote in an email.

"So there hasn't been any adjustments from our end and [it] would be wrong to suggest otherwise."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margo McDiarmid is a freelance photographer and journalist based in Warsaw, Poland. She worked for CBC for more than 30 years.

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