Senate scandal a disruption to economic agenda, Flaherty says
Finance minister speaks after meeting with private-sector economists
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty called the Senate a distraction to the economic agenda of the Conservative Party, during a press conference following his meeting with private-sector economists in Ottawa today.
While the Senate is considering what disciplinary action it can take against three senators who claimed ineligible expenses, Flaherty was asked whether he supported a motion to suspend senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, and Pamela Wallin without pay.
"I don't talk about the Senate because I want to have a long happy life," Flaherty joked at first, quickly adding that "I really have no interest in it, quite frankly, other than it's disruptive of what we're trying to do economically."
"I'm actually an advocate of abolition of the Senate. I always have been."
"In this day and age to have a non-elected legislative body is an anachronism," Flaherty said.
Surplus in 2015
The finance minister also told reporters the federal government is on track to balance its budget by 2015-16.
Earlier in the day, the Parliamentary Budget Office released its fall update, which predicted that Flaherty is on track to balance the federal books by 2015 as forecast, despite an expected slowdown in the economy.
While Flaherty said he was happy to see that the PBO agreed with his forecast, he said he noticed the budget watchdog did not take note of the savings he will get from the fact that "we are going to freeze the public service envelope again."
The finance minister said it was mentioned in the speech from the throne and that officials from the finance department will speak with the PBO "to make sure we are comparing apples with apples."
The plan is to budget a surplus in 2015 — and not a tiny surplus.- Finance Minister Jim Flaherty
Flaherty also said he will not only balance the budget in 2015-16 but that "the plan is to budget a surplus in 2015 — and not a tiny surplus."
"There will be no doubt that we're balanced in 2015," the finance minister said.
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The speech from the throne also promised to take steps to close the price gap between goods purchased in Canada compared to those goods bought in the U.S.
Flaherty said he has been meeting with the CEOs of major retailers in Canada and asking them for explanations. He said the government has also asked Nielsen, a market research company, to ask questions of the store managers — with the permission of the CEOs.
"There are some explanations about country pricing … but there are also some things that seem to be just taking advantage," Flaherty said.
The finance minister said he will wait for a report by the CEOs of the major retailers before taking any further action.
Flaherty also told reporters the private-sector economists recommended that he have further conversations with people in the building industry because they are seeing "a re-acceleration of housing prices" in certain parts of the country.
"I want to ensure that this isn't just a temporary bubble," Flaherty said.
While the finance minister will continue to monitor the housing market, he said the finance department has no plans for further action.
"I have no intention of interfering in the market at the time being," Flaherty said.
Conservatives gathering in Calgary on Thursday for the party's annual convention will debate several policy resolutions including one that would see the federal government cap spending at $300 billion starting in 2016-17, the year after the budget is balanced, and for the following fours years.
Flaherty said he did not support the resolution because it's impossible to anticipate emergency relief, the kind that was needed during the Alberta floods or following the train derailment in Lac Mégantic, Que.
"I don't think governments should have their hands tied, so that they can respond to the needs of people in emergencies," Flaherty said.