Politics·THE NATIONAL

Deficits, Saudi Arabia, Trump and oil: 4 key takeaways from CBC's interview with Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his Liberal government is doubling down on deficit spending, a move contrary to his campaign promise of balanced budgets, because he believes it has proven to work.

PM campaigned on balanced budgets, says he changed course after assuming office

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down for wide-ranging interview with The National's Rosemary Barton to discuss topics from Trump and tariffs, to Alberta's oil industry and deficit spending. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his Liberal government is doubling down on deficit spending, a move contrary to his campaign promise of balanced budgets, because he believes it has proven to work.

Trudeau sat down for wide-ranging interview with The National's Rosemary Barton to discuss topics from U.S. President Donald Trump and tariffs, to Alberta oil and employment insurance.

Parts of the interview aired on Sunday, while the entire transcript of their conversation can be read here. Here are some highlights from their sit-down:

Deficit spending promises 

During the 2015 election campaign, Trudeau promised to balance the federal budget by the last year of the government's mandate. That has not happened. 

"I think people understand that circumstances change," Trudeau said, when pressed on whether he had broken a promise to Canadians on the deficit.  

He then accused the previous Conservative government of creating a "phony balance" that was ultimately unsustainable.

"Over the 10 years of the previous government, we faced stubbornly low growth and low employment numbers," said Trudeau. 

"All the cuts that the Conservatives made in that last year of their government — cuts to veteran services, cuts to border security, cuts to a significant range of programs — that weakened Canadians."

Trudeau said his government made a "very deliberate decision in 2015" to try and grow the economy by investing more in programs like the Canada Child Benefit and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

"Every year, our debt as a proportion of our GDP continues to decline. We're the lowest ratio in the G7.  We're doing very well," he said. 

Critics have accused Trudeau's government is digging the country into a deep fiscal hole.

Watch: Rosemary Barton's full interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

"The Trudeau government has run deficits nearly double the promised amount, and despite a growing economy, has no plan to balance the budget," two analysts from the conservative Fraser Institute think tank wrote in the Globe and Mail in February. "In fact, according to projections by the Department of Finance, federal deficits could continue for the next 27 years."

Saudi human rights

Trudeau also discussed his recent meeting at the G20 summit with Saudi Arabia's crown prince. 

Trudeau said he raised concerns to Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) about the Kingdom's involvement in the war in Yemen, the imprisonment of Saudi activists — which caused a diplomatic Twitter spat when Canada called for their release — and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"The killing of a journalist is something that is extremely serious to Canadians, to me," Trudeau said of  Khashoggi's death.

Watch: Trudeau on his talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discusses how Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responded when he raised the issue of the war in Yemen and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 3:30

Trudeau said he pushed MbS "to provide better answers," over the killing. He said he's heard the tapes of Khashoggi's killing but refused to characterize what was in them. 

When asked whether he would cancel an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, Trudeau said his government was "engaged very much with the issue behind the scenes" but would not firmly commit either way.

"The contract has particular provisions, both for confidentiality and around significant penalties. It was a contract that was signed by the previous government and we are looking at it obviously."

Critics say Trudeau's government, despite its lofty rhetoric, has prioritized arms sales to the Kingdom over human rights.

Trump and tariffs

After months of fruitless efforts with the U.S. President Donald Trump's White House, Trudeau appears ready to make Canada's case for the lifting of steel and aluminum tariffs directly to allies in Congress and to U.S. workers and businesses. 

"I mean we, obviously, want to get rid of those steel and aluminum tariffs," he said.

"But we also see the path toward ratification as a place where there are continued conversations from members of Congress, from business or associations in the U.S., from governors who also want to see these tariffs gone, and we're going to keep working on that."

Struggling energy sector

Trudeau said he is willing to consider helping Alberta Premier Rachel Notley fund the purchase of rail cars to increase the volume of oil her province can ship to international markets.

"That's something we're happy to look at," Trudeau said when asked if the federal government would support the purchase of rail cars. "If that's a proposal that [Notley] thinks is going to make a significant difference, then we're happy to look at how it works. I mean, we're there to be a partner, to help."

Protesters have taken to the streets of Calgary and other cities in Alberta in recent weeks, criticizing Trudeau for his handling of the oil industry and other issues. 

Watch: Trudeau 'happy to look at' funding rail car purchase

In an exclusive interview with The National co-host Rosemary Barton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is willing to consider funding rail cars and expanding employment insurance for hard hit workers in the oil patch. 0:58

Trudeau also suggested the federal government could ease the pain for the energy sector by temporarily extending Employment Insurance benefits for affected workers.

"We're absolutely looking at the tools we have around EI," Trudeau said. "We are looking at tools we have around income support.

"We've done a number of things around that ... and we're going to continue to do that. And I'm also willing, of course, to sit down with Premier Notley and hear about how the federal government can be a partner in solving this solution in real ways."