A day later, Morneau defends his budget

Minister fields complaints that plan doesn’t protect Canada enough from competitiveness threats

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau participates in a post-budget discussion at the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is defending his latest federal budget against complaints that it doesn’t do enough to shield Canada from shorter-term competitiveness threats linked to incoming U.S. tax reforms.

In a speech to the Economic Club of Canada, Morneau says Ottawa will focus on more immediate worries like NAFTA and lower U.S. corporate taxes at the same time it takes steps to address longer-term domestic risks, such as the aging workforce.

The fiscal plan tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons was packed with billions of dollars worth of new investments, including measures to increase the labour-force participation of women.

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To pay for it all, the Liberal government used up roughly $20 billion of additional fiscal room over the coming years that came from economic improvements, reprofiled infrastructure commitments and lower-than-expected departmental spending.

Morneau says Canada needs to play both a long game and a short game — and that the brightening economy enables the government to do just that.

In a news conference following his speech, Morneau reiterated that his department is still doing its homework on impending U.S. tax reforms that business leaders have warned could damage to the Canadian economy.

Tuesday’s budget showed the Liberal government is still predicting billions of dollars in annual deficits over the next six years.

The government is forecasting a shortfall of $18.1 billion for 2018-19, which will be followed by annual deficits set to shrink each year to $12.3 billion in 2022-23. The projections, which are similar to those the government posted in October, include annual $3-billion cushions to offset risks.

Morneau is focused on another fiscal “anchor” of lowering the net debt-to-GDP ratio, which is a measure of Ottawa’s debt burden. The budget predicts the ratio to decline each year over the outlook.

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

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