Prime minister defends Liberal budget measures as sales effort gets underway

Conservatives under Andrew Scheer say it’s a spree funded by borrowing against the future

Canadian finance minister Bill Morneau leaves the stage following an armchair discussion hosted by the Toronto Region Board of Trade, The Empire Club and Canadian Club of Toronto, in Toronto, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston)

The Liberals will happily run on their economic record in the upcoming federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday, despite the billions of dollars they’ve added to the national debt.

At an afternoon stop outside a housing development in Ottawa’s eastern suburbs, touting the measures in the new federal budget to make homes more affordable, Trudeau gave what sounded much like a stump speech, talking about “historic investments” in Canadians — getting there after dismissing Conservatives’ complaints that the Liberals should have to answer more for the SNC-Lavalin affair.

READ MORE: 2019 BUDGET: Liberals promise billions for dairy, chicken farmers affected by trade deals

“What eats away at the Conservatives the most is that our approach is working,” he said. “Over the past three years, 900,000 Canadians created new jobs. Over the past three years, we’ve seen the lowest employment in 40 years. And we’ve see 825,000 Canadians, including 300,000 kids, lifted out of poverty because of measures this government is taking. And in this budget we just put forward yesterday, from easier access to home-ownership, to support for students, to money directly for seniors, to investments in broadband and high-speed internet access right across the country, we are responding to the priorities that Canadians have. The Conservatives have no plan for the economy, that’s why they want to talk about anything else. We are going to stay focused on delivering for Canadians, as we are today.”

While Trudeau emphasizes what all the government spending has done, the Conservatives under Andrew Scheer say it’s a spree funded by borrowing against the future.

Scheer had given a public speech to his caucus members in Ottawa earlier in the day, portraying Trudeau’s Liberals as a big-spending government with nothing but disdain for the idea of balanced budgets.

During the 2015 campaign, Trudeau warned that a Liberal government would initially run modest deficits, but would balance the books by 2019. That promise went out the window Tuesday with a budget that projects of 2019-20 deficit of $19.8 billion.

“During the televised leaders’ debate, he said this: ‘I am looking straight at Canadians and being honest the way we always have… We will balance the budget in 2019,’ ” Scheer said to the laughter of his colleagues. “Canadians who don’t have family fortunes like him know … that you can’t borrow your way out of debt and you can’t make other people pay for your mistakes.”

Trudeau acknowledged that his government has been borrowing heavily but he emphasized that although the national debt keeps growing, the economy is growing at about the same rate, so the burden isn’t getting harder to bear.

“Canadians need to know that our projections are sustainable,” he said,

Finance Minister Bill Morneau made his own post-budget sales effort Wednesday, defending the Liberal strategy of investing in consumer confidence in two separate appearances.

The budget Morneau tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons showcased several measures aimed at helping more would-be homebuyers get into the housing market for the first time; that’s what he focused on in a morning speech to the Empire Club in Toronto.

Under the new measures, the government is proposing to pick up five per cent of a mortgage on the purchase of an existing home for households that earn under $120,000 and have been approved for a mortgage no more than four times their income — or 10 per cent, if the house is new, in an attempt to spur construction. The Liberals will also let first-time buyers, and a few others in special circumstances, take up to $35,000 from their tax-free retirement savings accounts to spend on homes.

But Morneau insisted the government has also taken prudent steps to ensure that additional demand in markets like Toronto and Vancouver won’t result in higher prices.

“When we think about the overall homebuyer market, we have roughly half a million home purchases a year, but 100,000 of them are first-time homebuyers,” Morneau told a news conference after a morning speech to the Empire Club in Toronto.

“We’re talking about (adding) 20, maybe 30, maybe 40,000 new families, which is really important to those families, but we’ve done the modelling to show (it’s) not an issue around changing demand dynamics.”

In particular, Morneau picked out three other measures in the budget that he said are aimed at preventing a spike in home prices: A Canada Revenue Agency crackdown on real-estate money-laundering, $10 billion in affordable rental construction financing and a $300-million contest of sorts to challenge municipalities to come up with creative solutions to adding housing stock.

In an afternoon appearance back in downtown Ottawa, at just the same time as Trudeau’s, Morneau focused on a program to help workers pay for skills training while keeping their jobs.

“We’re always going to try and encourage Canadians to invest in their own success. Like we’ve put forward in this budget, we’re hoping that people will continue to improve their skills so that they can do better in their current jobs and do better for themselves and their families,” he said. “I’m always going to hope that we can have a higher level of growth. I think that the only way we can do that is by recognizing that what the tools are at our disposal are people. So, if we have highly educated, highly trained people, we’re going to do better.”

And then he echoed Trudeau on how content the Liberals will be to fight the election on their record of borrowing and spending.

“I think what will be happening in the election campaign is Canadians look at what we’ve done over the last four years,” Morneau said. ”We made promises that we would invest in Canadians. What they can see is we followed through on those promises.”

The Canadian Press

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