Scheer curtails promise of balancing budget within two years if elected

Federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer confirmed on Friday that he plans to relax a previous promise to balance the budget within two years if elected, saying current government spending patterns have “made it impossible for anyone to immediately and responsibly balance the budget.” 

He said that, instead, he will make balancing the budget in about five years his goal.

Scheer had previously signed a pledge with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in 2017 promising to balance the budget within two years if he were elected. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau had called this plan “risky” and warned achieving it would require deep spending cuts.

Speaking in Vancouver during a luncheon hosted by the Canadian Club, Scheer said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government “has made an even bigger mess” of the budget than he thought possible. He added even the most optimistic projections don’t forecast the Liberals balancing the federal budget for 20 more years, while promising the assembled crowd that the Conservatives would be able to do so in a quarter of that time.

Despite a 2015 Liberal campaign promise to return to a balanced budget within four years, the federal government’s fiscal deficit is forecast to reach $19.8 billion this year. The most recent federal budget projected the deficit will fall slightly next year before declining to $9.8 billion in 2023-24.

Scheer accused the Liberal government of embarking on a “deficit spree,” with $79.5 billion of previously unbudgeted spending being announced since 2017, and said the Tories’ electoral platform “will have a fully costed and independently vetted fiscal plan” that will return Canada to balanced budgets. He emphasized that such a plan would not affect the Canada Child Benefit, seniors’ benefits or transfers to provinces.

Scheer also took time before his prepared remarks to address a May 24 ruling by the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which blocked the provincial government from restricting oil shipments through the federally-owned Trans Mountain (TMX) pipeline.

“Obviously the Conservative Party is pleased with this decision. However, there still is a great deal of uncertainty as it relates to future court processes,” he said, adding that his party has asked the Liberal government to fast-track judicial references to the Supreme Court of Canada “so that investors can finally get clarity around getting big projects built.”

The B.C. Court of Appeal’s five-judge panel ruled unanimously that the province doesn’t possess the authority to create a permitting regime for companies that wish to increase their flow of diluted bitumen from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. through the TMX, since it would interfere with the federal government’s jurisdiction.