Trudeau says it could take ‘years’ to balance budget but promises plan

WATCH ABOVE: All three party leaders are doubling down on their position on how to balance the budget — or if they will at all. Vassy Kapelos reports.

NEWMARKET, Ont. – Balancing the federal budget could take years, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suggested Wednesday as he turned up the heat on the NDP to explain how they would pull it off so soon after being elected.

But Trudeau’s demand for specifics raises uncomfortable questions for Liberals, who themselves have not spelled out a plan to deal with the deficit beyond the fuzzy notion of growing the economy for the middle class.

Trudeau denied he’s been opaque.

“Although the Liberal party continues to be the party that is committed to balancing the budget and making sure we maintain fiscal responsibility and discipline, how many years it takes to balance that budget is what we will be talking about in the coming days and weeks,” he said Wednesday.

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Trudeau has attempted to reframe the economic debate as a choice between growing the economy and “austerity” – a politically loaded word in light of recent stock market instability and the ongoing debate about Greece’s financial plight.

Opening the door to running a deficit is sure to be red meat for Trudeau’s opponents, who’ve repeatedly attempted to cast him as an economic lightweight who would make deficit financing a fixture, rather than an exception.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has warned that both the Liberals and NDP would lead the country back into disastrous structural deficits.

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Trudeau said eight straight Conservative deficits mean Harper has no right to lecture anyone on finances.

The NDP say Trudeau has changed his position several times on the issue since the beginning of the year.

“We’ve had eight straight deficits under Stephen Harper and now Justin Trudeau is promising to run many more,” said Toronto-area NDP candidate and former Saskatchewan finance minister Andrew Thomson.

“The Conservative fiscal and economic policies have taken us into debt and recession. Liberal inconsistencies show that they don’t know how to fix Stephen Harper’s damage to our economy.”

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Both opposition parties seem to agree the further collapse of oil prices and ongoing economic uncertainty means the country’s finances are once again in the red – a point the Conservatives are not prepared to concede.

READ MORE: Who is this middle class that politicians keep courting?

Finance Minister Joe Oliver was slated to deliver an economic address Wednesday in Toronto, but the event was scrubbed at the last minute.

“The way to grow out of deficits is through economic growth, through investing in Canadians,” Trudeau said.

“That is how you avoid structural deficits. You just have to look at recent history. Conservatives run deficits, Liberals know how to grow the budget into balance.”

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau takes aim at Mulcair, says NDP choosing ‘austerity and cuts’

Trudeau has been pilloried in Conservative attack ads that feature an interview clip in which he says the budget will “balance itself.” The notion that economic prosperity fills federal coffers naturally is a well-worn political strategy.

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The Liberals of the 1990s, whom Trudeau has been eager to hold up as examples, had the good fortune of governing during a period of economic growth, but they also slashed spending on defence and social transfers to the provinces.

Trudeau did not say what a new Liberal government would cut in order to return to balance.

Also Wednesday, the Liberals promised that if elected, they would provide teachers and early childhood educators a tax break on extra school supplies purchased out of their own pockets.

READ MORE: Targeted policies a proxy for bigger issues in 2015 federal election

It would provide up to a $150 refundable tax benefit on $1,000 worth of material, including posters, specialized art supplies and books.

The cost is expected to be about $60 million per year.

The Conservatives quickly dismissed the plan and pointed out their employment credit, introduced in 2006, already covers teachers and professionals more broadly for the cost of job-related supplies.

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