Federal budget to drop March 22, Morneau confirms

Click to play video: 'Federal budget to be presented on March 22: Bill Morneau'
Federal budget to be presented on March 22: Bill Morneau
Federal budget to be presented on March 22, confirms Bill Morneau – Mar 7, 2017

The federal budget will be tabled in the House of Commons on March 22, Finance Minister Bill Morneau confirmed on Tuesday afternoon.

As is the tradition, Morneau announced the date in the House of Commons.

“Our budget will be a continuation of our program to grow our economy … (it will be) very much about trying to increase jobs in this country,” Morneau told reporters following the announcement.

Much like the government’s inaugural budget last spring, the 2017-18 fiscal roadmap is expected to focus heavily on innovation, the so-called Canadian middle class and infrastructure spending.

READ MORE: A look at what could come from the 2017 budget

There may also be significant tax-related changes coming as the Liberals work to fulfill a campaign pledge to find $3 billion per year in new revenue by 2019-20 through “an overdue and wide-ranging review” of existing tax expenditures.

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The 2017-18 budget may be a particularly challenging one for Morneau as his government struggles to promote economic growth while confronting Conservative accusations of out-of-control deficit spending.

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Morneau’s fall fiscal statement predicted a deficit of $25.1 billion this year. On Tuesday, he promised the government would “continue to be responsible fiscally.”

READ MORE: Liberals shelled out $62.9 billion in ‘unprecedented’ first quarter, says budget watchdog

The government has also been criticized, most recently by a Senate committee and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, of failing to produce a concrete plan for the rollout of $186 billion in money set aside for infrastructure investment over the next decade.

The Trump effect

Budget preparations in recent weeks have faced an additional hurdle as Canadian officials attempt to get a better handle on President Donald Trump’s plans for the American economy.

Specifically, the prospect of new negotiations surrounding the North America Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA), lower corporate rates in the U.S. and a new border tax — all reportedly being considered by the White House — have loomed over Morneau’s department.

READ MORE: Budget 2017 to be watched closely by feminists for gender-based analysis

The finance minister recently met with his American counterpart, U.S. treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, but they kept their discussions broad.

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“When he spoke about tax reform, he did not go into specifics,” Morneau said on a conference call last week.

“At this stage, without details, it’s not a time for us to express support, or opposition, or even insights into the impact on the Canadian economy.”

Conservative, NDP reaction

Outside the House of Commons, Conservative finance critic Gerard Deltell said his party is most concerned about potential changes to tax credits in the budget, a failure to respond to changes in the U.S. that could hurt the competitiveness of Canadian businesses, and growing deficits.

“The first signal that the government should send is not to increase tax,” Deltell said.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair, for his part, said he’ll be looking for the government to close a tax loophole linked to tax havens in the budget, and for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fulfill promises made to First Nations.

Selling off public property built on the taxpayer dime, like airports, to generate revenue would be a red flag for the NDP, he added.

“(Trudeau) said he’d help the middle class,” Mulcair said. “Let’s hope that he starts doing that.”

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