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President of Treasury Board makes pitch for Federal Budget 2018 at Halifax town hall

President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison speaks to students at Saint Mary's University on Feb. 28, 2018. Alexander Quon/Global News

A day after the release of the 2018 budget, President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison brought the document’s aspirational message of equality to a town hall on Wednesday in Halifax.

Addressing an audience of students at Saint Mary’s University (SMU), Brison repeatedly answered questions by referencing the government’s targeted goal of gender equality and equality for minority groups in the country.

“This budget could easily be called equality equals prosperity,” Brison said. The budget lays out programs that aim to increase the participation of women in the workforce and equalize pay.

“I feel very strongly that eliminating barriers that hold back about 50 per cent of your population are not only going to address a real social issue and real human rights issue, but it’s going to grow your economy.”

READ MORE: Trudeau government reveals the 2018 federal budget

Brison said his government was committed to supporting indigenous children and families, which are particularly disadvantaged in Canada.The federal government will set aside $4.7 billion over 5 years to assist in that particular goal.

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“Whether we are part of an indigenous community or not, we all have a vested interest in the success of indigenous youth,” Brison said.

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The government’s 2015 election commitment to present a balanced budget in 2019 has once again been dropped, with was no such promise found in the 2018 budget and no timeline for when the government will return to a surplus. The budget forecasts an $18.1 billion deficit for the next fiscal year.

Instead, Brison said that the government believes it’s important to make “smart investments” in Canadians.

“We’re investing in people, we’re investing in skills and we’re doing it all in a fiscally responsible way,” Brison told Global News, after the town hall.

“Our debt and deficit as percentage of GDP are actually on the decline. We have the lowest debt to GDP ratio of any G7 country.”

Rob Moore, Conservative shadow minister for Atlantic Canada, disagreed with Brison’s assessment of the budget.

“Budget 2018 was a huge opportunity for Justin Trudeau,” Moore said in a statement.

“Instead of capitalizing on a strong global economy, Justin Trudeau and his 32 Atlantic Liberals MPs are failing to get real results for the region.”

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WATCH: Liberals introduce plan for pay-equity law

Click to play video: 'Federal Budget 2018: Liberals introduce plan for pay-equity law'
Federal Budget 2018: Liberals introduce plan for pay-equity law

Brison dodged a question on planning for a future without the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — should negotiations fail — saying instead that the government’s focus is entirely on making sure it doesn’t come to that.

“We are doing everything we can in terms of our relationship with the U.S. administration; minister to minister, prime minister to president,” he said.

“We are doing everything to make the case that we believe a modernized, strengthened and updated NAFTA is good for citizens in the United States and Canada.”

He did not comment on any contingency plan that the federal government may have in the works.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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