Morneau pushes back at business concerns that budget overlooked competitiveness worries

Click to play video: 'A budget to create optimism for the future'
A budget to create optimism for the future
WATCH ABOVE: Finance Minister Bill Morneau tells Mercedes Stephenson his government’s budget includes significant investments to help the middle class to try and create optimism for the future – Mar 24, 2019

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is pushing back at concerns from business groups that his most recent federal budget “failed to address the fundamental issues” facing Canadian companies.

In an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Morneau said the argument from some business advocates including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, saying the budget didn’t do enough to help businesses become more globally competitive, isn’t accurate because there are measures that propose making it easier to attract and train employees.

“I don’t agree with them at all,” he said, pointing to proposed support for employee training in the Canada Training Benefit and a pledge to make the Global Talent Stream permanent.

“What you’ll see when you look at our budget, there is a whole host of things we’ve done that we think are really important.”

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Despite a campaign promise in 2015 to balance the budget by 2019, the Liberal budget released last week deepens the federal deficit and keeps the books in the red until at least 2024, leaving what economists describe as scant wiggle room in the event of an economic shock.

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While it focuses largely on issues of housing affordability and access, improving costs for drugs, and helping employees get skills training, there is nothing in the budget that unravels red tape or takes a stab at lowering the taxation rates for businesses.

Both were key issues flagged by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in its analysis of the budget.

“Today’s federal budget failed to address the fundamental issues that continue to undermine the ability of Canadian business to create more jobs and generate more prosperity for all Canadians,” the Chamber said in its analysis.

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Some smaller concerns the Chamber said it had raised were addressed, but overall, the advocacy group said “any meaningful solutions to the greatest concerns of Canadian business owners” were overlooked.

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Grant Thornton LLP Canada, a business advisory firm, warned in its assessment of the budget that the government should have used the budget to go farther to support businesses to stay competitive on the world stage, saying, “it does not go far enough to bolster competitiveness for Canadian business.”

Jack Mintz, one of the foremost public policy voices in the country, also criticized the budget for not doing enough.

“None of the big issues facing Canada — lagging productivity, fiscal imbalances and the urgent need for competitive tax reform — got a lick of attention anywhere in the 464-page budget document,” he wrote in a column for the National Post reflecting on the budget.

Morneau didn’t directly address the key concerns flagged in those assessments — namely, that lowering taxes and decreasing regulation would give Canadian businesses a competitive edge, particularly given the U.S. has been doing so.

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But in the past, he has indicated that lowering corporate taxes is not something on his agenda.

Instead, he said the focus of the election-year budget is on trying to help Canadians feel more optimistic.

“People are in a better economic situation, especially in terms of jobs,” he said. “We’re trying to create that optimism for the future.”

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