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Finance Minister Morneau won’t draw red line on how far feds willing to push deficit

Finance Minister Bill Morneau won’t draw red line on deficit size
WATCH ABOVE: Finance Minister Bill Morneau won’t draw red line on deficit size

Finance Minister Bill Morneau won’t put a dollar limit on how far he’s willing to push the federal deficit.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Morneau was asked about the ballooning deficit outlined last week in a fiscal update provided by him about the state of the economy amid concerns about a potential downturn.

That fiscal update showed the deficit is on track to deepen by billions of dollars, with the deficit for this fiscal year projected to be $7 billion higher than Morneau had promised in the budget earlier this past spring: $26.6 billion compared to $19.8 billion.

All the while, the Liberals are promising to keep spending more money.

READ MORE: Morneau’s fiscal update shows Canada’s deficit increased by billions for next 2 years

Host Stephenson asked Morneau: “Is there a red line for you on how deep into deficit your government is willing to go?”

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“I think you’ve seen our fiscal update,” Morneau responded.

“So our projection is: we will have a declining amount of deficit and a declining amount of debt as a function of our economy. We’ve also said there’s a need for us to continue investing.

“So that projection is probably the frame that you should use as you think about what we are going to try to achieve.”

Warning signs of a recession
Warning signs of a recession

When asked to clarify whether that means the Liberals are willing to push Canada past projections which currently have the government adding about $35 billion to the expected deficits between 2019 and 2024, Morneau didn’t rule it out.

“Our government’s approach is exactly what we’ve laid out. The hypotheticals about what might or might not happen in the future are very dependent on where we go in the economy,” he said.

“We expect strong growth. That’ll allow us to continue to make these investments, and what we’ve said are important criteria for success [are] declining that debt to GDP … a triple A credit rating, [and] having the capacity in the case of need to deal with it while we continue to invest.

“Those are the important fiscal anchors that we’ve maintained and we’re going to continue to maintain them.”

That comes after Trudeau instructed Morneau in his mandate letter two weeks ago to “preserve fiscal firepower,” in case the government had to act in an economic downturn.

Conservative MP says country facing a possible ‘made in Canada recession’
Conservative MP says country facing a possible ‘made in Canada recession’

Forecasts remain mixed, with some economists predicting Canada will avoid a recession.

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Others, however, are warning one could arrive next year amid weakness in the oil and gas sector, high consumer debt levels, an inverted bond yield curve and  data for the month of November showing the greatest monthly job loss numbers since the Great Recession.

READ MORE: Almost 9 out of 10 Canadians feel food prices are rising faster than income: survey

If that happens, the government would face questions about whether it will deploy fiscal stimulus as was done in the last recession.

But that costs money — a lot of it. With the deficit continuing to rise and no clear plan to get back to balanced budgets, the Liberals have faced criticism from the Conservatives that they are putting Canada in a situation where they could have little wiggle room to spend even more than they already are.

“So what fiscal anchor is now left for this government?” said Poilievre last week.

“They are squandering our country’s good fortune that they inherited. They are putting our economy on a dangerous track to the future and … as Conservatives, we need to stand up, fight back and win.”

Morneau says none of the 14 private sector economists the government consulted with in doing its fiscal forecasts are predicting a recession, and that the government expects overall job growth and economic growth more broadly to continue.