The minority Liberal government will present a “snapshot” of the state of Canada’s economy on July 8, but it won’t be a traditional fiscal and economic update that provides projections for the years ahead, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.
Rather, the upcoming “snapshot” will provide a sense of the government’s fiscal expectations for the weeks and months ahead, as well as the scale of Canada’s coronavirus response so far. It will also show how that response compares to other countries, the prime minister said during his daily news conference at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.
“I think it would be a little unrealistic to project much further than a few months because things are changing so rapidly,” Trudeau told reporters.
The federal government had been set to table its 2020 budget in late March, but postponed its release as it moved to respond to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Canada.
Since then, Ottawa has spent billions of dollars on mitigation efforts during the crisis — including on direct emergency aid programs for those financially hit by the outbreak — which Trudeau has described as “the largest economic measures of our lifetime.”
Over the last couple of months, reporters have asked the prime minister a number of times when the government plans to table its 2020 budget or release a status update on the country’s finances, questions he repeatedly sidestepped.
As recently as last week, Trudeau deflected the question yet again, citing the uncertainty the pandemic posed and saying any predictions would be “unreliable.”
Opposition parties have been pressuring the government to release an economic update to put the country’s finances into perspective.
As negotiations continue on a bill that would update certain federal COVID-19 aid programs, the Bloc Québécois has asked for a fiscal update in return for the party’s support for the bill.
Asked about the prime minister’s impending announcement on the economic status update, the Bloc leader said he feared the government would release it “in the middle of the summer in order to have people not watch it while they will be having a beer around the barbecue.”
“I think it is quite another lack of respect for the parliament,” Yves-François Blanchet told reporters earlier on Wednesday.
Trudeau deflected a question on whether the economic “snapshot” is the government’s way of appeasing the opposition. He said the federal government is “moving from the emergency phase into something that’s more of a recovery phase” and that “now is a natural time for bundling together” all the government’s measures to date.
However, when pressured on when a normal fiscal update or the budget in its entirety might be released, the prime minister said the government is still “very much” focused on an immediate response and will “reflect” on an appropriate time “as the situation stabilizes.”
He added that if a second wave of the virus hits the country or if Canadians “fall on hard times because of COVID-19,” the government will “need to do more.”
Trudeau argued the government has remained transparent about its spending over the course of the pandemic and it has been providing updated information and numbers on its COVID-19 measures to the House of Commons finance committee every two weeks.
The economic “snapshot” will pull all those figures together, the prime minister said.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland echoed Trudeau’s argument that too much uncertainty remains to present a longer-term outlook for the Canadian economy.
“A full and formal economic and fiscal update gives predictions, predictions that we feel have real weight and credibility for the next year, two years out and five years out,” Freeland said.
“And we know that it just wouldn’t be responsible to say to Canadians: ‘We have enough certainty to know where things will be in five years to give that kind of a full and formal fiscal and economic update.'”
Finance Minister Bill Morneau is expected to formally announce the upcoming economic “snapshot” in Parliament later in the day.
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