(Adds remarks on quick infrastructure projects, changes dateline, previous OTTAWA)
By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta, Jan 15 (Reuters) - At least part of the Canadian government’s plans to boost infrastructure spending will focus on projects that can be undertaken quickly, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said on Friday.
It was Morneau’s first nod, following a full week of media appearances across the country, to the idea of getting an early jolt of stimulus from the infrastructure project spending to boost an economy slammed by the continued slide in oil prices.
“We are looking to make infrastructure investments that are prudent and responsible, and in cases where we can find prudent, responsible projects that we can embark on quickly, we will do so,” Morneau told a news conference at the University of Calgary after speaking to students earlier.
Morneau did not give specific details but one idea floated in The Globe and Mail newspaper this week, citing a senior official, has been to spend on retrofits to improve energy efficiency. These expenditures can get underway more quickly than port expansions, even if such “quick-hit” spending may not yield growth-enhancing productivity boosts.
Morneau, part of the Liberal government elected in October, once again declined to say whether he was inclined to go beyond what his party had laid out during the campaign in terms of the level of government spending or deficits.
The Liberals had promised to run deficits of up to C$10 billion ($7 billion) a year in the first three years of their mandate and then bring it back to balance by year four.
Morneau told an earlier gathering of students at the university that the return to balance should be made possible by economic growth.
“We do plan on balancing the budget at the end of four years, and that will, I expect, come through growth in the economy,” Morneau said.
He defended the government’s plan to run deficits in the next three years but said it was important to be prudent in spending.
In October the Bank of Canada estimated 2.0 percent growth for 2016, but it is expected to revise that down next week. (Reporting by Nia Williams; Writing by Randall Palmer; Editing by Diane Craft)