UPDATE 1-Canada gov't tries to fend off critics worried about deficits

Wed Mar 23, 2016 11:53am EDT
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(Adds details, background, quotes from minister, pollsters)

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA, March 23 (Reuters) - Canada's government on Wednesday sought to deflect criticism that it had condemned the country to years of budget deficits, saying it could balance the books within five years if efforts to boost the economy succeed.

The ruling Liberals on Tuesday projected a C$29.4 billion ($22.3 billion) deficit for fiscal 2016-17, nearly three times larger than what they promised during last year's election campaign.

The Liberals, who say the spending will help boost growth, gave no target date for returning to balance, with the budget still expected to show a deficit of C$14.3 billion in 2020-21.

Opposition politicians and influential media commentators said they feared Canada would face a long string of shortfalls of the kind it has not seen in two decades. This could cause problems for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"We're hoping to increase the growth rates," Trudeau told CBC Radio on Wednesday.

If the government can stimulate the economy, "we get to balance in the coming five years," he said. "There is a track to that if we increase the growth in the economy."

Trudeau faces no immediate political threat, since he only took power last November and is sitting high in the polls.   Continued...