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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's new finance minister, Joe Oliver, promised on Monday to cut taxes for families once the budget is balanced, giving no details and sticking to the Conservative government's longstanding script in his first major speech in the new role.
Oliver, previously the government's energy minister and pitch man for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, was appointed as finance minister on March 19. He replaces Jim Flaherty, who served for eight years under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Speaking to a business audience in Toronto, Oliver repeated his predecessor's main message: low taxes and fiscal conservatism are here to stay.
"Once the budget is balanced our priority will be to provide tax relief for hardworking Canadian families," Oliver said in the prepared text of the speech.
"That is what we committed to in the last election, that is what we have delivered, and that is what we are going to continue to do," he said.
He warned detractors not to "expect a big stimulus program."
The federal budget is on track to reach a surplus in time for an October 2015 election. In the 2011 election campaign, Harper promised a big tax break for couples with children, saying they would be allowed to split their income for tax purposes.
But that idea has since been thrown into doubt. Just before stepping down, Flaherty questioned whether the measure would benefit society overall, suggesting a split in the Conservative ranks. There were also media reports that Harper was having second thoughts as well.
Oliver has so far avoided saying anything more specific than that there will be tax cuts benefiting families.
In addition to keeping taxes low, his stay-the-course plan on Monday included several pillars: addressing skills shortages in some sectors and regions of the Canadian economy, opening new markets for exports through free trade deals, diversifying markets for Canada's oil and other commodities, and investments in research and innovation.
Oliver began his speech by describing the five agonizing hours he spent on a plane last month after being told that Harper wanted to speak with him, but not knowing why.
Just before take-off in Toronto on a flight headed for Vancouver, Oliver's BlackBerry buzzed, which he said was "not terribly unusual." It was a staff member telling him Harper wanted a word. "And that was unusual," he said.
"Then seconds later another email arrives, this time from my wife saying the PM wants to speak to me. OK. I got it. But then the plane takes off, so I have five hours to consider what it might mean," he said.
"This could be good. Or not."
Reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Peter Galloway