Ottawa opens debate on timing of return to surplus

Fri Dec 11, 2009 11:22am EST
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The federal government is asking Canadians how quickly they think Ottawa should eliminate its budget deficit, suggesting it may be open to delaying the return to balanced books past the timeline originally set.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty launched pre-budget consultations on Friday and is seeking views on budget management, among other things.

"Over what time period should the government bring the budget back into balance?" is listed as a key question in the consultations process.

The government fell into deficit last year for the first time in over a decade as a result of the recession and a C$47 billion ($44.3 billion) emergency stimulus package, including a bailout of automakers.

The deficit in 2009-10 is expected to reach a historic high of C$55.9 billion. Flaherty predicted last month that the deficits would gradually shrink until reaching a small and manageable shortfall of about C$5 billion in 2014-15.

He has repeatedly vowed to balance the books as soon as the economy fully recovers, often referring to a five-year period for doing so.

The budget consultations, launched in Quebec City, will also seek feedback on the effectiveness of stimulus measures, ways to speed up delivery of stimulus and proposals for improving competitiveness once the recovery is fully entrenched.

The federal budget is expected to be presented to Parliament in the first quarter of 2010 for the 2010-11 fiscal year, which starts April 1.

($1=$1.06 Canadian)

(Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson)

<p>Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 10, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>