OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will extend the deadline to complete projects funded by its two-year C$48 billion ($48 billion) stimulus program by seven months, to help offset a slowing economy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday.
The government will now cut off projects on Oct 31, 2011. It initially said all projects had to be finished by March 31, 2011, prompting complaints from local authorities who said they needed more time.
Harper said the government was concerned that the rate of growth in Canada was starting to slow significantly.
“There’s obviously, in the current environment, no harm to allowing more time to complete the infrastructure projects and keep some of those people working a bit longer,” he told a news conference in Mississauga, Ontario.
The stimulus program was introduced early last year to offset the worst of the recession. Some opposition legislators want to expand it, but Harper said this was not an option.
“As this applies to projects already approved, there will be no additional cost to taxpayers,” he said, adding that around 90 percent of projects would be finished by March 31.
Canada has been hit by the high value of the Canadian dollar, the after-effects of the global recession and weak demand in the United States.
Harper said the government remained “cautiously optimistic” on the economy, but there were considerable global risks.
“Our own read is that private domestic demand should be sufficient going forward to sustain the recovery that we do have,” Harper said.
The minority Conservative government says the stimulus program has helped create more than 420,000 net new jobs since July 2009.
Parliament’s independent budgetary officer disputes that claim. He said in a report released on Wednesday that 43 percent of those who had received stimulus money reported it had not boosted job levels.
Harper said the report lacked credibility.
Additional reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Janet Guttsman