Government charts return to balanced budgets

Mon Jun 6, 2011 5:13pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The government unveiled a budget on Monday that reasserted its aim to make Canada the first Group of Seven industrialized country to return to balanced books.

The budget is almost identical to the one the Conservatives presented in March but which never came to a vote before the government was toppled by the opposition parties, which at that point had a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives won a majority in the May 2 election, which means the new budget will be approved quickly in Parliament. Prime Minister Stephen Harper campaigned for reelection on the idea of staying the economic course and not hiking taxes.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget formally projects deficits through 2014-15, when it sees a C$300 million gap. But Flaherty said the government should actually be able to run a C$3.7 billion surplus that year by cutting spending.

The government plans to save C$11 billion over four years through a spending review, but it did not formally book the savings in this budget, saying it did not know yet what programs would be cut.

Canada ran 11 straight budget surpluses from 1997-98 until it ran a deficit in 2008-09 as the global recession struck.

In reaction to the recession, Ottawa embarked on a two-year stimulus program that pushed the budget deficit up to C$55.6 billion in 2009-10, a record in nominal terms. The deficit fell to C$36.2 billion last year.

The budget projects a deficit of C$32.3 billion for the 2011-12 fiscal year, shrinking to C$19.4 billion in 2012-13, C$9.4 billion the next year and just C$300 million in 2014-15. These figures do not account for any spending cuts the government may implement.   Continued...

<p>Finance Minister Jim Flaherty prepares to deliver his budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 6, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>