OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Conservative government will focus on jobs and growth while eliminating the federal budget deficit, it said on Friday as it unveiled a plan for the four-year mandate it won in last month’s election.
Freshly armed with a majority of seats in the House of Commons, the government said it would be able to balance the budget by 2014 without raising taxes.
The speech was delivered in the plush red Senate chamber by Governor General David Johnston.
“We will get back to work on the things that matter most to Canadians: good jobs, security for our families and a prosperous future,” Johnston said on behalf of the government.
Led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Conservatives have been in power since 2006 with two previous minority governments, which meant they needed opposition support to pass major legislation such as the budget. They were re-elected with a majority on May 2.
The government said it would continue to welcome foreign investment, but it did not detail when or how it might open the telecom sector to foreigners.
It cautioned that the global economy remains fragile, and said the aging workforce would put long-term pressure on the pension and health-care systems that must be addressed.
“Jobs and growth will remain our government’s top priority,” Johnston said.
SENATE PAGE HOLDS UP “STOP HARPER” SIGN
In a rare breach of decorum, a Senate page emerged from the side of the chamber holding up a red stop sign with the words “Stop Harper” on it, before being ushered out by Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers.
The governor general, who did not miss a beat, said the government intended to wrap up the stimulus plan that it mounted against the recession and work on spending cuts. It has said the cuts should deliver C$11 billion ($11.2 billion) in savings over four years.
It plans to balancing the budget by 2014, ahead of the original target of 2015, Johnston said.
“In order to accelerate the return to a balanced budget and to eliminate the deficit one year earlier, over the next year we will undertake a strategic and operating review of government spending,” he said.
“Our government’s plan will put us on a strong footing to resume paying down the federal debt, further reduce taxes on families and continue investing in priorities.”
Among other plans of the government:
- Reach deal with Quebec by September 15 to compensate the province for harmonizing its sales tax with the federal goods and services tax.
- Move forward with willing provincial partners to establish a single, national securities regulator, subject to Supreme Court approval.
- Seek swift passage of new copyright legislation.
- Work with U.S. President Barack Obama to streamline border crossing, enhance security and boost regulatory co-operation.
- Aim to complete free trade deals with the European Union by 2012 and with India by 2013.
- End the Canadian Wheat Board’s marketing monopoly on western Canadian wheat and barley.
- End the registry of long guns, such as hunting rifles.
- Phase out direct subsidies to federal political parties.
- Introduce term limits for senators and encourage provinces to hold elections for Senate nominees, who are currently chosen by the prime minister.
- Support the planned Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Atlantic Canada.
The new leader of the opposition, the New Democrats’ Jack Layton, told reporters that the speech said little about job creation, and had nothing to say about climate change or hiring more doctors.
“There were some good things in the speech ... that we look forward to, but quite a lot of disappointments,” said Layton, whose left-leaning party was vaulted into second place in the May 2 election.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren and Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson