POLITICS

Finance ministers focus on debt crisis in conference call

07/04/2012 02:01 EDT | Updated 09/03/2012 05:12 EDT
Canada's finance ministers held a short conference call Wednesday to catch-up and discuss the economic challenges facing the country.

The teleconference was meant to replace the summer meeting the federal, provincial and territorial ministers hold most years. The midday call was short, lasting about a half-hour.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty updated his provincial and territorial counterparts on his recent trips to the G20 in Mexico and then to Ireland.

But the main focus was on the possible effects on Canada of Europe's debt crisis and "continuing slowness" in the U.S. economy, Flaherty said in a statement issued later Wednesday.

"There's no doubt the European crisis will have an impact on Canada — despite our relatively strong economic performance in recent years — if not effectively dealt with," Flaherty said in the statement.

Flaherty said he is encouraged by the agreements Europeans have reached so far. But he warned again that Canada could end up in the same type of crisis as Europe if deficit and debt levels here aren't brought down too — not just at the federal level, but provincial as well.

"I recognized my counterparts for their work in controlling expenditures and reducing their deficits, while reinforcing the need for all governments in Canada to maintain that focus. We see the lesson in Europe if public finances are not sustainable and budgets are not balanced."

"We're all preoccupied with the situation in Europe," Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand told The Canadian Press after the call. "In spite of the fact that the decision in Greece was good for the banking system, not everything has been resolved. Greece has important problems, Spain is not out of the woods, the market is somewhat nervous about Italy."

Nova Scotia Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald agreed it was important for governments here to control their finances.

"We need to continue to be cautious, and we need to continue to put our own fiscal houses in order because they will give us some advantage if things unravel," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Bachand said the federal-provincial conference in the fall would be focused on the economy. Flaherty added in his statement the ministers would continue to hold their group meeting in December.