03/08/2013 12:24 EST | Updated 05/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Flaherty confident about budget amid uplifting job numbers

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty emerged from his meeting with private sector economists on Friday insisting the federal government was still on track to balance the federal budget by 2015, despite the likelihood of "significant" tax revenue losses in a softening or stalling economy.

Flaherty said he was "focused like a laser" on government spending to ensure that the Conservatives put the federal government back into the black before the end of its current mandate in 2015.

"Savings within government" and closing remaining tax loopholes would be key, Flaherty said, reiterating his commitment to not reducing transfer payments to provinces or individual Canadians.

Gloomier GDP numbers in recent days were offset somewhat earlier on Friday morning when Statistics Canada reported job figures for the month of February that surpassed economists' expectations, with the economy creating 51,000 new jobs.

Flaherty said he's been focused on the "degree of accountability" for federal funds transferred to the provinces for the purposes of skills training, suggesting that more work needs to be done to connect the skills of the unemployed to available jobs.

Reports have suggested the 2013 budget may end the transfer of funding to provinces and territories in this area, in favour of returning responsibility for skills training to the federal government.

Flaherty again declined to offer a specific date for the budget, telling reporters he'll reveal the timing "as soon as we make a decision."

It's expected before the end of March. The House of Commons begins a one-week break on Monday.

Flaherty also told reporters that he spoke to BMO (Bank of Montreal) to "express concern" earlier this week, following the bank's decision to once again offer five-year fixed residential mortgage rates at 2.99 per cent.

The finance minister said it was both an objective and a symbolic reduction, following a moderation in the housing market which he felt had been a good thing.

Flaherty pointed out that the federal government has already tightened mortgage rules four times. He thanked the other banks for not reducing their rates at this time.