NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is sticking to his promise to balance next year's budget, but won't explicitly say which — if any — spending commitments he'd be willing to jettison, should it prove necessary.
Mulcair was asked Wednesday about the flexibility of his big-ticket campaign vows if an incoming NDP government were to inherit a worse-than-expected financial situation from the outgoing Conservatives.
Amid skepticism from rivals whether the NDP would be able to afford its pledges, Mulcair was also asked if he would use such a scenario as an excuse to hold off on delivering certain promises.
"Well, I guess that's a totally fair question because I guess that is a classic, isn't it?" Mulcair said, referring to the age-old political trick of blaming the preceding government for public books that are worse off than first thought.
From there, Mulcair, who was campaigning in Niagara Falls, Ont., said balancing the 2015-16 budget remains a "top priority."
"If you look at everything we have talked about so far, we are confident — in fact, I'm sure that our first budget will be a balanced budget," said Mulcair.
He promised new financial incentives for automakers and parts suppliers in an effort he insists will boost jobs in the sector.
Mulcair then repeated his assertion that the Conservatives would run a deficit this year, leaving them short of delivering on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's long-held promise to achieve a surplus.
The question came as opponents cast doubt on the NDP's ability to balance the books amid costly promises that include a plan to create one million $15-a-day child-care spaces. Once fully implemented, the program would have an estimated annual cost of $5 billion annually.
The NDP has said it would cancel the Conservatives' $2-billion-a-year income-splitting measure for families with kids to help pay for its programs. It is also pledging to raise corporate tax rates by an as-yet-unspecified amount and close a tax loophole on CEO stock options.
On Wednesday, Mulcair announced tens of millions dollars in new commitments for the country's auto sector.
During a stop in the country's auto-manufacturing heartland, Mulcair promised to invest an additional $90 million in the federal automotive supplier innovation program over the next five years.
In April, Ottawa announced $100 million for the program, which is intended to foster automotive technology development and increase the competitiveness of Canada's automotive supply chain.
"It's time to get good-paying auto manufacturing jobs back to these communities," Mulcair said as he made the announcement at an auto parts company.
He listed off a few southern Ontario cities important to the country's auto industry — places that are also critical to his push to win the Oct. 19 election.
The region is crucial for all major parties in what is still looking very much like a three-way race.
Harper, whose party appears to be trailing its NDP and Liberal rivals, campaigned Wednesday in nearby Welland, Ont., while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made an announcement in Toronto.
Mulcair's commitment Wednesday also included a promise to remove taxes for automakers on the automotive innovation fund as a way to help bolster production capacity. That would cost public coffers about $20 million in tax revenues.
In making his announcement, Mulcair attacked past Conservative and Liberal governments on their records in assisting the auto industry.
He said that last year alone, $24 billion was invested around the world to increase auto-assembly capacity.
"Yet Canada failed to attract a single dollar," he said. "Not one. Zero."
Mulcair was to hold a rally later Wednesday in Peterborough, Ont.
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