POLITICS

Liberal Budget: Trudeau, Ministers Kick Off Promotional Blitz

03/23/2016 06:48 EDT | Updated 03/24/2017 05:12 EDT

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau says his government's maiden budget keeps faith with Canadians who voted for the Liberals in last fall's election, even though it breaks a central campaign promise to run up "modest" deficits.

Kicking off a promotional blitz Wednesday to sell the big-spending budget, the prime minister insisted the budget delivers the investments that Liberals promised to get the stagnant economy growing again.

"That was a very clear commitment we made and that's exactly what we've done," he told CBC radio's Ottawa morning show.

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Justin Trudeau poses with Minister of Finance Bill Morneau as he arrives to table the budget on Parliament Hill, March 22, 2016 in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

The Liberals also promised to run up deficits of no more than $10 billion a year before returning to balance in the fourth year of their mandate.

Instead, Tuesday's budget projects $113.2 billion in red ink over the next five years, including a $29.4-billion deficit in 2016-17, $29 billion the following year and almost $23 billion in 2018-19. It does not specify a date for returning to balance.

But Trudeau disputed suggestions that he's broken a core campaign vow, saying it's "not true" that his government will pile up a deficit three times larger than promised.

"The promise I made was to invest in the future of this country. That's what Canadians told me we needed and we were going to do it responsibly and that's exactly what we've done," he said.

"Unlike what the Conservatives have been doing ... trying to cut our way to prosperity, we know we need to invest to get to prosperity. Canadians understand that. That's exactly what they voted for."

The budget details $11 billion in new spending on everything from Indigenous Peoples to post-secondary education, middle and modest income families, municipal infrastructure, the recently unemployed, veterans and seniors.

"If this government held a contest to pick a title for this budget, the winner would probably be 'Spendy McDebtface.'"

Trudeau said that economic conditions have worsened since the platform was crafted, which only reinforces his belief that investment to spur growth are needed.

With interest rates at a record low and Canada's debt to GDP ratio the lowest among G7 countries, Trudeau argued it's the perfect time to make investments aimed at getting the economy moving again. Indeed, he said he had a responsibility to do so.

He said the budget puts the government on track to return to balance by the fifth year but warned that "depends entirely" on economic growth.

Trudeau is giving a series of radio and television interviews Wednesday as he leads a full court press to sell the budget.

His cabinet ministers, meanwhile, are fanning out across the country to highlight various aspects of the big-spending budget.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau defended the government's budget as a way to promote economic growth over the long term with a focus on benefits for the country's middle class.

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Trudeau insisted the budget delivers the investments that Liberals promised to get the stagnant economy growing again. (Getty Images)

"At the core is the notion when you have an economy that works for the middle class you have a country that works for everyone," Morneau said at a breakfast speech in Ottawa.

He highlighted a boost to child care benefts and increases to post-secondary education grants as a means to that end. Morneau also reinforced the government's pledge to end boil-water advisories that plague aboriginal communities throughout the country as part of the budget's plan to give $8.4 billion to indigenous peoples over the next five years.

Treasury Board president Scott Brison will be at Dalhousie University in Halifax to tout the various ways the budget is designed to help middle-class Canadians.

Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains will be will be doing the same in a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade while Immigration Minister John McCallum, a former Royal Bank economist, will address the Markham Board of Trade.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau, meanwhile, is making himself available to talk to the media in Montreal.

Many constituencies satisfied with budget

And that's just the start. On Thursday, Small Business Minister Bardish Chagger will be touting the budget in London and Kitchener, Ont., Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr will be doing the same in Winnipeg and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi will be in Vancouver.

But if initial reaction is any gauge, the budget may not need a hard sell. With billions in spending splashed around, the budget appeared to satisfy many constituencies.

Dozens of stakeholder groups gathered on Parliament Hill to provide budget reaction Tuesday offered an unusual consensus in lauding the Liberal efforts.

And the sharpest critics left the big-spending budget comfortably parked in the "Goldilocks" zone between too hot and too cold.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation offered a withering review of Morneau's string of deficits and the absence of any timetable for a return to balance.

"If this government held a contest to pick a title for this budget, the winner would probably be 'Spendy McDebtface,"' said the tax lobby group's director, Aaron Wudrick.

Budget 'spread too thin'?

But the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives took Morneau to task for spending too little, noting next year's deficit amounts to just 1.5 per cent of GDP, smaller than any federal deficit run between 1974 and 1996.

"The Liberals are spending in the right places, but the amounts aren't up to the task," said the think-tank's senior economist, David Macdonald. "The deficit is too small to really tackle Canada's biggest economic challenges: unemployment and slow growth."

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce reacted with cautious optimism under the headline: A Budget Spread Too Thin.

"With the right choices, Ottawa can help grow business and make Canada more competitive," chamber president Perrin Beatty said in the release.

"With the wrong choices, these are deficits that could easily spiral and hobble our economic competitiveness. The business community is ready to work with the government to make sure that, collectively, we take the right path."

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