Scott Andrews, the current MP for the Avalon riding in Newfoundland, said he doesn’t think that a party platform with deficits would make his job harder when he campaigns door-to-door in 2015.
“I think people are looking at the big picture. It’s not just taxes and deficits, it’s social programs and the vision you have for the country and how you are going to stimulate the economy. It’s a whole package,” he said.
“The Conservatives may want to pigeonhole it into one little thing and it will work for a small segment [of the population], but it’s about a whole spectrum of things.”
Former Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, who is seeking the nomination in the Toronto riding of Don Valley West, said even if Trudeau runs on a platform calling for a few years of deficits, Canadians will trust the Liberals to get the books back into black.
“Liberals have proven, frankly, that we are the people who don’t run deficits. We cut deficits,” Oliphant said.
Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney ran large deficits and Canada’s debt has grown under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but Liberals would manage the economy soundly, Oliphant said.
“Sometimes, you need to spend to keep the economy growing, and keep people fed and employed, he added. “I don’t worry about it at all.”
Trudeau told delegates during a keynote speech Saturday that “tax increases for [the middle class] are not in the cards, and not on the table.”
In an interview on CBC Radio’s The House he said specifically that he would not raise corporate taxes, would not raise personal income taxes and would not raise the GST. But he left the door open to running a deficit by refusing to answer host Evan Solomon’s direct questions.
“I would rather not,” Trudeau told Solomon. “The idea of being fiscally responsible is something that goes to the core of what it is to be a Liberal because we believe in government and therefore the best way to demonstrate that government can be good, unlike the Conservatives, is to demonstrate that government can be responsible fiscally, and that’s where they have fallen flat because they want to prove that government is bad.”
The Conservatives were artificially reaching a surplus next year, Trudeau said, by delaying national defence spending, counting on one-time asset sales and maintaining overly high payroll taxes on employment insurance premiums.
“If you continue to invest in education, in the right kind of infrastructure spending, you can actually grow the economy,” Trudeau told CBC.
The Liberal leader has already said he plans to invest heavily in post-secondary education to achieve a post-secondary education rate of 70 per cent of Canadians. He also wants to invest heavily in infrastructure. A proposal, forwarded by the parliamentary caucus, calls for investments of up to one per cent of Canada’s GDP into infrastructure programs that create jobs, increase energy efficiency, or focus on public transit and water systems.
On Thursday, delegates at the Liberal convention heard from Larry Summers, the former U.S. treasury secretary and U.S. President Barack Obama adviser. Summers said he believes racking up debt to invest in growth was worth it.
But Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters Saturday she doesn’t think Ottawa would need to run deficits to pay for these large scale nation-building projects.
“I think if you look at where they are fiscally they wouldn’t be at risk of [running deficits], quite frankly. I think they have room fiscally to make investments,” she said.
Former Montreal Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez, who is seeking the nomination in his old riding of Honoré-Mercier, said he also doesn’t believe Liberals will need to run deficits to pay for their platform.
“Right now, as the budget numbers stand, I think that we could reach a surplus without having a deficit,” he said.
Most of the delegates canvassed at the Montreal convention told HuffPost Canada that if the Grits needed to plunge back into the red to pay for big ticket items, deficits would be defendable.
“Balanced budgets are important, but we just witnessed the necessity of running deficits at a time to help the economy,” said Omar Alghabra, a former MP who has his eye on the nomination in Mississauga Centre.
“I don’t know what the budget situation in 2015 will be, but people need to know that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely to help them.That’s really what they care [about],” he said.
“So if you have a good platform that reassures them that the government is spending their money wisely, I’m comfortable with that.”
Also on HuffPost