07/23/2015 07:54 EDT | Updated 07/23/2016 05:59 EDT

Liberals Won't Promise Balanced Budget Until They See The Numbers

"If they can't create a surplus this year that is realistic, it's pretty hard to see where anyone else can.''

OTTAWA — With discouraging forecasts casting a shadow on the Canadian economy, the federal Liberals say they need more information before they could make a pre-election promise to balance this year's budget.

Canada's weakened economic conditions, labelled by some as a recession, are forcing political parties to re-examine their platforms before they hit the campaign trail.

A new analysis this week based on a downgraded Bank of Canada forecast revealed the country is on course for a deficit in 2015-16. The calculation raised doubts the governing Conservatives remained on track to deliver an election-year surplus.

But despite the economy's struggles, the Tories maintain they will produce a surplus for this fiscal year - a pledge only made by one of their two main opponents so far.

The New Democrats say they will unveil a plan to balance the books for 2015-16 if they win the October election and form government.

The Liberals, however, are non-committal whether a Trudeau government would eliminate the deficit for this fiscal year.

Liberal finance critic Scott Brison said in an interview Thursday the party would need to know the details on the current fiscal situation before it could promise a balanced budget for 2015-16.

Brison sent a letter this week to Finance Minister Joe Oliver urging him to make his department's latest budgetary projections public before a parliamentary committee.

"Then, and only then, are we able to predict with certainty what we're capable of doing in terms of balancing,'' said Brison, who doubts the government is on the path to a balanced budget.

"If they can't create a surplus this year that is realistic, it's pretty hard to see where anyone else can.''

He stressed the Liberals intend to eventually eliminate any budgetary shortfall they inherit and pay down debt: "We will balance the budget over our mandate, but in terms of the first year...''

In Winnipeg, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was asked whether a Liberal government would balance the books in 2015-16 and he said: "I continue to be committed to balancing budgets and fiscal responsibility.''

On Wednesday, the parliamentary budget office produced an updated fiscal outlook that predicts the hobbled economy will nudge Canada $1 billion into the red in 2015-16. The Conservative government tabled a budget in April that projected a $1.4-billion surplus this year.

Most economic experts argue achieving a balanced budget, rather than allowing a narrow deficit, is more of a political goal than a crucial economic one. To some, a couple of billion dollars of deficits amounts to a rounding error when taking the whole federal budget into consideration.

But the political desire to balance remains strong.

New Democrat finance critic Nathan Cullen insists the party will propose a fully costed plan to voters calling for balanced books in 2015-16 _ even with the slumping economy and the budget office's grimmer fiscal projection.

To help the party hit the target, Cullen said an NDP government would cancel Tory measures, such as income splitting for families with kids. The NDP, like the Liberals, argue the $2-billion plan favours wealthier Canadians and does little for the economy.

The New Democrats would even have enough leftover cash to lower the small-business tax rate and create national programs such as affordable child care, Cullen said.

"Things are obviously tight, but we believe that there's still fiscal room,'' he said of balancing the books this year.

"It's about choices.''

Oliver insisted earlier this week that the Harper government is "very comfortable'' it will produce a budgetary surplus this year - despite the economy's problems that are largely due to the oil-price slide.

He also pointed to predictions from experts - including the Bank of Canada - that say the economy is poised for a late-2015 rebound.

On Wednesday, the chief spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted how the Finance Department's latest fiscal monitor shows Canada posted a $3.95-billion surplus for April and May _ the first two months of the 2015-16 fiscal year. That two-month surplus includes a $1-billion boost from the spring sale of the government's remaining shares in General Motors.

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