08/27/2015 13:33 EDT | Updated 08/27/2016 01:12 EDT

Promise to reverse to health transfer cuts won't come immediately: Mulcair

TORONTO — An NDP government would make it a "top priority" to honour its commitment last year to reverse Conservative cuts to provincial health transfers, though it's not likely to happen right away, Tom Mulcair said Thursday.

The NDP leader has said publicly he would put any surplus toward reversing Stephen Harper's plan to slow the rate of increases in federal health care transfers — as much as $36 billion less for provincial coffers over the next 10 years.

But it now appears there may not be a budget surplus this year, Mulcair said when pressed on the issue during a campaign stop in Toronto.

Based on Bank of Canada projections, the parliamentary budget office has said the federal government is likely headed for a $1-billion shortfall in 2015-16, despite a projected surplus in the 2015 budget.

The health transfer cuts aren't scheduled to kick in for another two years, so there's still time, Mulcair noted. But the shift in tone — coupled with Mulcair's insistence on a balanced budget in the first year of an NDP mandate — suggests something has changed.

"We had said that any surplus, because Mr. Harper had been promising surpluses, would be dedicated in our case first and foremost to avoiding that," Mulcair said at the campaign office of his star candidate Andrew Thomson, a former Saskatchewan finance minister.

"Now it looks pretty obvious that there won't be any, but during that two-year period our health minister will have as a top priority to get new health accords."

In the meantime, the NDP's health care priorities will include home care and pharmacare, he said.

Mulcair has been adamant this week that his first budget would be balanced and has said he believes subsequent budgets would be balanced too, but he has not addressed how or if he would find a surplus to funnel into health transfers.

The Liberals have said they're skeptical Mulcair could balance his budget without spending cuts, but Mulcair has said he is "not entertaining any thought" of a deficit. He has not talked about spending cuts.

Mulcair's big-ticket promise to create one million $15-a-day child-care spaces would cost $5 billion annually once fully implemented in eight years. He has proposed several new tax credits and lowering the small business tax rate.

He has said he will use money from eliminating Stephen Harper's $2-billion income-splitting plan to fund his own priorities. And he has criticized the Tories for wasting money on government advertising, the Senate, subsidies to oil companies and fighting First Nations in court.

Mulcair has also said he would raise the 15-per-cent corporate tax rate, but has not yet specified by how much.

He has not yet released the full costing details of his platform.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press