Flaherty: Job No. 1 is kill deficit

BURLINGTON Business and community leaders that gathered in Burlington for a chat with Canada’s finance minister ahead of the 2013 budget, likely wouldn’t get too far with a Christmas wish list.

Minutes before heading in to prebudget consultations Wednesday with more than a dozen people at McMaster’s Burlington campus, Jim Flaherty warned that the federal fiscal belt is tight.

“We are not looking for big new spending. Our economic growth is still modest and we have a plan for a balanced budget by 2015.”

The Burlington meeting was the third in a series of five national consultations involving the minister. Local participants included McMaster president Patrick Deane, Mohawk College president Rob MacIsaac and Michael McQuade, chief financial officer at U.S. Steel Canada.

“Our government’s top priority continues to be creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, with a return to balanced budgets by the end of this parliament,” said Flaherty.

When asked about federal commitment to transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area in the wake of Metrolinx’s release of its next wave of priorities, Flaherty said Ottawa will maintain the gas tax transfer and GST rebates to municipalities. He said the government is also considering an extension of the Building Canada Fund, which is scheduled to wrap up in 2014. The fund contributes to provincial and municipal infrastructure projects, including public transit.

“We have $6 billion committed and not yet spent … there are lots of ways the federal government is contributing directly to municipalities.”

Flaherty said previous meetings in Calgary and Victoria have shown there is concern about a growing national skilled labour shortage. He said pension reform is also a priority, although Ottawa won’t consider changes to the Canada Pension Plan in the midst of a soft economy.

“I think it’s fair to say all of us feel at some point it may be appropriate to increase the contribution rate of employers and employees to the CPP because many Canadians are not saving enough for retirement. But this is not the time to do that because of weakness in the economy.”

Deane said the half-day session with the minister included a briefing about the country’s economy, breakout sessions and discussion of questions circulated to participants beforehand about infrastructure needs and supports for innovation.

“It was a very productive morning. The topics discussed were wide ranging,” said Deane, who was taking part in his first budget consultation.

“Our top issue is continuing support for research enterprises at the university. All the economic issues with which the government is worried is linked in some way to knowledge generation and discovery.”

It was the first time Burlington has played host to budget consultations, said Conservative MP Mike Wallace. 

“Not everyone gets a chance to sit face to face with the finance minister,” he said. 

“There is a lot of input to the budget from these consultations. You do see suggestions from these meetings that make the budget. They do have an impact.”

Other participants included Loblaw Companies, Porter Airlines, Goldcorp, Trent University, Gay Lea Foods Co-operative, Habitat for Humanity Canada and the Canadian Youth Business Foundation. 

Canadians can participate in prebudget consultations at the Department of Finance website at www.fin.gc.ca/prebudget-prebudgetaire/1-eng

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Hamilton Spectator | Hamilton, Ontario