With the election results barely a week old, Conservatives are muddying the waters around a central - and surprising - campaign pledge.
The revised 2011 budget that the government will present next month will not show a surplus by 2014-15 as promised in black and white in the Conservative campaign platform, even though the government insists it still intends to deliver on the election promise.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he needs time to consult economists and to draft a clear plan to deliver the extra savings Prime Minister Harper promised during the election campaign.
"We will do the strategic and operating review and we will book [those savings]once the review is done. That will get us to balance a year earlier, but is not part of the upcoming budget," Chisholm Pothier, Mr. Flaherty's spokesperson, said on Wednesday.
The platform promise was surprising because just a week before the election campaign began, Mr. Flaherty released a budget that would balance the books in 2015-16. That budget forecast a tiny deficit of $300-million in 2014-15. It also promised a plan would be drawn up later this year to see if further savings of $4-billion a year could be found, but these savings were not included in the government's projections.
When asked directly during an appearance on CTV's Power Play whether he was committing to eliminating the deficit one year earlier, Mr. Flaherty responded that he was not.
"No. I think we have to look at all of the data," he replied. "We use an average of the private sector forecasters, as we have done for years now, to make sure that we're on the right track, and in sync with the view of the private sector on the economy, so we'll look at all these things, there's a couple of platform commitments too that we'll look at as well, but fundamentally it will be the same budget that was introduced on March 22."
Mr. Flaherty has indicated that the budget will account for commitments made during the campaign, including setting money aside to strike a deal with Quebec over sales taxes.
The Conservative election platform states that: "Through accelerated reductions in government spending, a re-elected Stephen Harper government will eliminate the deficit by 2014-15."
The platform said this would be achieved by ending stimulus spending, continuing existing restraint measures, and completing, within one year, a comprehensive review of government spending.