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Finance Minister Joe Oliver addresses a Canadian Club luncheon in Toronto April 7, 2014. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Finance Minister Joe Oliver addresses a Canadian Club luncheon in Toronto April 7, 2014. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Ottawa planning tax relief once budget’s balanced, Oliver says Add to ...

In his first speech since becoming Finance Minister, Joe Oliver told a Toronto audience Monday that tax relief will be the government’s priority once the budget is balanced.

Observers have been questioning what Ottawa would do with the surplus that it projects for next year, which will be its first since 2007-08.

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Options include reducing the debt, reducing taxes, or new spending.

“Once the budget is balanced our priority will be to provide tax relief for hard working Canadian families,” Mr. Oliver said.

He remained mum on the thorny topic of income-splitting. The Conservatives promised the controversial tax measure during the 2011 election, but former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty voiced misgivings about it before he resigned in March. Mr. Oliver has been finance minister since March 19.

“We worked too hard to return to a balanced budget to throw it all away,” Mr. Oliver said. “So do not expect a big stimulus program.”

He noted that the government has projected a deficit of $2.9-billion this year, plus a cushion of $3-billion to adjust for emergencies, while for next year it is projecting a surplus of over $6-billion, plus the cushion.

After his speech, in response to audience questions, Mr. Oliver said it’s too soon to give details on precisely how next year’s surplus will be spent.

“This is a central question,” he said. “It’s too early to get into too many details, but obviously there are a number of alternatives.”

He said there will be national debate on the precise balance between paying down the debt, cutting taxes and spending.

“We’re going to of course be talking to people,” he said.

“We need to discuss domestically the issue of the skills shortage, infrastructure and productivity and how that all is addressed in our fiscal framework,” he added.

Much of his speech stressed the status quo. He talked about continuing to emphasize the key pillars of the government’s current economic plan, which include having competitive tax rates, connecting people with jobs, responsibly developing natural resources, opening new markets for exports, and investing in research.

He spoke about the strength of Canada’s economy compared to many of its peers, but also acknowledged that there is work to be done.

“Too many Canadians are looking for work,” he said.

Mr. Oliver said one of his priorities is meeting with his various counterparts, and he has already met with the Governor of the Bank of Canada and spoken to the head of Canada’s banking regulator, the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

A main priority in the near term is pressing forward with the budget implementation act, he added.

“We’d like to get bipartisan or multipartisan support; we don’t think we will,” he said. Mr. Oliver said one of his priorities is meeting with his various counterparts, and he has already met with the Governor of the Bank of Canada and spoken to the head of Canada’s banking regulator, the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

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