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Politics Finance Minister says he’s ‘optimistic’ about Canadian economy

Finance Minister Bill Morneau addresses the Chamber of Commerce in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. Morneau is visiting Canadian cities as he consults with stakeholders before the next federal budget.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is talking up the economy in the face of warnings that trouble is expanding beyond the commodities sector as companies scale back their hiring plans.

The minister is touring the country this week for prebudget consultations, starting with a speech Monday in Halifax where he later took questions from reporters.

"I'd like to start by saying I'm optimistic," he said in reference to the recent flurry of reports suggesting the Canadian economy is in for slower growth than expected in 2016. "The good news is we have a plan."

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Rather than forcing a change in direction, Mr. Morneau said the current situation reinforces the need for Ottawa to deliver on promises made by the Liberals during last year's election campaign, including lower taxes for the middle class, enhanced child-benefit payments to parents and $60-billion in increased infrastructure spending over the next 10 years.

"We do believe that these measures taken together will make an important difference on growth in this country and we believe that they will enable Canadian companies and organizations to be confident enough to invest. I'm confident and I'm optimistic that these will make a difference and they will help our economy significantly," he said.

The Bank of Canada's quarterly business outlook survey, released Monday, showed hiring and investment plans of business leaders are at their lowest levels since the 2009 recession.

The survey report did note however that companies that are not connected to the resource sector are seeing strengthening demand, particularly among manufacturers exporting to the U.S.

Mr. Morneau also confirmed that the Liberal government supports plans put forward by Ottawa under the Conservatives for a national securities regulator, even though not all provinces support the idea.

"We do favour a collaborative national securities regulator," he said in response to a question. "Our message to all provinces is we respect their decisions and we will work together with the provinces that are willing, to form a collaborative capital markets regulator."

The government has not yet set a date for when it will release its first budget.

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