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Politics Mulcair says NDP would balance budget despite economic woes

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks during a campaign stop at Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds in Dundas, Ont., on Tuesday, August 25, 2015.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The battle over balanced budgets is heating up on the campaign trail as NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair promised that a first-ever federal NDP budget would be in the black.

Mr. Mulcair's position marks a clear policy difference between the NDP and the Liberals, the two parties competing to be the most popular option for voters looking for a change in government.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau regularly states that the amount of time it will take a Liberal government to balance the books will depend on the size of the "mess" it inherits from the Conservatives.

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Mr. Trudeau's position could allow the Liberals to make more ambitious campaign promises than the NDP, but it exposes the party to additional criticism from Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, who regularly says balanced budgets must be a priority and that Mr. Trudeau's plans will lead to deep deficits.

Mr. Trudeau spent the day campaigning in the Greater Toronto Area, highlighting the economic credentials of some of his candidates. He was joined by former prime minister and finance minister Paul Martin in an effort to stress the party's economic record for turning deficits into surpluses.

Weakening global growth and growing uncertainty in financial markets have pushed economic issues to the top of the agenda as party leaders tour the country in the run-up to the Oct. 19 election.

Mr. Mulcair promised Monday for the first time that in spite of the troubles in the economy, an NDP government would be able to balance the books right away.

"We're of course going to finish the fiscal year on Mr. Harper's watch – 2015-16 is his budget, but our first budget will be a balanced budget," Mr. Mulcair said Tuesday during a campaign event in Hamilton.

Mr. Mulcair later told reporters that this could be accomplished by scrapping existing Conservative policies like the income-splitting tax cut for couples with children under 18 and by implementing a reasonable and "tempered" increase to the corporate tax rate. Mr. Harper responded later in Montreal, saying Mr. Mulcair's plan to balance the books is based on high taxes that would damage the economy.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives moved Tuesday to dodge a potential controversy after The Globe and Mail requested comment on a scheduled speaking appearance by Conservative candidate Joe Oliver.

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Toronto's private Albany Club is currently promoting a Sept. 1 event that would feature the government's Finance Minister delivering a speech called "Back to Balance Canada's Economic Picture". The event is listed as off-the-record, meaning it would be closed to the media. The club, which is billed as the place "where Canada's Conservatives Connect," did not respond to questions about the event.

The Globe first asked Mr. Oliver's campaign about the event on Monday. A spokesperson responded late Tuesday afternoon to say that the event was scheduled before the campaign began and has since been cancelled. The spokesperson would not say when it had been cancelled.

Sept. 1 is the same day that Statistics Canada will release its Gross Domestic Product figures for the month of June. The release will show whether Canada met the technical definition of a recession with two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth. Canadian GDP growth has been negative for the first five months of the year.

The Conservative government ignored calls earlier this year from opposition MPs who called on Mr. Oliver to release a fiscal update ahead of the federal election campaign.

NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen said Mr. Oliver's response that the Albany Club event has been cancelled is curious. He said the venue was "a bad idea," but the need for an economic update remains.

"Why not change the event and do something public?" he said. "You would think that a sitting government in Canada would give Canadians access to the vast information that they have."

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Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland said Mr. Oliver should have delivered an update prior to the campaign but instead has been "missing in action."

With a report from The Canadian Press

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