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Justin Trudeau accused Conservative Leader Stephen Harper on Monday of balancing the budget on the backs of a cross-section of vulnerable Canadians after figures were released showing the federal government registered a surprise surplus in the last fiscal year.
Finance Department numbers for 2014-15 show Ottawa posted a $1.9-billion surplus, bringing the books into the black a year earlier than expected. A shortfall of $2 billion had been forecast.
"We saw Mr. Harper underspending and making cuts to veterans affairs, to aboriginal affairs, to seniors — in the billions of dollars —so he could balance the books in time for his election," the Liberal Leader said following an announcement in Toronto.
"It was a political goal that actually has helped us slide into the recession that Canada is the only G7 country in right now."
Trudeau has made infrastructure spending a key plank in his bid to become prime minister, a plan that would not see the budget balanced until 2019.
Of the three main party leaders, Trudeau is alone in his commitment to hold off on surpluses for three years. Monday's surplus won't prompt any change in that schedule, Trudeau said, because Canada is still in an "infrastructure deficit" which is slowing growth, he said.
And overall, the federal government is in deficit again right now, he stated.
"The Liberal party is the only party standing straight, looking Canadians in the eye and saying, 'We need investment and that is what we are going to do to grow the economy, to balance the books in 2019'," Trudeau said.
Trudeau's comments came after he promised to enhance the Canada Pension Plan and boost the guaranteed income supplement for low-income seniors by $3 billion over four years.
Trudeau told a Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) town hall that the Liberals would begin talks with the provinces on how to improve the pension system within three months of taking office. He wouldn't say exactly what changes the Liberal party would like to see to the current system.
He said the Liberals would also bring in a seniors price index to ensure old age security keeps pace with inflation, expected to cost $530 million over four years.
"It's help that Harper won't deliver and help that (NDP Leader Tom) Mulcair can't deliver because he's made eliminating Stephen Harper's deficit his immediate priority," Trudeau told the crowd in the riding of Spadina-Fort York where Liberal incumbent Adam Vaughan is in a tight race with NDP candidate and former MP Olivia Chow.
"He has decided that trying to get rid of a deficit is more important than giving seniors the help they need right now."
The Conservatives say they have helped seniors by lowering taxes while accusing the Liberals of wanting to hike taxes and spend money the country doesn't have.
Trudeau's promises were well-received by the largely partisan crowd and welcomed by CARP executive.
Lena Badhwar, 75 from Toronto, said she was offended on Sunday when Mulcair characterized former prime minister Jean Chretien's presence on the campaign trail as the "golden oldies tour."
Seniors are not one-dimensional and only interested about pension-related promises, she said.
"What I would love to have is a minister of urban affairs," she said. "Canada is not a rural area anymore."