Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland launched the government’s consultations on the 2021 budget Monday, while cautioning that promised stimulus support for sectors such as tourism may have to wait until the COVID-19 pandemic is firmly under control.
The online consultations are open until Feb. 19 and consist of seven questions, five of which involve asking Canadians to rank their top priorities. For instance, a question on job creation lists options such as training programs, child-care support, aid for the hardest-hit sectors and technological measures for a “green transformation.”
Another question asks Canadians to list their preferred way of measuring Canada’s economic recovery, such as employment rates, GDP growth, the value of the Canadian dollar or improvements in personal finances.
“The 2021 budget will be the most significant one of our lifetimes,” Ms. Freeland said at a news conference. “I’m not here today to reveal or to talk about what the approach in the budget is going to be, beyond saying it’s going to be about jobs. It’s going to be about growth. It’s going to be about the middle class. It is going to be about healing the wounds of COVID. It is going to be about building a Canadian economy which is more innovative, more competitive, greener, more sustainable.”
Ms. Freeland tabled a fall fiscal update on Nov. 30 that increased the projected size of the deficit for the current fiscal year to $381.6-billion, while also warning that the red ink could approach $400-billion if the pandemic worsened and governments imposed more restrictions.
Since then, the pandemic did worsen and extensive restrictions were imposed, including by Canada’s two most populous provinces.
Ms. Freeland declined to update the government’s deficit forecast Monday, but noted the November forecast did outline alternative deficit figures to account for further restrictions.
“I’m glad we included those additional scenarios in the fall economic statement and we continue to look at the impact of the restrictions across the country,” she said, adding that the federal government supports provincial restrictions that are based on public-health advice.
“The best economic policy for our country right now is to fight and to conquer the coronavirus,” she said.
The November update also announced a plan to spend between $70-billion and $100-billion over the next three years on stimulus measures to help bring employment back to prepandemic levels.
Ms. Freeland said Monday that the timing of that rollout will depend on how quickly the pandemic eases.
“Some stimulus measures, we can begin working on, we can begin putting in place sooner. Other measures, things like reopening the economy for tourism, reopening the economy for restaurants, those are measures where we need to be more confident that the virus is fully under control,” she said.
This year’s launch of prebudget consultations is slightly later than last year’s launch, which was announced by the Finance Department and then-finance minister Bill Morneau on Jan. 13, 2020. Mr. Morneau would later set March 30, 2020, as the budget date, but later shelved that plan as the pandemic worsened. The government ultimately went through all of 2020 without a federal budget, meaning the Liberals have not tabled a budget since March 19, 2019, which preceded the fall 2019 federal election.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.