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Speaking to a Toronto business audience the day after Ottawa’s fall economic update, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre criticized the Liberals for failing to bring government spending down to prepandemic levels.

Mr. Poilievre repeated his earlier assertions that federal spending contributed to the current high levels of inflation and told the Empire Club that a Conservative government would bring in tax reforms that encourage work force participation and would fast track the approval of large energy projects.

With respect to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s economic update, he questioned why the government says program spending will remain well above prepandemic levels even after emergency programs have come to an end.

“It is true that COVID cost a lot of money. Government shut down economies and we had to compensate workers and businesses for the loss of income that they endured. There’s no question about that,” he said Friday. “We did not have to increase government spending by 30 per cent from pre-COVID to present, now, when all of the COVID programs are supposedly lapsed. We didn’t have to have a rate of permanent growth in spending, unrelated to COVID, that has left us in this precarious situation.”

Thursday’s economic update said program expenses will be $437.8-billion this fiscal year and will rise further each year of the five-year projection. The amount for this year is 29.3-per-cent higher than 2019-20 levels.

When measured as a percentage of GDP, the forecasted level for 2022-23 is 16 per cent, compared with14.6 per cent in 2019-20. Looking ahead, the update says program spending as a percentage of GDP will decline over time, reaching 14.7 per cent in 2027-28.

The Finance Minister’s economic update included plans for a tax on share buybacks, significant incentives for green-energy investment and spending on students and low-income workers.

It also presented two sets of fiscal forecasts based on whether the Canadian economy slips into recession in 2023.

The update’s baseline forecast, which assumes a recession is avoided, projects this year’s federal deficit will be $36.4-billion, an improvement over the $52.8-billion deficit forecast in the government’s April budget. The baseline forecast projects a $4.5-billion surplus by 2027-28. However, if a recession occurs, the government’s “downside” scenario shows larger deficits and no return to balance within the next five years.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ms. Freeland held a news conference elsewhere in Toronto Friday shortly after Mr. Poilievre’s speech.

Mr. Trudeau criticized Conservative economic policy as a “reckless” plan that is based on spending cuts, while Ms. Freeland said the government’s pandemic spending has proved to be good economic policy.

“The spending, it was the compassionate thing to do. It was also economically the smart thing to do, and the numbers show it,” she said. “Once the main COVID emergency was behind us, we moved to a really responsible fiscal path.”

Ms. Freeland pointed out that Moody’s rating agency confirmed Canada’s triple-A credit rating Thursday.

“You don’t have to believe us. Believe Moody’s,” she said. “What that says is, Canada is definitely in a fiscally sustainable position, which means we can afford to be there to support Canadians, no matter what the global economy throws at us.”

Earlier in the day, Conservative, Bloc Québécois and NDP MPs criticized the government’s update during the final Question Period before a one-week House of Commons recess.

“Working people and people on fixed incomes across Canada are struggling with the highest levels of inflation in 40 years. Food-bank usage has soared. Let us be clear: our federal and provincial governments are part of the problem,” said NDP MP Niki Ashton Friday. “We need to tax the rich, close the loopholes, shut down offshore tax havens and support working people.”