Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Colleagues Appear to Bail out Finance Minister from Testifying on Canada's Books

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Colleagues Appear to Bail out Finance Minister from Testifying on Canada's Books

Article excerpt

Oliver won't testify on Canada's finances

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OTTAWA - A Conservative-dominated parliamentary committee voted against a process Monday that would have likely called on Finance Minister Joe Oliver to testify in public about the state of Canada's finances amid a troubled economy.

Before Monday's closed-door meeting, opposition members of the finance committee had been urging the Harper government to study a recent report that said Ottawa was on track to run a budget deficit this year.

Last week, the parliamentary budget office released an analysis based on downgraded Bank of Canada projections that showed Ottawa was headed for a $1-billion shortfall in 2015-16.

The budget watchdog's calculation raised doubts about the ruling Conservatives' long-standing pledge to balance the election-year books -- including their $1.4-billion surplus projection for this year.

The freshly crunched numbers were released after the struggling economy contracted over the first four months of 2015, a recoil triggered by the collapse in world oil prices and the failure of Canada's non-energy sectors to pick up the slack.

Some experts have said Canada has slipped into recession, though that remains the subject of heated debate.

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government was "well ahead" of its own forecast for a balanced budget this year -- despite Canada's economic struggles to start 2015.

Harper pointed to the data for the first two months of the fiscal year, which show a $3.95-billion surplus thanks to a $1-billion boost from a one-time asset sale of General Motors shares.

Oliver has insisted the government is "very comfortable" it will produce a budgetary surplus this year, citing forecasts from experts -- including the Bank of Canada -- that say the economy will rebound later this year.

"It definitely would be interesting to hear the finance minister actually explain how he can claim there will be a balanced budget," New Democrat MP Guy Caron said after Monday's 15-minute committee meeting. …

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