Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s first fall mini-budget finds new funds for families and businesses and scratches a longtime provincial itch over transfer payments as she tries to find a delicate balance between pandemic anxiety and political prudence.

Freeland defended the federal government’s record deficit of more than $381 billion as affordable — given low interest rates — and necessary and accused the former Conservative government of withdrawing stimulus too quickly after the last recession 12 years ago.

“As we have learned from previous recessions, the risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much,” Freeland said.

“We will not repeat the mistakes of the years following the Great Recession of 2008.”

However Freeland responded to calls for some sense of when the federal largesse will end only by promising what she calls “fiscal guardrails” based on employment numbers, to guide when post-pandemic federal stimulus will start to be phased out.

“These data-driven triggers will tell us when the job of building back from the COVID-19 recession is accomplished, and we can bring one-off stimulus spending to an end,” Freeland said.

Freeland is also using the fall update to respond to calls from numerous political critics and interest groups with funds for parents of young children, aid for hard-hit sectors like tourism and entertainment, and another $1 billion to help provinces with the long-term care homes that have left our oldest citizens tragically vulnerable to COVID-19.

Fully aware that the Liberal government needs support from at least one other party to stay alive she handed the NDP another win by extending the federal interest holiday for student and apprentice loans through to the end of the next fiscal year. The Liberals stopped requiring interest payments earlier this year but that holiday ended Oct. 1.

A week ago the House of Commons unanimously backed a motion from NDP MP Heather McPherson to extend the interest-free period through to the end of next May. Freeland is going even further and eliminating the interest on the federal portion of the Canada Student Loan and Canada Apprenticeship Loan programs for all of 2021-22.

Thus far the NDP has been the only party showing a willingness to negotiate with the government to support it during confidence measures. In September the NDP supported the throne speech after succeeding in getting the Liberals to include paid sick leave and increased pandemic aid to individuals.

Freeland also threw out another olive branch in Ottawa’s often difficult with provincial premiers by promising to answer their years-long call to overhaul the fiscal stabilization fund that sends federal cash to provinces facing serious drops in revenue. The program offers federal aid to provinces that see a drop in non-resource related revenues of more than five per cent compared to the year before, or more than a 50 per cent drop in resource revenues. But the payments have been capped at $60 per person in a province for more than three decades.

The premiers made the program the target of a request to the federal government almost exactly a year ago, issuing a joint statement out of their December meeting in 2019 for the fiscal stabilization fund to be changed. Freeland’s office said at the time she was open to a discussion about it.

The issue has been particularly acute for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, whose province accessed the program in 2015-16 and 2016-17, during a significant drop in oil prices. The province received $251 million in each of those years. Freeland intends to increase the payments to $170 per person retroactive to 2019-20, and will index the amount in line with economic growth going forward. There will be other changes to the program, including how eligibility is calculated.

Alberta would get more than $700 million under the program if it qualified now.

When the premiers made their call, the expectation was no province would face a serious downturn in 2020. Nobody knew the virus that would cause the COVID-19 pandemic was already starting to spread in China. Alberta alone is projecting a revenue drop of more than 10 per cent now.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusfederal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Gardeners at the Intergenerational Garden participated in the Grow-A-Row program for the Friends In Need Food Bank in previous years. (The News files)
Grow-A-Row for the food bank in Maple Ridge

Friends In Need Food Bank in need of gardeners to produce fresh produce

Townhomes at ERA Maple Ridge became a hot commodity as house prices soared past $1 million. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Sales at ERA Maple Ridge show sizzling market

Downtown development sells 13 townhomes one Sunday

Mike Cosic is taking over as Benchmark Botanics’ new CEO. (LinkedIn)
Pitt Meadows cannabis company names new CEO

Mike Cosic was previously the CFO of Meta Growth Corp

Chameleon Cafe, located in Maple Ridge, B.C., has a permanent street-side patio. (Black Press files)
Chamber of Commerce wants Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows to move barriers to patios

Chamber president says struggling restaurants, bars and cafes don’t need additional red tape

Ken Dockendorf is president of the BC High School Boys Basketball Association. (THE NEWS files)
Administrators vote to change BC school sports governance

Maple Ridge coach says athletes won’t notice a change next season

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Ripy Jubbal of Abbotsford has received a 30-month jail sentence for the fraudulent use of credit cards and credit card data. (Facebook photo)
Abbotsford woman sentenced for $80K in fraudulent credit card purchases

Ripy Jubbal and spouse used identities of 19 different victims, court hears

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

Most Read