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

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)
RANCH MUSINGS: Visit to Kluskus (Lhoosk’us):Part 2

As dark descended on this five-horse outfit, we found a place to camp

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in South Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Jim Hilton took a trip to Helmcken falls in Wells Gray park. (Jim Hilton Photo)
HILTON: Forests and human health, Part one

What can Quesnel take away from worldwide forestry programs

Mitch Love played his minor hockey in Quesnel before moving to the WHL and beginning his coaching career. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Mitch Love, Team Canada, come up one game short

The Quesnel-born coach helped lead Canada to a silver medal at the World Juniors

Amy Newman (left) and castmate Rebecca Thackray parading around Barkerville in costume in 2018. Newman designed both gowns, which were both made of silk, and constructed her own gown. Thackray’s gown was made by a seamstress in Vancouver. Her camel-coloured velveteen cloak was made in Hong Kong, with pattern and fabric chosen by Newman. Her wool neckpiece/shawl was crocheted by a friend on Vancouver Island. The reticule/handbag was handmade by Newman, and her olive green shawl was ready-made, as were her elegant green leather gloves. (Photo Submitted)
Amy Newman wins international costume design award for Nam Sing film

The Nam Sing pack trip re-enactment took place in September 2019 in Barkerville

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Most Read