Canada pledges balanced budget on April 21 despite oil drop

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian Finance Minister Joe Oliver promised on Thursday to deliver a balanced budget on April 21 despite the economic damage inflicted by low oil prices, and pledged to avoid what he called tax-and-spend plans that could damage a fragile recovery.

Canada's Finance Minister Joe Oliver stands to speak during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The finance minister normally unveils the budget in February or March, ahead of the April 1 start of the fiscal year, but Oliver put it off to have a better sense of where oil prices would end up and their effect on the economy and the budget.

Canada is a major oil producer and exporter, and the price crash is leading to what Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz estimates is a 3 percent cut to national income, with concomitant hits on federal revenues.

The budget will set the tone for the Conservative government’s bid to win reelection in October, and Oliver spent some time attacking the economic plans of the opposition Liberal and New Democratic parties.

“They plan massive taxes and even bigger hikes in spending, a tax-and-spend agenda that Canadians simply cannot afford, a risk our country should not assume and a debt burden our children should not bear,” he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper portrays his team as responsible managers, though some recent polling has shown Liberal leader Justin Trudeau narrowing the gap on this score.

The Conservatives have run seven years of deficits in the wake of the recession, and Oliver rejected a reporter’s suggestion that he provide further economic stimulus measures.

“We’re not looking at a budget that will be cutting, we’re looking at a budget that will be providing benefits to Canadians and encouraging more job growth,” he said. “We do not, however, need the kind of stimulus (such as in) a budget we had during the Great Recession because we’re not in a recession now.”

The oil revenue decline and a set of sweeping family tax cuts already announced mean the government will not have a lot of money to play with, but it is still expected to boost spending on police and security agencies with the aim of combating terrorism.

The crimped finances also limit room for maneuver for the opposition parties unless they want to campaign on either increasing taxes or returning to budget deficits.

They have said already they will rescind a C$1.9 billion ($1.5 billion) a year tax cut for families with single incomes.

($1=$1.26 Canadian)

Writing by Randall Palmer and Leah Schnurr; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Peter Galloway