Fiscal update coming Nov. 12: Oliver

Money in Wallet

OTTAWA – After years of reports awash in red ink, Finance Minister Joe Oliver will deliver a fall economic and fiscal update Wednesday that he’s billing as a precursor to a balanced budget in 2015.

That’s going to make it a far different exercise than it has been in recent years, observers said Thursday.

“In the past, it was discussions about what to cut,” said Craig Wright of RBC Economics Research.

“Now the discussion is what to do with this large and growing fiscal dividend, which is a much more pleasant discussion … arguably, equally as challenging, but still a more pleasant discussion.”

Oliver’s spokesman, Nick Bergamini, tweeted Thursday that the update would be delivered in Toronto. The minister’s office also said he will not introduce any new fiscal measures in the update.

Much of the promised budgetary surplus has already been earmarked for the government’s controversial new family measures, which include income splitting for families with children and an enriched child care benefit.

The government has also recently announced it would double the child fitness tax credit and, in the next budget, is expected to make good on a 2011 promise to double the annual limit for tax-free savings accounts.

Experts are also keeping a close eye on the sliding price of oil — a major influence on the government’s books. Oliver has already said he doesn’t expect oil prices to force the government to reconsider its economic game plan.

Jimmy Jean of Desjardins Economic Studies said he would be interested to see how low oil prices might influence government projections.

Jean will also be keen to hear anything Ottawa has to say about the impact of the income-splitting plan on future revenue growth.

He thinks there might even be room for something unexpected. Jean said it’s always possible the government could announce it has managed to close the deficit this fiscal year.

“It remains to be seen whether there’s a surprise,” Jean said.

Budget watchers have released their own projections, which some predicting the country could be even closer to balancing the books than the government has let on.

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the government would run a small deficit this year and a small surplus next year.

For his part, Oliver is billing the update as one that will reflect a focus on jobs and the economy, while also demonstrating that the books are healthy.

“Canadians can expect an update of our fiscal position, which, due to the strong economic management of our Conservative government, shows we are on track to balance the budget in 2015,” Oliver said in a statement.

“Under the leadership of Prime Minister Harper, we will continue the sound economic management that has made Canada the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.”