Federal budget scheduled for April 21


TORONTO – Finance Minister Joe Oliver has promised the books will be balanced when he tables his federal budget on April 21.

The budget usually comes before the end of the fiscal year on March 31.

Opposition parties have been critical of the Conservative government’s decision to delay the budget date so they could gauge just how badly tumbling oil prices would hurt the economy.

But Oliver says the government needed the extra time to make sure it had all the facts it needed to prepare its annual spending plan.

“We needed to assess the implications of the dramatic fall in oil prices and its instability on the Canadian economy and on our fiscal framework,” he said Thursday in Toronto.

“And we needed the time to obtain as much information as possible to make reasoned fiscal decisions and receive current forecasts from our independent economic advisers, whose projections we rely on.

“We now have the information we need to make informed decisions.”

The Conservatives had left themselves a razor-thin margin to balance the budget — even before oil prices took a tumble — due to the decision to unveil a multibillion-dollar suite of family tax-and-benefit measures in late October.

But Oliver says the budget will be balanced and any surplus will be used to pay down debt.

“Balanced budgets are important because, to the extent you have a deficit, that means more money has to go to paying off debt instead of going for important social programs that Canadians want and need,” he said.

“It also provides a cushion in the event there’s an international crisis that occurs — geopolitical or economic — like the decline in oil prices. And frankly, if we hadn’t been in a strong fiscal situation, it would have been quite dire indeed.”