With Canada facing a deficit of $64-billion over two years and up to five years until the federal books are balanced, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government began pre-announcing close to $2-billion in spending measures Friday four days before the official unveiling of what could be one of the biggest stimulus packages in Canadian history.
The Conservatives are attempting to help hard-hit cities and towns cope with the drastic economic downturn that's hurt industries from manufacturing and farming to forestry. The Liberals, meanwhile, have attacked the government's decision to release figures early as irresponsible.
"I asked Mr. Harper not to play games like that," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told a luncheon crowd at the Canadian and Empire Clubs in downtown Toronto.
Politics aside, the country is facing economic hardship not seen in two decades. But according to Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, there are glimmers of hope. While acknowledging that 2009 will be marked by bankruptcies and job losses, he said Thursday the recession that began in the final three months of 2008 will end faster than did the contractions in the early 1990s and 1981-82.
With all this in mind, we are pleased that Ted Menzies, an Alberta MP and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Finance, joined us Monday to take your questions on the recession and how the government hopes to guide Canada out of it.
Your questions and Mr. Menzies's answers will appear at the bottom of this page in sequence.
Mr. Menzies was first elected to the House of Commons in 2004 and was re-elected in 2006. He served as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation in 2006 and added the Minister of International Trade to his secretarial duties in 2007.
Outside politics, he was president of the Canadian Agri-Food and Trade Alliance and vice-president of the Grain Growers of Canada. Mr. Menzies was born in Claresholm, Alberta, where he has owned and operated a farm for over 30 years. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children, and two grandchildren.
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Adam Radwanski, globeandmail.com: Mr. Menzies, thanks for joining us at the start of such a pivotal week in Canada's efforts to fight through the current economic challenges.
There's one issue that we've received quite a few questions on the release of information about what's in the budget before it's presented by Jim Flaherty.
J. Law writes: "I am not sure why the Leader of the Liberal party would be upset about the Canadian people learning about the budget in smaller doses, but I would hope some of the reason the government is leaking it is so we can take it in more easily instead of trying to understand it through the static of opposition parties' loud negative rhetoric."
Gerald McIvor writes: "Why is the Conservative government pre-releasing their choice sections and figures of the upcoming federal budget when this is supposed to be kept strictly confidential until presented in the House of Commons? This again looks like an attempt by Stephen Harper to manipulate the court of public opinion prior to the critical vote."
Before we move on to individual readers' questions, would you like to comment on the strategy leading up to the budget?
Ted Menzies: Leading up to Budget 2009, this Government has conducted the most comprehensive pre-budget consultations in Canadian history. The process has been open and public, and has taken place right across the country. An exhaustive amount of work has been done, in a very short period of time.
What we are hearing over the last few days from members of Cabinet is simply reflective of the suggestions we heard from Canadians during this process. With respect to the deficit number, there had been a great deal of rampant speculation based on incomplete information. Given the challenging economic times we are facing, I expect a decision was made in the spirit of open and informed discussion to announce the expected deficit. It is worth noting that the announced number is in line with what the Prime Minister and Finance Minister had been suggesting for the last month. There is nothing market moving in any of the measures the Government has been discussing.
Your readers should keep in mind that the most important announcement will be made by Minister Flaherty at 4pm Tuesday afternoon on the floor of the House of Commons.