REGINA — The man who slashed the federal deficit in the 1990s says he’s worried about the upcoming budget and the debt that will be shouldered by future generations.
Paul Martin, who was Liberal finance minister before he became prime minister, said Thursday there’s a lot of debate over the figures used by the Conservative government.
Martin said budget watchdogs — including the parliamentary budget officer, the International Monetary Fund, the Fraser Institute and the C.D. Howe Institute — have all said the numbers “don’t hold up.”
“Think about what’s going to happen,” Martin told about 200 Liberal supporters at a speech in Regina.
“If their numbers are no good — and that’s before taking into account a slowing U.S. economy and an aging population — well, then you think what’s going to happen and again that is what we are bequeathing to our children.”
“In short, the government is making the numbers up as they go along.”
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced last October that Ottawa posted the biggest deficit in history at $55.6 billion.
But Flaherty said the government will achieve a balanced budget in five years.
A report released last November by Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer, shows Ottawa’s deficit falling sharply from the record $55.6 billion.
But Page’s analysis never shows the deficit reaching zero. Instead, the parliamentary budget office forecasts that Canada will still have an $11 billion deficit in five years — when Flaherty is projecting a $2.6-billion surplus.
By that time, Ottawa will have added more than $200 billion to the national debt, the report suggested.
“That’s new debt which they created and it is new debt which they are bequeathing to our children. And understand, our children are going to be asked to pay that debt off — nobody in this room is going to assume that responsibility,” said Martin.
During his time as finance minister, Martin erased a $42-billion deficit and paid down billions on the national debt by making deep cuts to provincial transfers and spending.
Martin’s speech was an attempt to boost party support in Saskatchewan, a Conservative stronghold. There are 13 Tory members of Parliament and just one Liberal — veteran Regina MP Ralph Goodale.
The Conservatives were quick to denounce Martin’s comments.
In an email to The Canadian Press, Flaherty’s spokeswoman Annette Robertson said the government bases its forecasts and budget numbers on the average of private sector economic projections to ensure objectivity.