Economists paint bleak picture for growth

OTTAWA — Several economists painted a bleak picture of the economy for the House of Commons Finance committee Tuesday as it began its pre-budget consultations.

OTTAWA — Several economists painted a bleak picture of the economy for the House of Commons Finance committee Tuesday as it began its pre-budget consultations.

Though the economists did not agree on whether the economy was headed into a double-dip recession or if Ottawa should launch another round of stimulus spending, they all outlined a troubled outlook.

BMO Capital Markets deputy chief economist Doug Porter told the MPs that growth will be very modest at best for this year and next.

“While we continue to believe that Canada and the U.S. will manage to claw out some growth over the next year, it looks to be very modest at best,” Porter told the committee.

“Given such subdued growth I would say that it would really only take one more negative shock to basically tip the economy over into an outright downturn.”

Worries about Europe’s debt crisis and the tepid economic recovery in the U.S. have raised concerns about what the fallout will be in Canada.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney are to meeting meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday afternoon regarding the economy.

Flaherty and Carney are just back from meeting with their G20 counterparts in Washington over the weekend.

At the Finance committee, Porter sided with those who did not believe another round of stimulus spending was needed just yet, but he urged the government to be cautious and flexible.

“In this kind of environment, caution really is the watch word,” Porter said.

However the committee also heard calls for spending on infrastructure projects from Sylvain Schetagne, senior economist at the Canadian Labour Congress.

“Public investments remain our last recourse,” he said.

Glen Hodgson, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, noted that the government should not be afraid of delaying its plan to balance its budget by 2014-15 by a year or two amid the changing global circumstances.

“It’s not a matter of staying the course, it is being prepared to make common sense course corrections along the way depending on the needs of the economy,” he said.

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