Finance Minister Joe Oliver's first federal budget made good on the Conservative government's central promise of balancing the books. But with a federal election in the wind, the budget, presented Tuesday, also found room to spread around proposed new spending in a wide range of vote-sensitive areas.
In his budget speech, Oliver forecast a surplus of $1.4 billion this year "and growing surpluses thereafter." He noted that "a balanced budget is the only way to ensure long-term prosperity for Canadians. It clears the way for further tax relief. It bolsters our top credit rating, supports lower interest payments and inspires greater consumer and investor confidence. It protects health care and education."
In addition, Oliver indicated that the government will introduce balanced budget legislation. This would recognize that deficit spending would be appropriate in times of crisis, "but only with a plan to return to balance and only with an accompanying freeze on operation spending."
A major focus of his speech — and of government support — was initiatives that Ottawa is proposing to help small businesses and manufacturers create jobs. Noting that manufacturing accounts for more than 10% of Canada's gross national product and more than 60% of its merchandise exports, Oliver suggested that "we must give manufacturers the tools they need to create the products — and the jobs — of the future."
Among those measures is a proposal to reduce the small business tax rate to 9% by 2019 from 11% today. "This will be the largest tax rate cut for small business in more than 25 years," he said. Budget documents suggest that this measure will reduce taxes for small businesses and their owners by $2.7 billion over the 2015-16 to 2019-2020 period.
As a result, Oliver said, small businesses will be able "to use the additional tax savings to fuel growth, invest in capital and hire more people."
Oliver also proposed a 10-year investment incentive that will allow a faster write-off of the cost of machinery and equipment. According to budget papers, this incentive would help provide businesses "with planning certainty for larger projects where the investment decision may not be completed until several years after the investment decision is made."
In addition, the federal government wants to provide $100 million over five years beginning in 2015-16 for the creation of the Automotive Supplier Innovation Program. "This investment ... will support our auto parts industry as it meets the constantly evolving demand of automakers and consumers," Oliver said.
On a much smaller scale, Ottawa is proposing to provide $14 million over two years beginning in 2015-2016 to Futurpreneur Canada, a group that helps young entrepreneurs access financing and mentoring.