VANCOUVER — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says the economy has become such a mess under the Liberals that it would take a Conservative government five years to clean it up.
He accused the Liberal government of embarking on a "deficit spree" and spending at a rate that will add $71 billion to the national debt by the end of this year.
Scheer made the comments Friday to members of the Canadian Club at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, where he also accused the Liberals of stacking a panel on a media bailout in their favour and celebrated a court ruling blocking British Columbia from restricting oil shipments into the province.
"Even the most optimistic projections don't have the Liberals balancing the budget for 20 more years, meaning the Liberals would add to the debt every year for the next two decades. But if Canadians elected a Conservative government this fall, we will balance the budget in a quarter of that time," he said.
Balancing the budget in a responsible way is "impossible" in the very short term, Scheer said, adding the Liberals have spent $79.5 billion of previously unbudgeted funds since 2017.
But his comments were met with disappointment by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which accused Scheer of breaking his word.
It said Scheer signed a pledge in April 2017 with the federation's youth organization promising to balance the budget within two years if he were elected..
"Canadians are already suffering the consequences of breaking a balanced budget promise: Justin Trudeau’s fiscal recklessness will mean at least $100 billion in additional debt piled on the backs of our children and grandchildren," it said in a statement.
"The longer a return to balance is delayed, the more debt will accumulate and the longer Canadians will see billions wasted on interest payments."
Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson also responded by warning that Scheer's "slash and burn policies" pose a risk to both the economy and the middle class.
Wilkinson said Scheer would have to make drastic cuts to programs and services in order to pay for promises like a $1.7 billion tax break for wealthy Canadians. The ongoing housing affordability, climate action and pharmacare plans could be at stake alongside stronger pensions for seniors and lower interest rates on student loans, he said.
"Andrew Scheer is committed to austerity and cuts. Today he has torn up his proposal for two years of cuts and he's now promising five years of cuts," Wilkinson said in a statement.
Scheer made the lunchtime speech the same day that the B.C. Court of Appeal issued a ruling blocking the province from restricting oil shipments.
The decision means that the province doesn't have the authority to create a permitting regime for companies that wish to increase their flow of diluted bitumen. It's widely considered a win for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and Alberta's efforts to get its resources to overseas markets.
"Obviously the Conservative party is pleased with this decision. However there still is a great deal of uncertainty as it relates to future court processes that will follow and still a lack of a clear plan to get it built," Scheer said.
He repeated a call for the Liberal government to put the brakes on a bill to enact new environmental assessment legislation and fast-track any judicial reviews to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Scheer also accused the Liberals of trying to "stack" the electoral deck in its favour by adding Unifor to a panel that is determining which media outlets would be eligible for a bailout.
Unifor is the largest private sector union in Canada and includes many journalists as members, but Scheer called it one of Trudeau's "most well-funded and influential supporters."
The panel of eight associations is expected to deliver recommendations by July for distribution of $595 million to support the struggling industry.
The Liberal government has defended its plan, insisting a strong and independent news media is vital to a well-functioning democracy.
The government has said the money will be directed at journalistic organizations primarily involved in the production of original news, with an emphasis on coverage of democratic institutions and processes.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press
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