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MNI POLICY: Morneau: Deficits Ease Pressure For Low BOC Rates

--Canadian Finance Minister Says He Has More Firepower For Downturn
By Greg Quinn
     OTTAWA (MNI) - Canada's finance minister said Thursday deficit spending is
taking pressure off the central bank to drive growth with ultra low interest
rates, and he has plenty of firepower to deal with any future downturn.
     Bill Morneau said the current deficit of roughly 1% of GDP helps make sure
the central bank isn't alone in supporting growth. The government introduced a
family tax cut after being re-elected late last year and before that moved to
mirror U.S. tax cuts on new business investment. 
     "We can have the right fiscal approach which means our bank isn't
completely responsible for all of the growth in our country," Morneau said
during a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "That's led us
to a position where we continue to have interest rates that are in positive
     Morneau spoke the day after BOC Governor Stephen Poloz opened the door to a
rate cut that would be his first since 2015. The BOC reported signs that a
slowdown that started in the fourth quarter may persist as global trade tensions
appear to be eroding domestic spending on top exports and investment. Morneau
didn't directly reference Wednesday's decision to hold the BOC rate at 1.75%,
the G7's highest after the Fed cut three times last year.
     "We have again made investments into our economy, fiscal investments,
because we know that is a way that we can balance how we are making sure that
our economy continues to grow," Morneau said. That means "monetary policy is
such that it isn't going down to the very, very lowest rate, creating
inappropriate incentives and things that might get out of control," he said.
     Finance Department officials briefed Morneau last year on how the era of
low interest rates suggested fiscal policy must take a greater role in fighting
the next downturn, according to a document obtained by MNI.
     "Our fiscal track is a responsible one leaving us in our situation with
significant firepower if those geopolitical risks or these trade tensions that
we see cause problems that might not be evident today but could be evident
tomorrow," Morneau said. 
     Morneau focused on "investments" funded by deficit spending Thursday more
than any plans to balance the budget. Morneau's Liberals led by Justin Trudeau
abandoned earlier commitments to curb the deficit in favor of reducing the debt
from around 30% of GDP and keeping the nation's triple-A credit rating. 
     "We still are reducing that debt as a function of our GDP, and the deficit
as a function of GDP, each and every year." Last month Morneau boosted the
deficit for the fiscal year ending March 31 to CAD26.6 billion from CAD19.8
billion on employee pension costs, and to CAD28.1 billion for fiscal 2020-21.
     Poloz credited federal spending on infrastructure and other stimulus for
providing ongoing support for growth at a press conference yesterday after the
rate decision. 
     Household debt is a top concern, Morneau said, while rising corporate debts
are being backed by strong profit margins.
     "I do take a lot of time focusing on the individual issue, on the household
debt, which obviously has been exacerbated based on the low interest rates," he
said. "The risk in Canada is relatively well managed" based on tighter
macroprudential rules and a "very well managed" banking sector, Morneau said.
--MNI Ottawa Bureau; +1 613-314-9647; email:
[TOPICS: M$C$$$,MC$$$$]
MNI Washington Bureau | +1 202-371-2121 |
MNI Washington Bureau | +1 202-371-2121 |

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