Flaherty keen to stay on until deficit erased

Sun interview with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in Toronto, December 19, 2012



OTTAWA - Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is Canada's sixth longest serving finance minister and if you measure his time on the job by looking at the country's balance sheet, you would hardly think he came into it as a fiscally conservative deficit-hating hawk.

Five of his seven budgets featured outsize deficits, the national debt has grown by more than $100 billion and federal program spending has jumped 37% while revenues have grown only 10%.

And yet, he has no regrets on those scores.

"Not at all, because I know what actually has happened which is for the first two years we paid down about $38 billion of public debt which was our plan," Flaherty said in a year-end interview with Sun News Network.

"But then we hit the Great Recession - the greatest recession since the 1930s - and ... we were pragmatic. We were flexible. We ran a huge deficit. That was a big decision. We did it to contain unemployment and to make sure we didn't have a deep, dark prolonged recession. And I'm glad we did it.

"I'm very proud of the fact that we did what we did, that we had the courage to do it then."

Flaherty is fond of pointing to other measurements - beyond the balance sheet - as signs of his government's success. Canada leads the G8 industrialized countries when it comes to job creation, the soundness of its financial system and has been near or at the top for the last few years when it comes to the pace of economic growth.

And yet, Flaherty hopes the Prime Minister Stephen Harper keeps him on the job long enough erase that deficit.

"I intend to see it through," he said. "Our plan in 2009, in that big budget, was to get back to balanced budget in the medium-term. We're on track to do that. And I very much do want to see it through to the end."

Flaherty will be 63 at the end of the month and, some in Ottawa have noticed that he has, at times over the last several weeks, looked out of sorts. But in the interview, he said his health is fine.

"I'm all right and looking forward to the holidays and taking a break. It's been a very busy year and it's been a long seven years - almost - as finance minister."

And here's a note: If Harper keeps him in the job until the next general election in 2015, he will by then have become Canada's second longest-serving finance minister.

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