Feds hope to sell global investors, Canadians on Canada's economic potential

OTTAWA – Next week’s fall economic statement from Finance Minister Bill Morneau will be heftier than a typical fiscal update — the result, sources say, of its two major goals: convincing the public the Liberal economic plan is working and promoting Canada abroad as an enticing investment destination. —

Those objectives have pushed the document, which Morneau will deliver Tuesday afternoon in the House of Commons, beyond its traditional role as a laundry list of refreshed predictions for growth and the federal bottom line.

At its core, the document will be a two-pronged sales pitch.

For institutional investors, it will help to promote Canada as a safe investment haven in an uncertain world for their firms, which together hold trillions of dollars of capital — money that could fuel the country’s economic engines.

Taxpayers will hear Morneau try to ease their fears about a growing deficit, arguing that Liberal measures like infrastructure spending and richer child benefits have already begun to help at a time of deteriorating economic conditions.

Tuesday’s statement comes with the economy stuck in a slow-growth ditch following months of disappointing data and downgraded forecasts, and the Trudeau government engaged in a long-term effort to pull it out, with the help of Morneau’s external council of economic experts.

“Our fall fiscal update will give people a sense of where the economy is right now, (and) it will give them a sense of what we see as the growth rate over time,” Morneau said Friday in Toronto.

“It will also give them a sense of the way that we’re going to work to improve our situation.”

The government has made attracting more private investment to Canada a central part of its strategy to lift the economy — which makes the timing of this year’s update of particular importance.

Morneau will deliver the document two weeks before BlackRock, the globe’s largest asset manager, assembles a group of some of the biggest international financiers in Toronto for a key conference. It’s the first time BlackRock has hosted one of its major gatherings in Canada.

One government official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter, acknowledged that bit of fortunate timing for the government, but insisted it was a coincidence.

The update will highlight for investors what Canada has to offer: a skilled workforce, openness and the possibility of attractive infrastructure investment opportunities, the official said.

Ottawa has promised to create an infrastructure bank to help Canada leverage some of the trillions of dollars in available private capital. In return, investors would get stable, reliable returns on projects through user fees, such as on toll highways.

The government has already committed $120 billion of public money to infrastructure over the next decade.

Last week, Morneau’s influential advisory council stuffed the minister’s suggestion box with ideas that included an infrastructure bank, a dramatic spike in skilled immigrants and an agency to expand foreign direct investment in Canada.

Sources say the update will echo some of that advice. But the government won’t adopt the group’s recommendations outright, particularly those ideas that might be considered too ambitious.

For its domestic audience, the update will seek to soothe Canadian worries about the government’s plan to run deficits worth more than $110-billion over five years in order to finance their long-term efforts to boost growth.

Ottawa, meanwhile, plans to continue investing that cash in areas such as infrastructure and its enhanced child-benefit program, which began sending cheques to households in July.

“It will help people to understand how the measures we put in Budget 2016 are starting to have impact,” Morneau said of the update.

That said, it could take years of studying the data before experts will know the extent to which current federal spending measures have actually helped the economy, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz said recently.

The broader economic benefits of the child benefit transfers have yet to show up in the economic data, Poloz said, although he acknowledged it’s still early and that he expects to see positive impacts in the second half of 2016.

On infrastructure, he predicted the federal investments will also be felt moving forward, even though it’s difficult to know exactly how much they will benefit the economy.

Due to the weaker-than-expected economic performance that followed the March budget, the fall update will also validate Morneau’s decision to add a $6-billion risk adjustment for this year and for the next few years, the source said.

The update will also reaffirm the government’s fiscal anchor to lower net debt-to-GDP ratio — a measure of the public debt burden — over its mandate, the source added. The budget outlook was criticized for lacking another fiscal goal preferred by some economists: a clear timeline to return the federal books to balance.

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