As he departs, Joe Oliver hopes finance successor will limit promised deficits

OTTAWA – In his final hours as Canada’s finance minister, Joe Oliver has some parting words for his Liberal successor: don’t allow the plan to run deficits to spiral out of control.

On the day before prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau was to name the Liberal MP who will replace him, Oliver reflected Tuesday about his tenure overseeing the crucial Finance portfolio.

And while he’s proud of the Conservative government’s track record, he said the next finance minister will have to grapple with ever-present challenges like enhancing economic growth and creating jobs.

The Tories ran their campaign on a pledge to continue to pursue balanced budgets, while the Liberals vowed to pump public cash into projects like badly needed infrastructure upgrades in order to stimulate the economy.

They also promised to run deficits of up to $10 billion in each of the next three years — a strategy with which Oliver hopes the new government doesn’t get carried away.

“I assume they’re going to pursue a deficit-spending approach,” he said when asked about the incoming government.

“I hope that it won’t get out of control. So, I think that would be one thing I would hope the new finance minister watches carefully.”

Beyond that, Oliver said, it would be inappropriate to offer advice to his successor, whomever that turns out to be.

In losing his Toronto riding last month, Oliver became the first sitting federal finance minister to go down in defeat since 1993, when Gilles Loiselle of the Progressive Conservatives lost his Quebec City seat.

“It’s obviously bittersweet,” said Oliver, who was defeated by Liberal challenger Marco Mendicino in the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence.

“We, I think, as a government did very well, but the campaign clearly didn’t convey that fully and we encountered a very strong wave for change.”

Oliver’s own term as finance minister, which began when he succeeded Jim Flaherty in March 2014, was marked by tumultuous — and unexpected — economic times.

The steep, late-2014 oil-price plunge surprised the government and forced Oliver to delay his spring budget by a few months. The goal was to give his department more time to assess the extent of the damage to Canada’s bottom line.

From there, the economy slipped into technical recession by contracting over the first two quarters of the 2015. The slide was largely blamed on the drop in crude prices and the failure of other sectors to pick up the slack.

In recent months, the economy slowly started to grow again.

Until the Liberals take power Wednesday, Oliver will technically remain finance minister, though he described his role since the election as more of a caretaker.

By Tuesday, the once-demanding cabinet job that took him around the planet and saw him shake hands with political leaders from the world’s major economies had largely wound down.

Oliver said he spent his final day writing reference letters for his staff.

“There isn’t anything specific to do,” said Oliver, who plans to attend one final Conservative caucus meeting on Thursday.

“I’ll have a chance to say my goodbyes to everybody, so I’m looking forward to that.”

The party, he added, will examine what went wrong during the campaign and how it can improve moving forward.

The 75-year-old former Bay Street investment banker has also been contemplating his own future.

“I have a lot of energy and I want to be involved and contribute and I’ll see what opportunities become available,” said Oliver, who hopes to land part-time work in the private sector.

“I don’t need to acquire a full-time job and I’m definitely not looking to do that.”

Oliver also plans to spend more time with his family, including his grandson.

“He’s nine years old and they grow up fast.”

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