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Flaherty, PMO sound noncommittal note on future of balanced-budget promises

Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty makes an announcement at the North Shore Rescue Base in North Vancouver, B.C. on Friday, February 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jimmy Jeong

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Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty makes an announcement at the North Shore Rescue Base in North Vancouver, B.C. on Friday, February 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jimmy Jeong

OTTAWA - The Conservative government is refusing to talk about three other campaign promises from 2011 that were contingent on a balanced budget, saying it's too early to talk about what they might do with a surplus.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty created a stir this week when he raised doubts about the promise to allow income splitting for couples with children under 18. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it seems, shares his reservations.

But Flaherty and the Prime Minister's Office also won't say what will happen to three other promises that hinged on getting back to black — doubling the contribution limits on tax-free savings accounts from $5,000 to $10,000, doubling the child fitness tax credit and introducing a tax credit for adult fitness activities.

Flaherty was noncommittal when asked specifically about the other promises at an event Friday in North Vancouver, B.C.

"There are going to be choices next year; there is going to be a surplus — it should be a substantial surplus, $6, $7 billion — and in addition we have a risk-management fund which we maintain every year," Flaherty said.

"So there will be surplus funds next year and decisions will be made then."

That's a much different response from just last fall, when Flaherty's office was asked about the promised $500 adult fitness tax credit.

It said then that the government was "committed to introducing the adult fitness tax credit once we return to balanced budgets in 2015."

Each of the four campaign promises held the same condition: "This measure will be implemented when the federal budget is balanced within our next full term of office."

Harper spokesman Jason MacDonald said Friday no discussions have taken place yet about what will be in the 2015, pre-election budget.

"As the PM has said, we aren't in a position to talk about a surplus — or what we might do with it — that we don't actually have," MacDonald said in an email.

"What we do know is that once we've achieved balance we'll fulfil our commitment to offering Canadians tax relief."

What that tax relief actually means has piqued the curiosity of not just political watchers, but also the Conservative caucus. Many MPs are concerned about keeping commitments they made to constituents during the campaign.

Income splitting in particular was a major plank in the Conservative platform.

"I think income splitting is one of those things that a lot of Conservatives care about. Certainly, it's a great way to reinforce families. On Valentine's Day we can talk about that," said British Columbia Conservative MP John Weston.

"And I think it's one of those many things that we have to look at. We have to make sure that the budget's going to be balanced."

— With files from Dene Moore in Vancouver

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