OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's opposition Conservatives on Friday promised to balance the budget in five years without slashing government jobs if they win an election this month, but the ruling Liberals insisted the pledge would result in painful cuts.
The Conservatives, led by Andrew Scheer, vowed to erase a deficit of C$23 billion ($17.4 billion) by the 2024-2025 fiscal year. Federal public service jobs would hold steady and wages would grow as scheduled, they forecast.
The federal election is on Oct. 21, and most polls indicate Scheer has a chance of beating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who came to power promising to run a series of small deficits that would be eliminated by the election.
The Liberals have ditched that pledge, citing the need to make investments in the economy, and will not say when they might eliminate the shortfall. Trudeau has vowed to ramp up spending but keep debt on a downward path.
To raise revenue, the Conservatives would eliminate corporate tax breaks worth C$1.5 billion, cut Canadian foreign aid by 25%, crack down on tax evasion and impose a 3% tax on big tech companies like Facebook.
"He (Trudeau) is running massive deficits that threaten higher taxes and important social programs like healthcare," Scheer told a televised news conference in the Pacific province of British Columbia.
Scheer said he would "protect core services while we make government more efficient" and said the Trudeau deficits could pose an economic threat if a recession struck.
In response to the Conservative platform, the Liberals said it included C$53 billion in cuts.
"We know that investing in Canadians ... is actually the way to grow the economy, is the way to build resilience when the world is facing challenging times," Trudeau told reporters in British Columbia.
The platform details emerged after Canadians began voting in advance polls on Friday.
The left-leaning New Democrats (NDP) and Quebec's separatist Bloc Quebecois may be left with the balance of power because neither of the main parties is heading for an outright majority in the 338-seat House of Commons.
After a final debate between leaders on Thursday, candidates returned to the campaign trail on Friday.
Trudeau started his day in Ottawa, where he underscored his government's record of creating 1 million jobs over the past four years. At the same time, official statistics showed the economy added a stronger-than-expected 53,700 net jobs in September.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also presented his full platform. The costly plan promises a national prescription-drug and dental plan, plus investments in housing, post-secondary education and the fight against climate change.
The NDP says it will raise corporate income taxes, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, crack down on tax havens, increase the capital gains tax and introduce a levy on those with fortunes exceeding C$20 million ($15.2 million).
"I am firmly opposed to austerity," Singh said.
($1 = 1.3196 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Nick Macfie and Cynthia Osterman)
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