Finance Canada is giving business leaders a decidedly gloomy picture of the Canadian economy as part of the department’s pre-budget consultations this fall.

A Dec. 5 slide show, obtained by CBC News, projects weak annual growth of just 1.8 per cent on average until 2029, and cites full-time job losses of 1.9 per cent across Canada so far this calendar year.

The slide show also notes that productivity is slowing, energy-sector investment is in sharp decline, and household indebtedness is at record levels.

None of the data is new but the outlook is shaped in dark terms, with almost no positive economic news expected in the years ahead.

Barriers to innovation

The slide show, which is being shown in every pre-budget consultation with stakeholders, ends with questions about investment and barriers to innovation.

The presentation was given Monday afternoon this week in a virtual session, via software known as GoToMeeting, with Finance Minister Bill Morneau logging on from an Ottawa boardroom to listen to the 16 participants. Some were connected by video, some only by telephone.

Among those offering advice was the vice-president of Google Canada, Sam Sebastian; Robert Watson, the president of the Information Technology Association of Canada; and Benjamin Bergen, executive director of the Canadian Council of Innovators. All were chosen by the Finance Department as “stakeholders in the innovation sector in Canada.”

What we’re emphasizing is challenges and opportunities. – Daniel Lauzon, spokesman for Finance Minister Bill Morneau

The pre-budget consultations began Sept. 26, and involve town halls, web-based public discussions, some on Facebook Live and others on Google Hangout, and surveys along with in-person sessions.

But this year’s consultations include more virtual gatherings of stakeholders, to allow Canada-wide participation rather than local in-person sessions confined to experts available in particular communities.

Morneau spokesman Daniel Lauzon said the slide show was deliberately structured to make clear the challenges Canada is facing in tough economic times.

Google hangout

Google Hangouts are one method Finance Canada is using to consult with stakeholders as it prepares a 2017 budget. (Jacques Brinon/Reuters)

“What we’re emphasizing is challenges and opportunities,” he said in an interview.

“And I think it’s important for people to understand the situation that we’re in, and the low-growth environment that we’ve had for the last decade, when we’re making budget decisions.

“The productivity challenge is a huge one.”

Spring budget

The 2017 spring budget will follow the first full fiscal year that the Liberals have been in power, after being elected on a platform of supporting the middle class, massive spending on infrastructure and encouraging innovation in the economy.

Lauzon said last year’s pre-consultation exercise counted 250,000 comments and suggestions, with a summary paper published on the same day as the March 22, 2016, budget was released. He would not indicate when the overview paper would be published for this round, which is intended to gather more comments from the general public.

Monday’s session was conducted according to Chatham House rules, in which no individual will be identified as making any particular comment.

StatCan Jobs 20150807

A slide show put together by Finance Canada cites net full-time job losses from January to November this year. (Sean Kilpatrick)

“Fiscal room is limited and we’ll need to make difficult choices among many priorities,” reads one of the slides in Monday’s presentation. “Household debt levels and job growth will constrain future consumption.

“Growth has been slow and disappointing. Low oil prices are still weighing on the Canadian economy.”

Several participants at the session were not immediately available for comment.

A spokeswoman for Finance said there have been 18,714 online survey submissions so far for the pre-budget consultations.

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