OTTAWA — Finance Minister Joe Oliver will huddle with private-sector economists early next month to prepare for his pre-election budget — a blueprint set for release as the oil slump forces experts to downgrade economic forecasts.

Sliding crude prices have meant poor economic data for January, prompting economists to adjust their first-quarter projections.

In a newspaper interview published Monday, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz warned the oil-price shock will make the economy’s first-quarter numbers look “atrocious.”

Oliver found himself defending the Conservative government’s economic record Monday during Question Period as opponents criticized him for doing too little to create jobs and for delaying the budget’s release date.

The finance minister said the country was on the right track and reiterated the government’s pledge to balance the books.

But he did not provide specifics on when the spring budget will be unveiled.

The government took the unusual step of delaying the release of the budget, which is typically presented in February, so it could gauge the economic impacts of lower crude prices.

A spokesman in Oliver’s says he will meet with economists April 9 in Ottawa.