Federal deficit reached $19B in last fiscal year
OTTAWA - The federal government ran up a $19-billion deficit last fiscal year, despite a big boost in tax revenues.
Canadians paid an additional $9.9 billion in personal income taxes in 2017-18 and corporate tax added an additional $5.5 billion, compared to the previous year, thanks chiefly to a fast-growing economy.
About half of the increase in personal income taxes was attributed to some high-income Canadians no longer claiming income in the previous tax years in the 29 per cent tax bracket, rather than the new top 33 per cent bracket.
Those increased revenues were a happy surprise for the government, coming in $4 billion higher than expected.
But the gains were offset by a $20.1 billion bump in spending, with increases to the costs of defence, changes to veterans’ benefits, transfers to First Nations and infrastructure. The government is also setting aside more money for future litigation and expected payouts to settle land claims by Indigenous groups.
The costs of health transfers to provincial and social programs like Old Age Security, GIS, and the Child Canada Benefit also climbed, as expected, while the government saved a small amount on declining Employment Insurance benefits.
Overall spending was $3.3 billion higher than expected.
The deficit came in slightly lower than the $19.9 billion projected in the federal budget released in February, and was virtually the same as the $19-billion deficit in the previous 2016-17 fiscal year.
On advice of the auditor general, the Department of Finance has recalculated its budget numbers going back to 2008 to account for rising pension liabilities. That added an extra $500 million to this year’s deficit and increased the deficits posted in past years, dating back to the Conservative government.
With the accounting change, the total federal debt is now calculated to be $671 billion.
The government prefers to measure its fiscal health by expressing debt as a percentage of GDP — 32 per cent, for 2017-18, the best among the G7 industrialized nations.