OTTAWA – The federal government ran a budgetary surplus of $7.5 billion over the first 11 months of its fiscal year — putting Ottawa’s books well ahead of its 2015-16 deficit prediction with one month to go.
The Finance Department’s latest monthly fiscal monitor, released Friday, suggests the government would have to run about a $13-billion deficit in March to reach the Liberals prediction of a $5.4-billion shortfall. Ottawa had a $3.2-billion surplus in February alone, the report said.
The fresh figures fed into an ongoing political debate whether the previous Conservative government left the public books in the red when the Liberals took power last fall.
The Tories have repeatedly insisted Ottawa was on track for a small surplus in 2015-16, while the Liberals have argued over and over that they inherited a deficit.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau reiterated Friday that the final, year-end numbers should look a lot different.
“We know that in every year the pattern is for government revenues to decline at the end of the year and for expenses to go up,” Morneau told reporters in Quebec City.
Lisa Raitt, the Conservatives’ parliamentary finance critic, said the new numbers reveal her party left the Liberals with a solid foundation that continues to generate revenues because of the “low-tax environment” it left behind.
“To me it shows the fact that when the Liberal government prefaces all of their discussion about their budget with, ‘the Conservatives left us with a mess’ — the reality is, we didn’t,” Raitt said in an interview.
She also noted the Liberal budget decision to book a retroactive, $3.7-billion boost in financial support for veterans — a move that tacked on a major expense to 2015-16’s bottom line.
Last month’s federal budget projected the government to run six straight annual deficits between 2015-16 and 2020-21.
But experts such as Canada’s budget watchdog have released predictions that suggest the Liberals’ have been overly prudent in their projections.
Earlier this month, the parliamentary budget officer’s analysis challenged the government’s shortfall prediction for 2015-16, saying Ottawa will instead have a $700-million surplus.
Some critics have said the Liberals deliberately lowered their fiscal outlook by including larger-than-usual risk adjustments of $6 billion per year in order to help the government beat expectations down the road.