Canada

Ontario’s deficit of $16.4B less than half the projection

Despite the lower deficit figure, the Doug Ford government says it has not underspent on the pandemic.

Treasury Board President Prabmeet Sarkaria.

The Ontario deficit came in $22.1 billion less than projected — $16.4 billion instead of what would have been an historic high of $38.5 billion projected just six months ago.

Despite the lower deficit figure, the Doug Ford government says it has not underspent on the pandemic.

Treasury Board President Prabmeet Sarkaria and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy on Thursday released the province’s 2020-21 Public Accounts which showed Ontario brought in $164.9 billion in revenue and spent $169 million on programs plus debt interest repayment.

“This (program spending) is an increase of $16.7 billion compared to 2019-20,” Sarkaria said. “That is unequivocally the single largest year-over-year expenditure on the province’s spending record in its history. These investments present real and measurable results for the people of Ontario.”

In among that spending was $3 billion for more than 110,000 small businesses to help them survive the pandemic, he said.

On the other side of the ledger, federal government income support programs, both to individuals and companies, boosted the provincial treasury with the personal and business taxes paid.

Another factor in the improved bottom line was a later start than expected to the third wave of the pandemic, pushing costs into the next fiscal year, financial documents from the government say.

The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) — a legislative watchdog that checks the government’s math — has found that the Ford administration was underspending compared to its own projections.

Opposition parties at Queen’s Park have pointed to the FAO’s findings to support their position that Premier Doug Ford took the cheap route at the expense of investing in public health measures like smaller class sizes.

Ford had promised that no expense would be spared to keep Ontarians safe.

Bethlenfalvy said an extraordinary amount of financial resources were dedicated to the pandemic and spent in the fiscal year on hospitals, testing, the vaccine rollout, municipalities and other measures.

“Our job is to make sure there’s enough water in the fire trucks as they deal with the many fires that you have to deal with in a pandemic,” Bethlenfalvy said. “The pandemic does not respect our fiscal year end.”

aartuso@postmedia.com

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