Spending cuts give Ottawa second surplus in as many months

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks to The Globe and Mail's editorial board in Toronto on April 27, 2012. (Roger Hallett/Roger Hallett/The Globe and Mail)

Ottawa posted its second consecutive monthly surplus in February, bringing in $1.5-billion more in revenue than it paid out in expenses.

The February surplus follows a $1.7-billion surplus in January. As a result, with just one month left in the current fiscal year, the 2011-12 cumulative deficit stands at $14.5-billion. That’s well below the $24.4-billion the government projected in its March 29 budget ($24.9-billion once new budget measures were factored in.)

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It is not clear why there is such a large difference between Finance Canada’s budget numbers and its monthly tracking numbers.

The monthly tracking numbers suggest Ottawa is moving aggressively to curb program spending.

Spending on programs in February was down 3.6 per cent from February 2011, a category that includes transfer payments and other program expenses. Because Ottawa is increasing major transfers to the provinces for health and education, on overall reduction signals that spending on direct federal programs is down significantly.

Over the first 11 months of the fiscal year, revenues were up 4.7-per cent to $220.1-billion and program expenses were down 1.9 per cent to $206.2-billion. Over that same period, spending on elderly benefits increased by $2.2-billion or 6.8 per cent and Employment Insurance benefit payments decreased by $2-billion or 11.2 per cent.