Ontario's deficit was $7.4B last year — far lower than the Ford government claimed it was

Ontario's deficit for 2018-19 is half what the Ford government claimed it was after taking power from the Kathleen Wynne's Liberals.

Government officials attribute drop to higher revenues, lower expenses than expected

In August 2018, Ontario Premier Doug Ford pegged the province's deficit at $15 billion. New figures, released Friday, suggest the province's deficit is far lower. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's deficit for 2018-19 is half what the Ford government claimed it was after taking power from the Kathleen Wynne's Liberals. 

Last year's deficit was $7.4 billion, according to the 2018-19 public accounts, released Friday by the province. Officials are attributing the drop in the deficit to better than expected revenues because of a hot economy, and lower than expected expenses. 

In August 2018, the Ford government said the 2018-19 deficit was running at $15 billion. The government trimmed that projection to $14.5 billion in November when it released its fall economic statement. 

The government stuck with that figure until April, when it tabled this year's budget, and revised the 2018-19 projected deficit to $11.7 billion. 

Corporate tax revenue was up $1 billion from the previous fiscal year, reflecting what the government said was a 9.6 per cent increase in corporate profits. 

The government is still projecting a $10.3 billion deficit for 2019-20, but could lower that when Finance Minister Rod Phillips tables the fall economic statement, due by November 15.   

 Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy said the government has worked hard to lower the deficit.

"We stand behind those numbers," he said. "I think it's fair to remind the people of Ontario that we inherited a broken fiscal situation."

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser accused the government of underestimating the year's revenue in previous financial updates, so that it could now say higher-than-expected revenue has helped lower the deficit.

The Tories said in their spring budget that the deficit was lowered to $11.7 billion, largely due to increased revenues.

Higher tax revenues and a decision to not draw on a reserve are part of the reason for the drop to $7.4 billion, along with $2.4 billion less spending than projected, including in education, children's and social services and justice, as well as cancelling green programs that had been funded by the previous government's cap-and-trade program, according to Friday's update.

'Pennies, nickels and dollars'

Bethlenfalvy has also touted saving "pennies, nickels and dollars" through such measures as saving on printing costs. Two weeks ago he spoke of such savings while standing in front of a "Protecting what matters most" backdrop that cost the government $2,641 to produce.

Bethlenfalvy also left the door open Friday to at least partly reversing one of the accounting changes that boosted the deficit.

Peter Bethlenfalvy, president of the Treasury Board, stands by the latest figures, saying the Ford government has worked hard to lower the deficit. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Doing so could improve the deficit by up to $1.3 billion.

The deficit is still projected to be $10.3 billion in 2019-20 and the government does not expect to balance the budget until after the next provincial election.

Friday's public accounts financial update also says household disposable income increased by 5.4 per cent.

The government says that's due to a number of factors, including the previous Liberal government's minimum wage increase. It is also due to the cancellation of the cap-and-trade program, which removed associated costs from people's home heating bills and the price to gas up their car — but the cancellation also triggered the federal carbon tax, which came into effect this year, and brought those costs back.

With files from The Canadian Press