Ottawa on track for big surplus in last fiscal year with 1 month to go

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 will have to post about a $13-billion deficit in March to match the Liberals' 2015-16 projection of a $5.4-billion shortfall. The report said Ottawa had a $3.2-billion surplus in February alone.

But Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said the expenses and revenues in the final month of a fiscal year could lead to significant changes in the numbers .

The fresh figures will likely feed into an ongoing debate whether the previous Conservative government left the public books in the red when the Liberals took power last fall.

The Tories insist Ottawa was on track for a small surplus in 2015-16, while the Liberals argue it was not the case.

Parliament Hill Peace Tower closeup stock shot Ottawa Jan 20 2016 flag

With one month of numbers to come, Ottawa is on track to post a large surplus for its last fiscal year — counter to what the budget forecasted. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Last month's Liberal budget projected the federal 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.

PBO numbers are different

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.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose told the House of Commons that the PBO report confirmed two things: "first, the Liberal budget does not add up; and second, good news, the Conservatives did leave a surplus."

Morneau responded by saying that public revenues go down and expenses go up in the last month of a fiscal year.

"The Conservatives left us with a deficit, as we will see," he said.

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.

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