The President of the Treasury Board tabled the Main Estimates for 2013-14 on February 26, 2013.  He claimed that “voted” expenditures were down $4.9 billion from that tabled for 2012-13 in February 2012.  Although his math is correct, the statement is extremely misleading.
The Main Estimates are divided into “Voted” expenditures and “Statutory” expenditures.  Voted expenditures must be approved annually by Parliament.  Enabling legislation allows for the spending on statutory programs without having to seek annual approval by Parliament, unless changes to the parameters of the programs are being sought.  During the course of the fiscal year, the Government may seek Parliamentary approval for incremental voted expenditures through the tabling of Supplementary Estimates.  Usually, three Supplementary Estimates are tabled during the course of the fiscal year.

The table below provides a comparison between the Estimates for 2012-13 and 2013-14 and the spending estimates provided in the November 2012 Update.

Reconciliation of Spending: Estimates and November 2012 Update ($ billions)
                                                                                     2012-13      2013-14       Difference
Main Estimates  

  Voted                                                                               92.0             87.1            -4.9
  Statutory                                                                        160.0           165.5             5.5
  Total                                                                              251.9           252.5             0.6

Supplementary Estimates   
  Voted                                                                                 6.7 
  Statutory                                                                            0.4 
  Total                                                                                  7.1 
Total Estimates                   
  Voted                                                                               98.7              87.1        -11.6
  Statutory                                                                        160.4            165.5           5.1
  Total                                                                               259.0           252.5          -6.5

 November 2012 Update                                                  280.4           283.7           3.3
Note: Totals may not add due to rounding.

Voted expenditures for 2013-14 are not directly comparable to those for 2012-13, as the former includes the impact of the various expenditure reductions announced in the March 2012 Budget.  The voted expenditures for 2012-13 were tabled before the March 2012 Budget and do not include any of the restraint reductions announced in the Budget.  The impact of these restraint measures on departmental spending was requested by the Parliamentary Budget Officer but refused by the Government.  No aggregate estimate of the March 2012 Budget expenditure restraint measures was provided in the Main Estimates for either 2012-13 or 2013-14 so that it is not possible to determine how much of the $4.9 billion decline was overstated. Given that the Estimates for these two years are not on the same basis, meaning that the statement that the 2013-14 voted expenditures are $4.9 billion lower than those tabled in 2012-13 is misleading.

Apart from the above, the $4.9 billion in voted expenditures is also affected by other factors. The 2013-14 Estimates are affected the ending/winding down of a number of stimulus programs announced as part of the Economic Action Plan.  For example, in the Main Estimates for 2013-14, transfer payments administered by the Office of Infrastructure of Canada are planned to be $1.2 billion lower than those tabled in the Main Estimates for 2012-13, accounting for about 25% of the overall reduction of $4.9 billion.  This is primarily attributable to the ending of the various short-term infrastructure stimulus programs. A further $1.8 billion is due to a reduction in Defence voted spending.  Part of this reduction could be due to the measures announced in the March 2012 Budget while part may also be attributable to the expenditure reductions announced in previous budgets. 

The $87.1 billion in voted expenditures for 2013-14 will be adjusted upwards during the course of the fiscal year. In 2012-13, the Government increased overall spending by $7.1 billion through the tabling of Supplementary Estimates, of which $6.7 billion was for voted expenditures, thereby bringing total voted expenditures for 2012-13 to $98.7 billion.  During the course of 2013-14, the Government will again be tabling Supplementary Estimates – the amount of which is still unknown. The Treasury Board Secretariat indicated in the notes to the departmental/agency tables that further upward adjustments would be forthcoming.  The final outcome will not be known until the audited financial statements for 2013-14 are published in the fall of 2014.  Only then will Canadians know whether voted expenditures in 2013-14 were lower, higher, or unchanged from 2012-13.

Given the timing of the tabling of the 2013-14 Main Estimates, these Estimates are linked to the November2012 Update.  As shown in the table, the November 2012 Update projects an increase in total expenses between 2012-13 and 2013-14 while the Main Estimates claim a decline of $6.5 billion.  With the upcoming tabling of the 2013 Budget, there will again be major differences between the Main Estimates and the Budget for total spending.  If asked what spending will be for 2013-14, the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Finance will give two different responses.

We have documented the differences between the Main Estimates and Budget/Update in previous blogs(1)  and have encouraged the Government to take steps to make the Estimates more comparable in concept and coverage to the Budget/Update and to provide reconciliations of any remaining differences. 

To date, these recommendations have fallen on deaf ears and Parliamentarians and Canadians will continue to remain in the dark about the Government’s spending intentions.


1. See "Making Government Budget and Financial Reporting More Understandable: The Triumph of OPtimism Over Experience" December 2012  www.3dpolicy.ca

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