Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux waits to appear before the Commons Finance committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 10, 2020. Parliament’s spending watchdog says the estimated federal deficit for the year has likely risen to about $260 billion with new spending measures rolled out in recent weeks. Budget officer Yves Giroux made the comment during an appearance before a Senate committee, which will hear from Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz later today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Federal deficit likely now at $260 billion due to COVID-19, PBO says

Coronavirus programs have added on costs to Canada’s budget

Parliament’s spending watchdog says the estimated deficit for the year has likely risen to about $260 billion, leaving the government with little fiscal firepower to stimulate an economic rebound.

Budget officer Yves Giroux previously estimated the federal deficit at $252.1 billion this fiscal year on account of a sharp increase in spending on emergency aid and a subsequent drop in economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to the Senate finance committee Tuesday, Giroux said the government has added about $7.6 billion in spending since his last report, pushing the potential deficit ever deeper.

Giroux said that level of spending isn’t sustainable for more than a few years. He said emergency aid would have to eventually sunset “otherwise we’ll be looking at a level of taxation that’s not been seen for generations in this country.”

Federal finances could be helped by an economic recovery that would lower the deficit, which Giroux said is feasible alongside balanced, or close to balanced, budgets.

But to get the economy to lift-off speed, as Giroux has said, will require stimulus spending because of the number of businesses already saying they won’t survive the pandemic.

“It’s quite clear right now that there will be some need for stimulus measures. We just don’t know their magnitude, their scope and which sectors … will need more particular assistance,” Giroux told the committee.

Spending would have to be very targeted because, he said, ”there’s not that much firepower left without incurring significant, structural deficits.”

Federal spending to date has topped $151.7 billion, with $40.33 billion going to 8.21 million people through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. There is $5.7 billion more flowing through a wage subsidy program, according to the most recent figures posted online.

The federal New Democrats have used the $2,000-a-month CERB as an example of why the country should move to a basic income program. Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz in a recent interview suggested a CERB-like measure could help the country more easily respond to economic shocks in the future, particularly with little room for the bank’s monetary policy to help.

“If there’s a lesson to be learned, it is that some of the elasticity of those fiscal policies is very attractive,” Poloz told the same committee Tuesday, “like an automatic fiscal stabilizer that could be relied upon in future episodes that would be worth developing more deeply.”

Giroux said a basic income program — generally a no-strings-attached transfer to citizens, often in lieu of myriad targeted benefits — could have lessened the need for the CERB, though not the wage subsidy.

The last time the PBO looked at basic income, it estimated the federal cost at between $76 billion and $86 billion annually.

Giroux said his office will provide an updated cost for the concept in the coming weeks. A basic income would make some federal programs redundant, leading to some savings, but Giroux said early analysis suggests the net cost to be in the billions of dollars.

The bank has not put a firm number on its economic outlook, providing a best- and worst-case scenario for the foreseeable future, citing uncertainty about the course of the pandemic.

Poloz told the committee he believes the best-case scenario is still within reach. He said pent-up demand would play into a “robust recovery,” even if some sectors like travel face financial difficulties.

Giroux said the federal government could easily provide the same kind of best- and worst-case scenarios so Canadians would have an idea about the course of federal finances. He urged the Liberals to table a fiscal update.

He added that his office will update its estimates of federal finances, including the deficit and debt, some time in June.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

CanadaCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Mounties seeking witnesses to Saturday shooting

Police say the victim isn’t providing investigators with information

South Surrey mom frustrated by city’s response after son, 10, has severe reaction to park grass 

City of Surrey parks manager says ‘potential steps’ to address concern under review

B.C.’s virtual ‘SoundON’ concerts kick off with sounds of Surrey festival

‘FVDED Broadcast’ from nightclub on July 18, as charity event

Surrey council approves $150 FOI fee for attendance requests at city facilities

This came before council’s meeting on Monday July 13

Surrey’s first Ethics Commissioner brings ‘objectivity’ to the job

Vancouver lawyer Reece Harding is Surrey’s first Ethics Commissioner, also a first for B.C.

Recent surge in COVID-19 cases not unexpected amid Phase Three of reopening: B.C.’s top doc

Keep circles small, wear masks and be aware of symptoms, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

UPDATE: Mission spray park closed after children suffer swollen eyes, burns

Mission RCMP are investigating incident that injured several children

B.C. NDP changing WorkSafeBC regulations to respond to COVID-19

Employers say reclassifying coronavirus could be ‘ruinous’

Baby raccoon rescued from 10-foot deep drainage pipe on Vancouver Island

‘Its cries were loud, pitiful and heartbreaking,’ Saanich animal control officer says

Statistical flaws led to B.C. wolf cull which didn’t save endangered caribou as estimated

Study finds statistical flaws in an influential 2019 report supporting a wolf cull

Windows broken, racist graffiti left on Okanagan home

Family says nothing like this has happened since they moved to Summerland in 1980s

19 times on 19th birthday: Langley teen goes from crutches to conquering Abby Grind

Kaden Van Buren started at midnight on Saturday. By 3 p.m. he had completed the trek 19 times.

Professional basketball in Canada begins return to action with COVID-19 testing

Abbotsford’s Fraser Valley Bandits, six other CEBL teams arrive in Ontario for Summer Series

B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’ charged with sex assault of teenage boys

The man, 75, is accused of assaulting teenage boys he met through Coquitlam-area churches

Most Read