Flood relief boosts federal deficit to $3.8 billion in September

OTTAWA – The federal deficit ballooned to an outsized $3.8-billion September —one of the biggest monthly shortfalls in years — but a large chunk of that was due to providing assistance for June’s flooding disaster in Alberta, the government said Friday.

Ottawa’s monthly accounting of its fiscal position also included another one-time transaction — a gain of about $700 million from the sale of General Motors shares — that distorted September’s bottom line.

The two unusual events leave the government slightly behind pace if it is to meet projected deficit of $17.9 billion for the current 2013-14 fiscal year, which closes at the end of March.

For the first half of the current fiscal year, which began in April, the government accumulated a deficit of $10.7 billion, compared with $9.4 billion for the same period last year.

Still, the Finance Department suggests the distortions from the two extraordinary events should be discounted in calculating Ottawa’s underlying fiscal position.

“Absent the impact of these two one-time factors, the deficit for September 2013 would have been $1.7 billion,” the department said in its report.

“The deficit for the April to September 2013 period would have been $8.6 billion (slightly lower than last year).”

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said earlier this week he was confident that the government is on track to eliminate the deficit in 2015, despite slow growth.

On that front, the government received some good news Friday with the release of fresh data showing the economy expanded by 2.7 per cent in the third quarter, the fastest pace of growth in two years and about one percentage point quicker than during the first half of 2013.

More encouraging is that third-quarter nominal GDP, which includes inflation and is more directly tied to tax revenues, rose a healthy 5.6 per cent.

Ottawa expects to make a big dent in the deficit next year when it anticipates both real and nominal GDP will show a substantial pick-up.

For September, federal revenues increased by $2.1 billion, or 10.8 per cent, as healthy gains in personal and GST tax receipts offset a decline in corporate tax revenues.

Meanwhile, program expenses rose by $3.6 billion, or 19 per cent, mostly due to reporting the costs of disaster relief all in the month of September.

For the first six months of the 2013-14 financial year, Ottawa said its revenues were up $4.3 billion, or 3.5 per cent — while its program expenses rose by $5.4 billion, or 4.6 per cent.

Public debt charges to service the national debt cost Ottawa $14.9 billion through the six months, $160 million more than for the same period last year.