The 2018-19 Main Estimates supports the second appropriation bill for the current fiscal year. It follows the 2018-19 Interim Estimates, which was tabled in Parliament on February 12th, 2018, to ensure sufficient spending authorities are available for the start of the fiscal year.
The Government’s Expenditure Plan and Main Estimates for 2018-19 outline $276 billion in total budgetary spending authorities. This represents an increase of approximately $18.1 billion (7.0 percent) compared to the total budgetary authorities identified in the 2017-18 Main Estimates, and an increase of $5.7 billion (2.1 percent) in comparison to the 2017-18 Estimates to date. Parliament is responsible for voting on $112.9 billion of these budgetary authorities.
Budgetary statutory authorities are projected to be $163.1 billion in 2018-19, which is an increase of $7.2 billion (4.6 percent) compared to the total estimated statutory spending in 2017-18. Elderly Benefits and the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) are two of the largest contributors to this increase, and are set to rise by $2.6 billion (5.1 percent) and $1.4 billion (3.9 percent), respectively.
The Government delayed tabling the 2018-19 Main Estimates by several weeks to ensure better alignment between the Budget and Estimates. While the Government has included a new Budget Implementation Vote for $7.0 billion, the initiatives to be funded through this vote are not reflected in the Departmental Plans. Hence, there remains a lack of alignment between the Budget initiatives and planned results.
The Government’s approach to funding Budget 2018 initiatives provides parliamentarians with information that only marginally supports their deliberations and places fewer controls around the money it approves.
With respect to the former, virtually none of the money requested in the new Budget Implementation vote has undergone scrutiny through the standard Treasury Board Submission process, which as indicated by the Government, is to “ensure resources are directed to programs and activities that remain government priorities and achieve value for money.”[i] With respect to the latter, it is unclear that the proposed vote wording would restrict the Government to funding each Budget 2018 measure in the amount set out in the Budget Plan for each Department and Agency, rather than changing the allocations across any initiative mentioned in Budget 2018.
Ultimately, parliamentarians will need to judge whether the Government’s most recent efforts to align the Budget and the Estimates results in an improvement in their oversight role, and if they are willing to accept incomplete information and weaker spending controls to help the Government to expedite the implementation of Budget measures.
As the President of the Treasury Board and PBO have noted previously, a significant part of Budget implementation delays stem from the Government’s own internal processes. Were these to be streamlined, the Government would be able to spend money more quickly, without the need for Parliament to cede information and control. It is unclear what the Government intends to do to address this issue.
[i]. The Business of the Treasury Board. https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/services/treasury-board-submissions/business-treasury-board.html.