Ottawa wants billions more for debt, defence, Indigenous kids

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Treasury Board President Anita Anand is asking Parliament to approve an extra $8.9 billion in spending in the current fiscal year, which ends March 31.

Most of it is for extra costs associated with finance charges, providing health care for Indigenous children, and for military projects at home and abroad, according to the latest supplementary spending estimates from the federal government.

The single biggest item the government needs more money for is an extra $3.2 billion to service the national debt.

But the Department of Indigenous Services also needs nearly $2 billion more than it planned at the beginning of the fiscal year, much of that for programs to improve health-care services for Indigenous children.

The Department of National Defence is asking Parliament to approve $1.9 billion to boost both its capital and operating budget, including money destined for military projects in Latvia and Ukraine.

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Some of those funds will also be used for new costs associated with the acquisition of new reconnaissance aircraft and new airborne tanker transports for the Air Force.

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The extra funds should push the government’s overall spending for the 2023-24 fiscal year to $496.6 billion. That would represent an increase of $13.5 billion, or 2.8 per cent, versus the previous fiscal year.

The new spending requests, known formally as the Supplementary Estimates (C), 2023-2024 were tabled Feb. 15 in the House of Commons.

These estimates are the final request for new spending in the current fiscal year. Various parliamentary committees will now study the different requests for new funding before all MPs will vote on them.

The votes on spending requests, which have not yet been scheduled, are, by tradition, matters of confidence. In recent years, they’ve also occasionally been the subject of overnight marathon votes forced by the opposition. So long as the supply-and-confidence agreement holds between the minority Liberal government and the 25-member NDP caucus, those votes should pass the House.

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The extra $3.2 billion sought by the Department of Finance to service the debt, though, is a “statutory” item and, as a result, is not subject to a vote by MPs. It is the kind of expense, like Old Age Security payments or health transfers to the provinces, that, once set in place by legislation adopted in other years and in other Parliaments, cannot be avoided.

With these latest spending estimates, the government is forecasting that the total cost to service the federal government’s debt this year will be about $36.8 billion. That would be an increase of $1.8 billion, or five per cent higher than the previous fiscal year, but would represent an increase of $12.3 billion, or more than 50 per cent, compared with two fiscal years ago, 2021-22.

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The government also seeks an additional $1.92 billion to boost the pool of money the Department of Indigenous Services has available for several programs. Minister Patty Hajdu’s department already had been voted authority to distribute $17.97 billion in 2023-24. The request in the spending estimates boosts that by more than 10 per cent.

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The extra money Indigenous Services seeks includes additional funding this year of $815 million to implement reforms to the First Nations Child and Family Services and more than $800 million for costs associated with the providing medical care to Indigenous children per the guidelines of Jordan’s Principle.

Indigenous Services also needs an additional $260 million to distribution to Indigenous governments and organizations participating in the Emergency Management Assistance Program.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is also asking Parliament to approve an additional $413 million in funding, money it says it needs for unexpectedly high costs associated with a program to provide one-time payments to Ukrainian temporary residents and for “extraordinary interim housing pressures” resulting from the number of asylum claimants coming into Canada.

The government seeks to provide an additional $507 million to the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. That amount, which is 40 per cent more money than the government thought it would be paying to the authority earlier in the budget year, will used for the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

MPs will also be asked approve a payment of $150 million to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, which the province will use to construct a new adult corrections facility.

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