Ontario government spent $3.5B less than planned in last fiscal year, watchdog says

File photo of Queen's Park in Toronto. Briana Carnegie / AM640 / Global News Toronto

TORONTO — The Ontario government spent $3.5 billion less than planned in the last fiscal year, the province’s fiscal watchdog said Tuesday.

In a new report, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario compared the Progressive Conservative government’s budget projections for 2019-2020, including changes made after the budget was tabled, with its actual spending.

While the government increased its spending plan by a net $2.6 billion late last year, it actually spent 2.2 per cent less than planned in the period ending March 31, the FAO said.

Read more: Provincial government spending $2M for Ontario Place drive-in space, events

The watchdog said the most significant underspending was seen in interest on debt, which came in $1 billion under budget; health, which was $466 million under budget; and investments in public transit, which were $375 million under budget.

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The FAO projects the province will see an interim deficit of $8.7 billion for 2019-2020, or $500 million less than what the government predicted in its latest fiscal update delivered in March.

The Tories tabled a one-year fiscal outlook earlier this year rather than a full budget, citing the COVID-19 pandemic’s uncertain future effects on the economy. A full budget is expected to be tabled by Nov. 15.

Critics accused Premier Doug Ford’s government of making cuts that undermined the province’s ability to respond to the public health crisis, a suggestion the government vehemently denied.

“Even as a pandemic approached, Ford was stripping millions upon millions out of the budgets for critical health services,” New Democrat Sandy Shaw said in a statement.

Liberal finance critic Mitzie Hunter said the savings came at the cost of public health and capital funding for education.

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“Scraping $3.5 billion in savings during a pandemic and recovery period is unconscionable,” Hunter said in a statement.

Sebastian Skamski, spokesman for the President of the Treasury Board, described the opposition’s comments as a “gross mischaracterization of facts.”

“The FAO report confirms that our government continued to make critical investments in vital frontline services that matter most to Ontarians,” Skamski said in a statement, noting the government’s COVID-19 response plan included $3.3 billion in additional health spending.

“Through prudent and careful fiscal management, our government had the resources to effectively and swiftly respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

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