Special Feature

Budget 2017

News and insight for advisors from the 2017 federal budget tabled on March 22 in Ottawa. Photo copyright: jvaillancourt/123RF.

Economy & Markets

But while the national debt is expected to rise during the next few years, the debt/GDP ratio is expected to decline slightly during this time

By Catherine Harris |

This year's federal budget kept to the fiscal plan outlined in the 2016 budget, featuring more detail about the central policy of large infrastructure spending. Other measures were generally small and targeted to specific areas or issues.

"This was a ‘stay the course' budget'," says Craig Wright, chief economist with Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto.

The budget projects a deficit of $28.5 billion for fiscal 2018, ending March 31. That's up from $23 million for fiscal 2017. The deficit is projected to decline over the following four years, but will still be a high $18.8 billion in fiscal 2022. The deficit projections include a $3 billion contingency reserve each year for lower than anticipated revenues and/or higher than expected expenditures.

This level of deficits is expected to keep a cap on the federal debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). Although the debt is expected to climb to $756.9 billion as of March 31, 2022, from $637.1 billion as of March 31, 2017, the debt/GDP ratio is expected to decline slightly to 30.9% from 31.6% as of March 31, 2018.

Although that's in accordance with the Liberal government's promise to keep the ratio from climbing, it's not a lot of improvement. Wright, for one, is disappointed that the budget doesn't contain a target for a significantly lower ratio within a specified period. He would also have liked to have seen a commitment to use unspent funds in any year for debt reduction.

The budget is based on private sector forecasts for Canadian and U.S. economic and financial indicators. The assumptions for 2017 are economic growth of 1.9% in Canada and 2.3% in the U.S. Oil prices are expected to average US$54 a barrel and the Canadian dollar (C$) is expected to be around US74.5¢ for the year.

The figures aren't much different looking further out. For 2018-21, annual Canadian growth is assumed to average 1.8% while U.S. growth is expected to be 2%. Oil prices are predicted to be in the US$56-US$59 a barrel range in 2018-20 and then to rise to U$64 in 2021. The C$ is expected to appreciate gradually to around US81¢ in 2021.

Read: Budget 2017