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Doug Ford government spent $3.5B less than expected in first half of 2022-23, budget watchdog finds


Premier Doug Ford’s government spent $3.5 billion less than expected in the first half of this fiscal year, says the province’s budget watchdog.

In a 12-page report released Tuesday, the Financial Accountability Office said the Progressive Conservatives spent $80.5 billion between April 1 and Sept. 30.

But the Tories had budgeted to spend $84 billion in that period.

Overall health spending was $849 million less than expected — a 2.4 per cent decrease.

Education spending was $413 million less — a 3.3 per cent decrease.

Children and social services spending was $244 million less — a 2.7 per cent decrease.

Colleges and universities spending was $99 million less — a 3 per cent decrease.

Justice spending was $59 million less — a 2.2 per cent decrease.

Other program spending was $1.75 billion less than budgeted for a 12.5 per cent decrease.

But the FAO, which is an independent officer of the legislature, stressed the province’s overall spending plan for 2022-23 remained intact at $193 billion.

That suggests the spending could come in the second two quarters of 2022-23, so an accurate picture will not be known until Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy releases his next budget before March 31, 2023.

Compared to the first half of 2021-22 — at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — spending was up 4.7 per cent, or $3.6 billion, this fiscal year.

The FAO report comes two weeks after Bethlenfalvy projected the government would have a $12.9-billion deficit this fiscal year.

That followed a surprise $2.1-billion surplus in 2021-22 as Ontario emerged from the pandemic.

Treasury Board President Prabmeet Sarkaria is expected comment on the FAO’s findings later Tuesday.

The Tories are forecasting an $8.1-billion deficit in 2023-24, but that should drop to a $700-million deficit in 2024-25, suggesting they could balance the books in time for the June 2026 provincial election.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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