By The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Documents released Friday show the Manitoba government’s deficit last year came in $145 million lower than expected.
The final results from the fiscal year that ended in March show the province ran a deficit of $695 million, down from the original budget estimate of $840 million.
Finance Minister Scott Fielding said the numbers show the government is on track to keep its 2016 election promise to balance the budget by 2024.
“We’re doing this with responsible expenditure management. The vast majority of departments came in under budget for the second year in a row,” Fielding said.
There were a number of factors behind the improved financial picture — increased tax revenues from growth in the construction industry and tourism linked to the Canada Summer Games hosted in Winnipeg.
Higher tuition fees also help put more money into provincial coffers. The Progressive Conservatives had raised caps on annual tuition hikes at post-secondary institutions.
The health department also saved money through the delay of some construction projects, most notably a 338,000-square-foot Women’s Hospital in Winnipeg now slated to open in 2019.
The financial report also indicated the department spent less than expected because of a reduced volume of services delivered by physicians. Fielding could not provide specifics on that item and alluded to a general increase in efficiency.
“We think we’re managing the finances better and we’re providing those needed services in a more effective way,” Fielding said.
Auditor General Norm Ricard said the deficit would have been much lower — $348 million — had the government followed Canadian public sector accounting standards on two items — the separation of the Workers Compensation Board finances from government accounts and the timing of a transfer of agricultural insurance reserve funds to trust accounts.
Fielding said he stands by the government’s methodology.