From February through April each year, federal, provincial and territorial governments typically announce and deliver a budget, defining the financial roadmap for their jurisdiction for the year. Economists, tax and legal practitioners, financial advisors, and other stakeholders often review these budgets with keen interest to determine the potential impact to Canadians and their communities.

Why budgets are important?

The budget process often defines government spending, which is funded primarily by taxpayer dollars. Research, consultation and analysis goes into creating a budget, and has far-reaching impacts if the budget becomes law. The budget process also marks the start of the government’s financial cycle for the year, beginning in the spring and ending with pre-budget consultations ahead of the following year’s budget.

Where does budget money come from?

Government revenues are made up primarily of taxes. This includes income taxes from individuals, trusts and corporations, as well as sales taxes. Revenues might also come from investments, transfers from other governments and – depending on the government – licensing fees from certain activities, such as driving and fishing.

What do governments pay for?

Depending on the government, expenses normally include:

  • Transfers to persons – Old Age Security, Employment Insurance and child benefits
  • Health and social transfers to other governments
  • Operating expenses
  • Education
  • Infrastructure
  • Energy spending.

What is a surplus, deficit or balanced budget?

A government is said to have a balanced budget when its revenues equal its spending for the year. When revenues exceed spending, there is a surplus that can be used to produce additional income or reduce debt. When revenues are less than expenses, it’s called a deficit, which becomes part of federal, provincial or territorial debt.

To protect spending and certain services in deficit years, governments might borrow funds to cover the gap, which they repay over time with interest.

Who determines government spending?

There are many steps involved in creating a budget. The process is normally initiated by the Minister of Finance who connects with other departments to solicit proposals for funding. A number of pre-budget consultations take place with various stakeholders to inform this process. From there, proposals are developed and sent to the Minister of Finance for signature. Ultimately, decisions on budget spending are normally made by the Minister of Finance along with the head of government (i.e. the Prime Minister or Premier).

What happens next?

Once a budget is introduced in the Legislature, debate ensues before a budget bill is voted on, receives Royal Assent and becomes law. A government’s failure to pass a budget can lead to a non-confidence vote and trigger an election.

This year’s budget status

As of May 4, 2021, of the following budgets have been tabled for the 2021/2022 fiscal year. Where available, you can also take a look at the budget summary written by CI GAM's Tax, Retirement and Estate Planning team: