The federal government will run a higher-than-expected deficit in 2011-12, but says it will balance its books a year ahead of schedule, in 2015-16.
HIGHLIGHTS: Expenses to keep growing; "test bed" procurement program expanded; OAS age pushed back; purging the penny.
Costs associated with laying off thousands of public servants and other measures introduced in Thursday's budget will increase the deficit by $500 million to $24.9 billion. That's down from $33.4 billion in 2010-11.
But the measures will create long-term savings, shaving more than $1 billion off the deficit in 2012-13 and climbing to $5 billion in 2014-15.
The Tories are forecasting a $3.4-billion surplus in 2015-16, but that's largely based on the expectation of higher revenues.
Despite talk of austerity and spending cuts, government expenses are projected to keep rising over the next five fiscal years.
Over the next fiscal year, expenditures will rise by $3.2 billion, or 1.17 per cent, while revenues climb $7 billion, or 2.82 per cent.
Over the next five years, total expenses are expected to grow $31.8 billion between 2011-12 and 2016-17, a rise of 11.65 per cent. Revenues are expected to go up 26 per cent, by $64.5 billion, over that same time period.
"We have no need to resort to the drastic cuts being forced upon some other developed countries today. We have no need to undertake the radical austerity measures imposed by the federal government in the 1990s," Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in a speech in the House of Commons Thursday, according to a prepared copy of his remarks.
"The savings we have identified are moderate. They will amount to less than two per cent of federal program spending overall."
Some of 2012's budget highlights included eliminating the penny, making adjustments to Old Age Security eligibility and making changes to hiring credits, Employment Insurance and innovation and procurement.
Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program
The government proposes to make permanent the Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program, a 2010 initiative intended to help small- and medium-sized businesses sell unique or high-tech products and services to federal departments and agencies.
The objective is to give these businesses a reference account to scale up their businesses to other clients, particularly foreign governments.
The budget says $95 million will be allocated to the program annually for three years, starting in 2013-14, and $40 million each year after that.
Budget documents say the program will be expanded to include a military component, but did not provide further details.
The government plans to extend its hiring credit for small businesses into the next fiscal year. This temporary credit provides up to $1,000 per employer as a credit against Employment Insurance premiums. Approximately 536,000 employers whose total premiums were less than $10,000 will be eligible.
The credit, first announced last year, is intended to help small businesses with the cost of hiring new workers.
The government proposes to continue holding the Employment Insurance premium rate to five cents every year until the operating account is balanced, following freezes in 2010 and 2011.
It will introduce legislation to limit the rate increases, which are currently set by the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board.
When the account is balanced, the rate will then be set "to ensure that EI premiums are no higher than needed to pay for the EI program" during the next seven years, the budget stated. Once that rate is set, five cents will remain the upper limit for annual adjustments.
In addition, the government plans to introduce legislation to give notice of premium increases earlier in the fall, so that employers and workers have more notice.
"These improvements will ensure affordability for premium payers while offering ongoing predictability and stability," the budget stated.
Old Age Security
Workers who are 53 years old and younger will see their age of eligibility for Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplements rise from 65 years old to 67 years old.
The ratio of active workers to retirees is expected to dip to to 2:1 in 2060, down from more than 4:1 in 2010.
The one-cent copper coin will soon be no more.
The Bank of Canada plans to cease production of the penny later this year in a move that will save the government $11 million annually.
The price of producing each copper coin is 1.6 cents, and the time it takes to count and collect the change is just not worth it any more, Mr. Flaherty said.
"Pennies take up too much space on our dressers at home. They take up far too much time for small businesses trying to grow and create jobs," Mr. Flaherty told the House of Commons.
For cash transactions, rounding will take place to the nearest five-cent increment before HST is applied if the consumer does not have exact change. Credit and debit payments will still be calculated to the nearest cent.
Although the penny will no longer be produced, pennies already in circulation can be used indefinitely.
The government says the move follows the lead of several other countries who have eliminated the one-cent coin, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Norway and Switzerland.