Canada rolls out stimulus plan amid punishing COVID-19 third wave

OTTAWA, April 19 (Reuters) – Canada’s budget deficit is forecast to hit C$154.7 billion ($123.7 billion) in the fiscal year ending next March, as Ottawa spends heavily to counter a third wave of COVID-19 infections and plans to bolster the economic recovery, the finance department said on Monday.

The deficit is 27.6% higher than the C$121.2 billion forecast in a fiscal update last November. Ottawa unveiled a C$101.4 billion plan with spending commitments spread over three years and said it would extend COVID-19 benefits as well as bringing in a childcare program and tackling climate change.

The spending, aimed at boosting economic growth, is also likely to appeal to voters ahead of an expected election later this year.

“We must punch our way out of the COVID recession,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a prepared budget speech to lawmakers. “That means ensuring lost jobs are recovered as swiftly as possible, and hard-hit businesses rebound quickly.”

The government said the 2020/21 deficit was now expected to be C$354.2 billion, down from a previous forecast of C$381.6 billion. It forecast far narrower deficits of C$59.7 billion in 2022/23 and C$51.0 billion in 2023/24.

The federal debt-to-GDP ratio is forecast to peak at 51.2% in 2021-22, down slightly from 52.6% seen in November, the highest since 1999, before declining to 50.7% and 50.6% in the subsequent two years.

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