Canada: Federal Budget Process

The Federal Budget process begins the beginning of June each year and should conclude by March 31, the start of the new Federal Fiscal Year. The fiscal year for the Canadian federal Government is April 1 through March 31.

Step 1: Budget Preparation (June to September)

Cabinet Policy Committees Identify Broad Budget Elements

The Cabinet (Cabinet Policy Committees) convenes in June to consider broad elements of the upcoming budget that are based on economics, political climate, reports on public issues and concerns, and general government priorities. These discussions result in a formal cabinet decision that sets out a plan to guide officials in Central Agencies and Departments in budget preparations.

Central Agencies Consult with Standing Committee and Agency/Department Leads

In late summer the Privy Council Office and the Department of Finance and Treasury Board (Central Agencies) review recommendations from the Cabinet policy committees and Parliamentary Committees, and consult with key personnel in each Department and Agency. The Central Agencies are responsible for developing the budget strategies and options for the Minister of Finance for the next fiscal year.

In September, the Department of Finance reviews the budget strategies developed by the Central Agencies and prepares a budget strategy and an update on the fiscal and economic outlook for Canada.

Key Standing Committees Addressing Natural Resources

Senate

House of Commons

Step 2: Budget Consultation (September to December)

Department of Finance prepares the Budget Consultation papers; Standing Committee on Finance submits report; Minister of Finance develops the budget strategy

In early Fall the Department of Finance prepares the Budget Consultation papers for the next federal budget. These papers cover the economic and fiscal outlook for the federal government and prospective fiscal and expenditure targets. The Minister of Finance releases the budget strategy in October in the form of a “mini-budget" and begins consultation with the Standing Committee on Finance, provincial finance ministers, the general public and stakeholders. The role of the Standing Committee is to advise and make recommendations for changes in the budget. Adherence to the recommendations of the Standing Committee is not mandatory.

Based off the results of consultation and the reduction and reallocation options that the President of the Treasury Board has put forward, the Minister of Finance develops the final budget strategy.

Step 3: Budget Decision (January to March)

The Cabinet is responsible for reviewing the Budget strategy developed by the Minister of Finance. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance make the final decision on the budget. The budget is broken into two parts:

  1. The Budget Speech (traditionally referred to as “the federal budget”) is a general overview of the government’s financial picture and includes three parts:

    1. Details of the revenue budget,
    2. A general overview of spending, and
    3. The overall financial state for the year.
  2. The Tabling of the Estimates provides specifics on spending plans for individual federal departments and includes three parts:

    1. The general overview of spending as reflected in the Budget Speech,
    2. The Main Estimates, a detailed listing of money requires by individual federal departments and agencies for program delivery, and
    3. The Department Expenditure Plans (presented to Parliament in the fall).

The Department of Finance is responsible for finalizing the Budget documents contained within the Budget Speech, while the Treasury Board Secretariat, in consultation with departments and agencies, finalized the Main Estimates within the Tabling of the Estimates.

The minister of Finance delivers the Budget Speech in February followed by the tabling of Estimates by the President of the Treasury Board.

Step 4: Budget Review and Approval (March to June)

Parliament reviews and approves the federal budgets

No later than March 1, the House of Commons tables the Elements and begins its deliberations. During these deliberations, the Estimates are automatically referred to the appropriate Standing Committee of the House of Commons. The Standing Committees call upon Ministers, senior officials, and other interested parties to make budget appeals/justifications. By May 31, the Committees report on the Estimates back to the House of Commons and deliberations on a "Full Supply" Appropriations Act conclude by the end of June.

The Government Begins a New Fiscal Year

If the process goes as planned, the government’s budgets will be supported by Parliament through a vote of confidence and an “Interim Supply" Appropriations Act will be passed that allows individual departments and agencies to spend 3/12 of their annual budget by April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Getting Involved in the Process

Members of Parliament, Ministries, and government agencies and departments rely on the input of professionals and the public when considering which programs should be a priority for funding each year. The federal budget process provides many opportunities for interested members of the public and NGOs to provide input on what programs are valuable and should receive increased funding, including:

  • Comment on proposed government spending plans during the meetings of Parliamentary standing committee. This can either be done when the Standing Committee on Finance holds pre-budget consultations, or when the various standing committee review individual departmental spending plans. Encourage them to provide adequate funding for natural resources.
  • Comment on budgetary decisions by interacting with individual government departments and agencies (i.e. offering formal comments on the quality of services a given department provides). Provide information and support for programs you feel should be a priority.
  • Governments often release major parts of the budget to the general public prior to its official presentation to Parliament. This is designed to gain insight on the potential public reaction to proposals in the budget. This idea of public testing is referred to as a “trial balloon.”