* Final budget deficit for 2012-13 was C$18.9 bln
* March budget had forecast C$25.9 bln gap
* Report in May said it would be C$18.3 bln
* Direct program spending declines slightly
* Debt-to-GDP ratio a little lower; lowest in Group of Seven
By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Canada’s final budget figures for the fiscal year that ended in March show a deficit of C$18.9 billion ($18.3 billion), slightly higher than a government estimate released in May, but much lower than the forecast it released in its March budget.
In a preliminary report on May 31, the Finance Department’s Fiscal Monitor estimated a shortfall of C$18.3 billion for the 2012-13 year, while the government’s annual budget released on March 21 had projected the deficit would be C$25.9 billion.
The budget deficit had hit a record C$55.6 billion in 2009-10.
Figures released on Tuesday showed direct program spending in 2012-13 fell by 1.2 percent from the year before and by 3.8 percent from 2010-11.
The government also reported the ratio of federal debt to gross domestic product fell to 33.1 percent at end-March 2013 from 33.2 percent a year earlier.
The debt figure includes the value of buildings and other non financial assets in calculating the difference between federal assets and liabilities.
The debt-to-GDP ratio used by Ottawa differs somewhat from those used elsewhere, but in any case Canada’s debt is the lowest of any in the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty repeated the government was on track to balance the budget in 2015, and he said on Monday that his fall fiscal update would be coming out “soon”. But he said it was not “imminent”, suggesting it would not be in coming days.