Your taxes in action: Federal spending highlights

By Simon Doyle | October 20, 2017 | Last updated on September 15, 2023
2 min read

How are your taxes spent? We investigate.

Federal government

Total spending: $241.4 billion

The federal government spent $241.4 billion in 2015–16, up by about $13 billion from five years earlier. Most of that went to Old Age Security payments ($35 billion) and provincial health transfers.

Notable lines

  • Universal Child Care Benefit: $8.76 billion
  • Indigenous Affairs grants and contributions: $6.48 billion
  • Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development grants and contributions: $3.83 billion

Total spending and full-time equivalent employees (FTEs)

Privy Council Office

The Privy Council Office, a key central agency in the public service, supports the Prime Minister’s Office, and spent $123 million under Justin Trudeau in 2015–16. That’s down by about $32 million from five years earlier under Stephen Harper. The number of full-time equivalent employees also dropped. The agency is run by the clerk of the Privy Council, who, taking the prime minister’s lead, coordinates work with deputy ministers (the heads of departments).

Notable lines

  • Personnel: $103 million
  • Transportation and telecommunications: $3.5 million
  • Prime minister’s salary and car allowance: $169,600

Total spending and FTEs

Finance Department

The Finance Department, a central keeper of the federal purse, spends most of its budget on transfer payments. In 2015–16, the department spent $64.1 billion, or 73.7% of total spending, on these transfers. The big ones were $34 billion in Canada health transfers to the provinces and $17.3 billion in equalization payments.

Notable lines

  • Programs and operations: $97.47 million
  • Interest on unmatured debt: $15.1 million
  • Purchase of domestic coinage: $90.54 million
  • Losses on foreign exchange: $55.37 million

Total spending and FTEs

Department of Defence

The Department of Defence has one of the largest budgets, spending $18.7 billion in 2015–16. Under the personnel category, it spent a yearly $9.6 billion per year over the past five years. The Defence Department also makes transfer payments, which averaged $170.3 million per year during that period. The department’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization contribution has been the largest of the transfers, averaging $91.2 million per year in the past five years.

Notable lines

  • Programs and operations: $13.78 billion
  • Personnel: $8.97 billion
  • Acquisition of machinery and equipment: $2.34 billion
  • Contributions to military member benefit plans: $1.27 billion

Total spending and FTEs

Biggest operation spenders

Simon Doyle