10/03/2012 11:40 EDT | Updated 12/03/2012 05:12 EST

Budget watchdog says Ottawa meeting budget targets in reducing spending

OTTAWA - Canada's budget watchdog says the Harper government is so far meeting its targets on spending restraint.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer says in a new report that overall spending for the first three months of this year is unchanged from the same period last year.

That is below the March budget's projection of a 1.1 per cent increase for the overall 2012-13 fiscal year that ends next March.

While still early, the report notes that Ottawa is well inside its goal on operating expenditures, the part of spending over which it has most control.

Last March's budget had targeted direct program spending as an area of savings, including the reduction of about 19,000 public service jobs.

Budget officer Kevin Page says the first three months saw a decrease of almost five per cent in the category to $11.2 billion as departments and agencies reported spending less during the period.

Page says the lower level of spending was widespread across most departments and could reflect the government's implementation of new restraint measures announced in March, as well as the two previous budgets.

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