By the numbers: Canada’s debt load

08.02.11

As the eyes of the world have been on our American neighbours and their efforts to make a deal childish grandstanding and petty squabbling to avert a default on the national debt, it’s understandable that many of us Canadians have been feeling pretty smug. After all, we may have problems, but not problems to the tune of nearly $15 trillion dollars… right?

Well, sort of right. We’re a smaller country with a smaller economy, so of course the total number is proportionally smaller as well. But what you may not know is that Canada’s public debt has been steadily rising over the past five years, and now sits at an all-time high of $564 billion dollars. That’s nearly $17,000 per Canadian – which, granted, is much lower than the $46,000 per American that our neighbours to the south are on the hook for. Still, that’s 17 grand for every man, woman and child in Canada, and I suspect that if you were asked to pull our your chequebook, you might balk at coming up with that amount.

This happened on Stephen Harper’s watch – the same Stephen Harper who got elected on a fiction of being good for the economy. As you can see by the chart below, the previous Liberal governments had balanced the budget and were steadily lowering the public debt each year… but the Conservative government since 2006-07 has increased it to its all-time high levels and is continuing to spend:

Federal-Debt-EN11

Sure, you might argue, the Liberal government years were years of relative economic prosperity in the world, while the Tory government has been navigating Canada through a global recession. But how, exactly, does building more federal prisons, buying military fighter jets, and pouring money into the Harper government’s promotional campaigns constitute responsible spending during recessionary times?

What’s happening in the US ought to serve as a cautionary tale for us Canadians on how debt can spiral out of control and severely weaken our economy when irresponsible politicians are at the helm. Of course, liberals and conservatives (and NDPers) will never agree on where to spend and what to cut. But anyone who voted conservative because they believe that Harper is good  economy needs a bit of a reality check. As the Tory government has shown time and time again, a balanced budget is not a priority for them. And Canadians will be paying the price… to the tune of almost $17 grand apiece – and rising.

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