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Posted: September 12, 2021

Thursday’s debt free debate – much ado about nothing

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

Do you know how much you’re in debt? I’m sure you do. Crypto currency hasn’t taken over yet and most people today only need to glance at their smart phones to know exactly where they stand financially.

I wish I could say the same for those running for government.

As a result, I was more than a little surprised how little discussion took place on fiscal matters during the Great Debate this week when the party leaders made their pitches for our support in the soon to arrive federal election Sept. 20.

Oh, there were the usual promises bandied around about the deficit and how soon they will eliminate it if we’d just vote for them and their respective parties. I won’t bore you with what they said because we’ve heard it all before and nothing ever comes of it. It’s just “happy talk” to make us feel good as they empty our wallets.

And did you ever notice how seldom in any election they get around to mentioning the dreaded “D” word as in debt?

No, the “D” word is about as popular as flies around the supper table as you sit down for a good meal. And the D word I’m talking about isn’t the deficit which is brought up in almost every political discussion along with elaborate – and mostly unbelievable – promises to eliminate it. But the real “D” word is DEBT! And that word has been almost eliminated from the political lexicon and in the case of Canada I’m glad – if that’s the right word—to tell you why.

In a few polite words there’s a reason why our debt is so seldom mentioned by any politician and that of course is because it’s so humungous. How humungous?

Well, you better take a deep breath and sit down for this.

According to the Nov. 4, 220 Parliamentary Budget Officer’s Supplementary Estimates – the most recent available – Canada’s total federal debt stood at $1.453 trillion. That’s right, almost one and a half trillion! That works out to $42,223 for every man, woman and child in the country or $152,401 for every family of four in the Great White North. I told you to sit down. And note this is only federal debt and does not include provincial debt which is also horrific in most cases.

But believe it or not, most politicians, regardless of party, tend to downplay the debt total in favour of the debt per GDP (Gross Domestic Product) which they claim gives a more realistic picture of how much a country is in debt to its creditors. On this basis, Canada’s debt per GDP would account for 86.8 percent of our entire economy today while the US government’s debt of $28.5 trillion accounts for 106.7 percent of Uncle Sam’s current economy. But keep in mind that the debt to GDP ratio only measure’s a country’s theoretical capacity to pay its debt load immediately if it cashed in all its assets and that, of course, never happens.

So, we’re a debtor nation and our debt is growing every day. Yet at the same time you saw politicians in the debate Thursday blithely throwing out numbers in the millions and billions to fix the overwhelming problems in our society including the debt of a society in the throes of a world-wide pandemic. Can you blame me for being a tad skeptical?

Perhaps you’re a Doubting Thomas too? Why are we in another costly election when we’re virtually swimming in debt? How will we pay for this grossly unneeded election pegged at a cost of $610 million? How do we pay for costly programs like affordable housing, a national daycare program and a universal basic income when we’re mired in debt? You know the answer, of course. We’ll borrow more money! How long can this go on? Long enough apparently to make our grandchildren paupers. But there was little discussion of this Thursday.

I’m not into picking winners or losers of Thursday’s Great Debate. I’ll leave that to the pundits in the Twittersphere. But if you held a knife to my throat, I’d be sorely tempted to say there were no winners or losers.

We all lost.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who after Thursday’s debate, is glad he’s retired.

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