By Letter to the Editor on February 3, 2018.
In his Jan. 19 MLA Report in the News, Drew Barnes states that former PM Stephen Harper had “a steady fiscally prudent eye on our hard-earned tax dollars” and he provided “less debt liability for future generations.” The facts seem to indicate otherwise.
Over PM Harper’s 10 years in office (Feb./06 to Nov./15) the federal debt increased $134.5 billion from $481.5 billion (March 31, 2006) to $616 billion (March 31, 2016) (refer to Fiscal Reference Tables — 2017 — Department of Finance). This included a record $55.6 billion for end of fiscal year March 31, 2010.
Program expenses also increased during this time from $177.3 billion (March 31, 2006) to $271 billion (March 31, 2016) or about 53 per cent.
The Fraser Institute also has concerns with debt accumulated since 2008/09. In their Fraser Research Bulletin 2 they state “in 2008/09, the federal government began running budget deficits contributing to the $211.2 billion in added debt” (includes debt for all levels of government). They also state that government debt is an “ongoing fiscal issue in Canada.”
Also, in his column, Barnes commends Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall for achieving a balance in his last budget. But it should be noted that Wall did increase the PST and broadened the number of goods/services to which it applies. This shows that raising taxes may be necessary to address a deficit, particularly if revenue sources are declining.
Barnes also presents Jason Kenney as a someone who has provided “incredibly scrupulous attention to the economic well being of the next generation” due to Kenney being part of Harper’s government. This claim is questionable based on the facts presented above.
There is no doubt that governments cannot continually run deficits but dealing with a deficit too fast can harm the economy. This happened in 2015 when Harper made a concerted effort to eliminate the deficit but GDP growth was only 0.9 per cent in 2015, down from 2.6 per cent in 2014. For comparison, growth in 2017 was about 3 per cent and this was after the federal government operated with a deficit in 2016 and 2017 with the intent of stimulating the economy.
Lastly, Barnes has overlooked one accomplishment of Harper (and by association Mr. Kenney) that does have a positive impact on future generations. This was Harper’s proposal in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 emissions by 2030. This was the target Canada committed to at the 2016 Paris Climate Accord. Albertans are eager to see what actions Mr. Kenney will propose for Alberta to ensure Canada reaches this target.
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