Canadian public debt
The Canadian government debt, commonly called the "public debt" or the "national debt", is the amount of money owed by the Government of Canada to holders of Canadian Treasury security. In 2013, this number stood at CAD$1.2 trillion across federal and provincial governments. With the total GDP somewhere around CAD$1.8 trillion, Canada's overall debt/GDP ratio is around 66%. "Gross debt" is the national debt plus intragovernmental debt obligations or debt held by trust funds. Types of securities sold by the government include treasury bills, notes, bonds, TIPS, Canada Savings Bonds, and provincial government securities.
The annual government "deficit" is the difference between government receipts and spending.
Revenue and spending
Canada's federal debt grew steadily between 5% and 10% per year until 1975. For the next 12 years it grew on average over 20% per year. It surpassed $100 billion in 1981, $200 billion in 1985, $300 billion in 1988, $400 billion in 1992, and $500 billion in 1994. It peaked at $563 billion in 1997, before then declining to $458 billion by 2008.
With a recession, and an increase in federal spending from 2008, the federal debt grew by $5.8 billion in 2008–09 and is expected to grow by $55.9 billion in 2009–10. Large annual deficits since 2008 has Canadian debt surpassing the $600 billion mark by November 2012, making it larger than the 1997 peak in absolute dollars (although far smaller in comparison to GDP).
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In 1960, 4% of the Canadian government debt was held by foreign investors.
Public debt held by Canadian provinces
In March 2010 Quebec's total debt was $160.117 billion or 53.2% of its Gross Provincial Product (GPP). Ontario's net debt was $220 billion in 2010–11 which represents 37% of Ontario's Provincial Product. British Columbia's public debt-to-GPP is 19.9%. Other provinces have a debt-to-GPP ratio of 35%.
|This article is outdated. (December 2011)|
In 1993, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation commissioned the construction of a giant debt clock – 12 feet long by 8-and-a-half feet high – with changeable faceplates for the federal and each provincial government. The clock displayed the per-second increase in debt along with the share for each Canadian family. The clock was toured around the country. The clock went into temporary retirement once the federal government balanced the budget in 1997 and began paying down the federal debt.
In fiscal 2008–09 the debt clock climbed by $183.92 per second, taking federal debt up to $463.7 billion. After 1 April 2009, the clock, and the federal debt began growing by $1,772.57 per second, which is the equivalent of $106,355 per minute, $6.4 million per hour, or $153 million each day.
Calculating and projecting the debt
In 2002–2003, Canada changed its calculation for net debt. Before this, net debt was defined as the total liabilities minus total assets; now it is the total liabilities minus financial assets, as the government prefers the concept of "accumulated deficit", which corresponds to the old definition of net debt.
Risks of high debt-to-GDP ratio
Harvard University economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff warned about the dramatic risks entailed when public debt-to-GDP ratio exceeds 90 percent in their book entitled This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly (2009). The book was published just after the Financial crisis of 2007–2008. In This Time is Different they studied the striking similarities of the recurring booms and busts that have characterized financial history. The first condition, suggested by a paper written by Rogoff and Reinhart, has been criticized for major calculation errors. In fact, the average GDP growth at public debt/GDP ratios over 90 percent is not dramatically different from when debt/GDP ratios are lower.
Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin reviewed an influential, widely cited research paper entitled, "Growth in a time of debt", by Reinhart and Rogoff [note 1] Herndon and Pollin argued that "coding errors, selective exclusion of available data, and unconventional weighting of summary statistics lead to serious errors that inaccurately represent the relationship between public debt and GDP growth among 20 advanced economies in the post-war period." Their research had significant basic computation errors that, when corrected, undermined the central claim of the book that too much debt causes recession.
According to Hendron, "In their research Rogoff and Reinhart made a coding error which excluded Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Denmark from their analysis. Without data from these countries there is a "0:3 percentage-point error in R and R's published average real GDP growth in the highest public debt/GDP category. It also overstates growth in the lowest public debt/GDP category (0 to 30 percent) by +0:1 percentage point and understates growth in the second public debt/GDP category (30 to 60 percent) by −0.2 percentage point."
"More significant are Rogoff and Reinhart's data exclusions with three other countries: Australia (1946-1950), New Zealand (1946-1949), and Canada (1946-1950). The exclusions for New Zealand are of particular significance. This is because all four of the excluded years were in the highest, 90 percent and above, public debt/GDP category. Real GDP growth rates in those years were 7.7, 11.9, 9.9, and 10.8 percent. After the exclusion of these years, New Zealand contributes only one year to the highest public debt/GDP category, 1951, with a real GDP growth rate of 7.6 percent."
"For example, Canada spent 5 years in the highest public debt/GDP category (4.5 percent of the 110 country-years in this category) and Canada's average real GDP growth during these 5 years was 3.0 percent per year. However the Rogoff and Reinhart spreadsheet error and the RR years exclusion result in Canada not providing any data for the computation of the average for the highest debt/GDP category."  p. 9.
According to the Bank for International Settlements, the combined private and public debt of 18 OECD countries nearly quadrupled between 1980 and 2010, and will likely continue to grow, reaching between 250% (for Italy) and about 600% (for Japan) by 2040. A BIS study released in June 2012 warns that budgets of most advanced economies, excluding interest payments, "would need 20 consecutive years of surpluses exceeding 2 per cent of gross domestic product – starting now – just to bring the debt-to-GDP ratio back to its pre-crisis level". The same authors found in a previous study that increased financial burden imposed by ageing populations and lower growth makes it unlikely that indebted economies can grow out of their debt problem if only one of the following three conditions is met:
- government debt is more than 80 to 100 percent of GDP;
- non-financial corporate debt is more than 90 percent;
- private household debt is more than 85 percent of GDP.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) adds that if the overall debt load continues to grow faster than the economy, then large-scale debt restructuring becomes inevitable. To prevent a vicious upward debt spiral from gaining momentum the authors urge policy makers to "act quickly and decisively" and aim for an overall debt level well below 180 percent for the private and government sector. This number is based on the assumption that governments, nonfinancial corporations, and private households can each sustain a debt load of 60 percent of GDP, at an interest rate of 5 percent and a nominal economic growth rate of 3 percent per year. Lower interest rates and/or higher growth would help reduce the debt burden further.
Proponents of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) do not believe that debt-to-GDP ratios pose risks to countries with floating, non-convertible currencies such as Canada. Australian economist Bill Mitchell explains:
In MMT, we see public debt as private wealth and the interest payments as private income. The outstanding public debt is really just an expression of the accumulated budget deficits that have been run in the past. These budget deficits have added financial assets to the private sector, providing the demand for goods and services that have allowed us to maintain income growth. And that income growth has allowed us to save and accumulate financial assets at a far greater rate than we would have been able to without the deficits.
The only issues a progressive person might have with public debt would be the equity considerations of who owns the debt and whether there an equitable provision of private wealth coming from the deficits. There is a debate to be had about that, but there is no reason to obsess over the level of outstanding public debt. The government can always honor its debt; it can never go bankrupt. There’s no question that the debt obligations will be met. There’s no risk. What’s more, this debt provides firms, households, and others in the private sector a vehicle to park their saved wealth in a risk-free form.
- Before coming to Harvard's Kennedy School as Professor of the International Financial System, Reinhart was a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for International Economics at the University of Maryland. She is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a Research Fellow at the Centre for Economic Policy Research.
- NP 16 May 2013 "Beyond our means: Government debt tops $1.2-trillion and spending is still rising"
- Canada's Debt History Canadian Taxpayers Foundation
- Inflation Calculator Bank of Canada
- World Bank data
- Safaraian, A.E. The Hegemony of International Business, 1945–1970, Volume IV: Foreign Ownership of Canadian Industry. New York: Routledge, 1973. 12.
- Aslund, Anders (19 April 2013). "Reinhart-Rogoff austerity case still stands".
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- Stephen G Cecchetti; M S Mohanty; Fabrizio Zampolli (September 2011). "The real effects of debt (BIS Working Paper No. 352)" (PDF). Bank for International Settlements. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
- Norma Cohen (24 June 2012). "Global economy is stuck in a vicious cycle, warns BIS". The Financial Times. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
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- "Back to Mesopotamia?: The Looming Threat of Debt Restructuring" (PDF). Boston Consulting Group. 23 September 2011.
- Debt, Deficits, and Modern Monetary Theory Winston Gee