Canadians’ Federal Debt Per Person Grew by 35 Percent Under Trudeau Government: Study

Canadians’ Federal Debt Per Person Grew by 35 Percent Under Trudeau Government: Study
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 1, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)
Andrew Chen

Every Canadian’s share of federal debt has spiked by more than $12,000, or an increase of 35.3 percent, since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to office in 2015, a recent Fraser Institute study shows.

The study compared the debt legacies of every Canadian prime minister since Confederation, looking at how much the federal debt increased or decreased during their time in office. It found that the Trudeau government has accumulated the third-highest debt among all prime ministers since World War II—just behind his father Pierre Trudeau, who saw the federal debt increase by 58.8 percent per person during his second tenure from 1980 to 1984, and Brian Mulroney, with 42.5 percent between 1984 and 1993.

Since Justin Trudeau took office, the federal debt per person has increased by $12,279, from $34,791 to $47,070 (inflation-adjusted), the study found. In particular, the federal debt per Canadian soared by more than 25 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic from 2019 to 2022.

“While some emergency spending for COVID was necessary, the significant increase in federal debt in recent years means more tax dollars will go towards paying interest and future generations are on the hook for today’s spending,” co-author Jake Fuss, associate director of fiscal studies at the Fraser Institute, said in a news release.
In a recent op-ed, Fuss noted that many of the Trudeau government’s new spending during the pandemic had nothing to do with COVID-19 per se, such as national dental care and the $10-a-day daycare, which he said added “at least several billion in annual spending planned.” And since these programs will be financed through borrowing, the debt Canadians have to shoulder will continue to rise.
In the 2022 federal budget, the federal deficit is projected to keep falling, dropping from $113.8 billion for fiscal year 2021–2022 to $52.8 billion for 2022–2023. However, Fuss said this is not because of a more responsible fiscal policy, but rather due to increased revenue that came with the economic rebound following the waning of COVID-19, rising oil prices, and high inflation.

When asked if Canadians’ per-person debt will continue to increase in the coming years, Fuss told The Epoch Times that the trajectory primarily depends on the Trudeau government’s policy decisions, particularly its fall economic update and the budget for 2023.

“Higher than anticipated revenues would likely lower debt projections, but increased spending could have the opposite effect. It will be vitally important for the Trudeau government to exercise caution over spending and borrowing in the coming months,” he said.

According to the Fraser Institute study, among post-World War II prime ministers who experienced recessions, only Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney incurred more per-person debt than the current government. Prime ministers Stephen Harper and John Diefenbaker also experienced recession during their time in office, but the debt per person grew at a much lower rate under their governments, at 11.4 percent and 5.5 percent respectively.

Among all governments, that of Prime Minister Robert Borden, who governed during World War I and four years of economic downturn from 1911 to 1920, increased per-person debt levels the most by 188.1 percent. Louis St. Laurent, who governed through two recessions from 1948 to 1957, lowered the federal per-person debt the most, driving it down by 34.3 percent.