Roundup: That $1 trillion figure

The big scary headline yesterday was that Canada’s market debt had reached $1 trillion. OH NOES! screamed the commentators, and the Conservatives most especially (albeit not in Question Period, but at committee). Part of the problem with this figure, however, is how it’s being reported, and most especially, being compared to things like a household mortgage, which it is absolutely nothing like. For starters, the “market debt” figure being reported there adds a great many things into it – things like the debts of Crown Corporations like CMHC, the Business Development Bank of Canada, or Export Development Canada. These may have federal backstops, but with BDC and EDC, for example, these are important vehicles for entrepreneurs and exporters to expand their businesses, which is generally good for the economy. And you can bet that the “fiscal hawks” out there are disingenuously bundling this into the federal government’s net debt, or sub-national government debt, and giving themselves the vapours to prove a point, which isn’t necessarily helpful.

And as much as the Conservatives are snarking at Bill Morneau over this figure, ignoring how much they added to the national debt in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 (much of the spending coming too late as the recovery had already started when they spent the money, which was also not necessarily spent efficiently) or the fact that when the Liberals took office in 2015, there was a $70 billion hole in GDP because of the mini-recession that happened in part due to the drop in oil prices. That $70 billion is largely where their increased deficit figures come from, not that they communicate this very effectively. But despite Kevin Page’s warning that interest on debt is the fastest growing line item in the federal budget, debt-to-GDP is going down, and the deficit is shrinking faster than initially reported because the economy has been growing faster than expected. Current PBO figures show that there is no debt bomb – federal figures are in a downward trajectory sustainably. I’m not sure that tearing our hair out over this $1 trillion figure is helpful, particularly because it bundles in a lot of things, and the reporting on that isn’t making it clear. It’s just a big number that people are supposed to get upset over, which helps nobody understand the true fiscal situation, of the levers that governments have to deal with it.

Good reads:

  • In the House of Commons yesterday, Justin Trudeau formally apologised for the hanging of six Tsilhqot’in chiefs in 1864 as part of the “Chilcotin War.”
  • Canada is expelling four Russian diplomats and denying entry to three others in response to the Salisbury, UK, nerve gas attack. There is a coordinated effort.
  • Yup, the Conservatives are indeed planning another filibuster to demand answers on the Atwal Affair, despite the fact that they have been offered briefings.
  • The Federal Court dismissed BC’s attempt to challenge the National Energy Board’s decision on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.
  • Ginette Petitpas Taylor is making it easier for doctors to prescribe methadone and pharmaceutical heroin to help combat the opioid crisis.
  • The government is apparently preparing to push ahead with several bills on strengthening the election system.
  • Patty Hajdu says the government is open to tweaking the wording on the Canada Summer Jobs Grant form attestations…next year.
  • Here’s a look at an incident last summer where Indian diplomats tried to interfere at a Brampton cultural event because they objected to a separate Punjab pavilion.
  • As part of his attempt to overhaul the Estimates, Scott Brison wants a $7 billion reserve fund to kickstart new programmes in advance of Supplementary Estimates.
  • The government may look to limit preliminary inquiries in criminal proceedings, but criminal lawyers say that may just increase the number of trials.
  • Ralph Goodale is dismissing concerns that legalized marijuana will make for tougher border screenings.
  • There are some cleavages between how Liberals in safer rural seats can sell the gun control bill versus those in more marginal seats.
  • Federal parties are insisting they haven’t used Facebook data in nefarious ways.
  • Brad Trost may have problems with the Ethics Commissioner as he’s trying to fundraise for his lawsuit against the party over the membership leak list.
  • The party, incidentally, is looking to have Trost’s case quashed.
  • Kady O’Malley’s Process Nerd column looks at some procedural options the Conservatives have to gum up the works for the government in the coming weeks.
  • Chantal Hébert looks at Trudeau’s looming problem of losing his allies in Quebec City and Queen’s Park.

Odds and ends:

Stephen Harper was at Mar-a-lago last weekend for an International Fellowship of Christians and Jews gala, talking about supporting Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

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