Conservative allies squirm over debt record

There was a time not so long ago when the Conservative party and the anti-government Canadian Taxpayers Federation walked together in denouncing growing federal debt.

They were kissing cousins, denouncing the high-debt Liberals.

Now they are estranged, living through a family feud as the Conservatives oversee an increase in the national debt by 33 percent to more than $600 billion that sucks $31 billion in debt servicing charges out of federal revenues every year at a time of record low interest rates.

When the CTF announced Nov. 24 that the debt had set a $600 billion record, an “ugly milestone,” it noted that through recession stimulus spending, the Stephen Harper Conservatives have added more than $142 billion to the national debt in the past four years.

Part of the problem for the image of the high-debt “fiscally conservative” Conservatives is that they inherited the opposite: government books that were recording large surpluses, paying down debt and still having room to reduce taxes.

The once-despised “tax-and-spend” Liberals became the government with the political guts to eliminate the deficit in the mid-1990s, at great cost to Canadians and farmers (Crow rate ended, agricultural research gutted, Agriculture Canada decimated), returning the country to surplus.

They were re-elected twice on that record.

In the decade after books were balanced for the first time in decades in 1997, the federal debt was drawn down by $100 billion, creating what economists called a “virtuous circle:” reduced debt leading to reduced debt servicing charges leading to higher surpluses leading to ….

During their first two years in office, the tax-cutting Conservatives used the surplus to cut billions of dollars out of revenues with voter-popular tax cuts such as the two percentage point cut in the Goods and Services Tax.

Then came the recession of 2008, the government increased spending, tax revenues were down and suddenly, Liberal-inherited surpluses became the largest deficit in Canadian history.

In three years, the Conservatives reversed the $100 billion in debt reduction and added more.

With the government (sort of) promising to balance the books by the 2015 election but hedging on the timeline as the economy weakens, it still means tens of billions of dollars will be loaded onto an already bulging national debt.

So what is the wannabe Conservative-friendly Canadian Taxpayers Federation to do?

It stuck to its guns, denouncing the Conservatives for reversing all the debt¬–reducing work the Liberals had done.

“Canada’s national debt is now rising at a rate of $74.6 million a day, $3.1 million an hour, $52,000 a minute and $863.27 a second,” said the CTF in a Nov. 24 statement.

It means that while this blog was being read, taxpayers are on the hook for more than $100,000 in new Conservative debt.

Oh dear. What would Reform MP and National Citizens Coalition president Stephen Harper have to say about that?