Today's discussion:

A fiscal reckoning is coming for Canada

We’re going to have to have a reckoning: are we prepared to pay for the size of government that we want, or are we ready to reset our expectations about the size of government to bring it in line with the rate of taxation that we’re prepared to pay?

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Alice Barr

I have stopped using partisan names, as I truly don’t see a “conservative” party in Canada, especially provincially. What I would like is a small government party, that reduces regulations, reduces the size of government, reduces taxes and spending, and that adheres to the constitution. The federal government should stick to federal issues, defence, immigration, border security, etc. Leave provincial issues, such as dental care and housing, to the provinces. Instead of dollars going to provinces for health care, it should be tax points. Eventually our federal taxation would lower and provincial tax rates would raise. It will lead to differences between provinces, but that is ok. We are not all the same. There will always likely be a need for some sort of equalization formula, but it needs to be based on needs vs wants. I dont have children or grandchildren but I sure feel sorry for the younger generation and the way we are beggaring them today.

21st November 2023 at 8:11 am
Sea to the Dea

Good point, Alice, on the tax points vs. funding. I would question why you don’t see there being a conservative party in Canada. Certainly, you could question whether the Doug Ford government in Ontario is truly “conservative” (I would tend to agree with your skepticism there) but a Pierre Poilievre led party certainly seems to be conservative in nature, or have I missed something you’re seeing.

21st November 2023 at 8:40 am
Gary Oxenforth

I definitly agree with you on adhering tot the constitutionCanada has an abundance of social programs and enough is enough.The feds have to stay out of provincial affairs,and start beefing up military spending.I think as far as conservatism goes,Alberta and Sask. are on the right track.I also agree that our children and grand kids are in a pickle with the debt this Lib/ndp gov has leveled on them.

21st November 2023 at 10:01 am
Rob Tyrrell

I appreciate the comment and mostly agree. However, ‘reduce’ is simplification and without context. Reduction may be appropriate/effective or it may not. It is not inherently positive as the comment seems to suggest. Credit that you do describe a shift from Federal to Provincial taxation rather than a one-sided reduction.

Regulations, government size, taxation, and spending should be ‘right-sized’ in a way that is deemed generally fair and effective. There are many many factors that make this difficult, human nature being at the top-of-the-list.

21st November 2023 at 8:31 am
Geoffrey Dawe

When I was in municipal office, I like to quip that funding was not rocket science – it could be a shell game, but not rocket science.
It never ceases to amaze me that people generally, either don’t understand, or don’t want to understand basic economics.
The only source of government funds is the population they govern. In other words, taxation. It is the ability to tax that allows them to borrow.
And, sooner or later, those chickens come home to roost. And I am sensing that the chickens are heading towards the chicken-coop!

21st November 2023 at 8:18 am
Sean Speer

Hi all:

Thanks for the feedback on my article. I really appreciate it.

It is entirely reasonable for a society to decide that it wants a larger, more expensive government in the name of equality or whatever. I think for instance of Denmark which has quite a large government that its citizens apparently value. The difference is the Danes value it enough to pay for it.

If we want to have a bigger government, we have to be prepared to pay for it over the long run. Big government on the cheap isn’t a sustainable model. As I say in the article, something eventually has to give.

There is some onus in my mind therefore on progressives to not merely make the case for a larger government. They must also make the case for the tax increases to pay for it.


21st November 2023 at 10:49 am

Hi Sean,

I think comparisons with other western countries are interesting. Choosing the metrics, including cultural, geographic, demographic, political and economic would be important to get broad pictures to compare. Not all of those are necessarily easy to quantify but important to include I think. Is living next to Germany the same as living next to the US? Maybe, maybe not but there are distinct realities to living in Northern Europe vs Northern North America. Tax rates are one thing but many things to consider. Thinking about how we would approach a comparison a useful exercise to get a broader outlook on how tax and economic policy play out culturally and politically.

21st November 2023 at 11:59 am
Sean Speer

I’d add is that there’s also an onus on conservatives to be clear about what they’d propose to cut if they want to bring revenues and expenditures into balance.

What neither side should do however is promise Canadians that they can have more than they’re actually prepared to pay for over the long run.


21st November 2023 at 4:02 pm
Sea to the Dea

Good article. It must also be recognized that the tax regime Canada has under the Trudeau government is not EXACTLY the same as the Harper government. Trudeau HAS (1) increased taxes on the top tax payers, who were already shouldering a larger share of the tax burden. In addition, he has (2) essentially eliminated much of the benefit to that increased tax payment, by introducing means testing for many government services. Many high tax payers understand the need and are pleased to help out, but (3) the Trudeau government’s class war language also leads us to question why we do it, and why we do it here. Not everyone was given their good fortune by their parents, like a certain Prime Minister, I might add. MOST of us had to work our tails off to get to this position. Being labelled as “tax cheats” while also being asked to pay more tax does not sit well with many.

21st November 2023 at 7:22 am
Rob Tyrrell

This is an excellent and useful article for an open-minded and engaged citizen. Low on partisan flavor. No hyperbole. High on relevant details, but more importantly, full of current and historical spending-versus-revenue context.

The urgency with which we collectively deal with this reckoning will be a reflection of we, the citizenry. It seems to be irresistibly tempting, for Federal governments in particular, to spend imprudently when the political benefits are primarily gained “today” and the costs born “tomorrow”.

We will either begin to punish governments for imprudent and chronic spending-revenue imbalances or wait until it gets to crisis levels and do it under duress. Alas, I see the glass as half-empty in this case.

21st November 2023 at 7:37 am
Sea to the Dea

We USED to punish governments for saddling future generations with our spending. For 2 (glorious) decades (1995 to 2015) we had what Paul Martin (belatedly) came to label as a “virtuous cycle” of limiting government excess, lowering taxes, and paying down debt. Then the Trudeau government came to power and destroyed all the hard work over the previous two decades to get Canadian finances in order. We need to get back on the right track.

21st November 2023 at 8:46 am
Rob Tyrrell

We certainly punish governments but I remain skeptical that it is for chronic imprudent spending. Your two “glorious” decades is closer to a single decade of balanced revenues and spending.

I would argue that it was a looming crisis that forced the Chretien government’s drastic cutting. Notably, the cutting wasn’t so much as an elimination of costs, but rather a download to the provinces.

I do agree that the Trudeau government was imprudent out-of-the-gate and only got worse in the low interest environment (despite duly spending in response to the pandemic – acknowledging the very leaky buckets). When you have not much left to lose, spending-for-votes is just too tempting.

21st November 2023 at 9:33 am

We need another Paul Martin.

21st November 2023 at 10:50 am
Susan Lanyon

I recall that Paul Martin balanced the budget by drastically cutting federal investment in housing. It took 30 years, but this is now a huge part of the unhoused problem. That with the Charter of Rights ( you can’t me make do what is in my best interest), and the huge number of immigrants and foreign students.

21st November 2023 at 4:00 pm
Vaughn Pfaff

The recent blip in rev/expenditures is an unfortunate reality patially caused by an increase in pathways for the wealthy to decrease support for the country. Slowing GDP and share loss of GDP by those in the lowest 80-90% income group puts up substantial barriers to change that. The “best off” are using lobby driven lower tax rates, manipulating income to low tax foreign sites or funneling investment abroad to lower or special tax free zone areas “to beef up the bottom line”. They have abandoned support to the country that made them. If these investments become at risk via failures in rule of law they will scurry back crying foul and look to the country they deserted to fight their cause. To be frank there are no longer a million waiting to don uniforms and fight for the foreign investors bag of gold. To continue this eat your cake and have it too the mindset of these tax avoiders (some may be tax evaders) must change. The less advantaged will have to be brought on line with greater skills, much higher incomes (who also require fewer expenditures in support) to fill the revenue void left by this abandonment.

21st November 2023 at 9:36 am

Trudeau grew the federal civil service by 40%. Given they have modest union seniority, they can be laid off, en mass, with modest severance cost.

The 2nd step is to look at ministeries with little or no value. My top two are health and heritage. Health is provincial: federal involvement is financial. We have a federsl Department of Finance.

Heritage has two significant players: CBC & CRTC. We can do without both. I suspect there are minor arts & culture support programs that may be worth retaining.

I hope Pierre Polievere already a list of significant cuts.

I also believe we need higher income and sales taxes (fed and provincial) to properly fund health and education.

21st November 2023 at 9:16 am

Would like to know how the Harper government was able to do that. Are there strategies there that could be adopted in the current alarming situation?

21st November 2023 at 7:55 am
The Hub Staff

Thank you for participating in Hub Forum. Sean Speer has previously written about what the Trudeau Government can learn from Stephen Harper’s tenure on controlling spending, which can be viewed here:

21st November 2023 at 10:12 am

Does anyone remember when JT said only $10billion a year for three years? That looks like chicken feed now.

21st November 2023 at 5:24 pm
Harriet Worfen

I remember & I also remember ” the debt will take care of itself”

21st November 2023 at 8:20 pm

If the present government wasn’t wasting and cut out all the crazy corruption we would all be better off

21st November 2023 at 5:20 pm
Mary Grande

The current Justin Trudeau Liberals use some of your similar percentages to justify their fiscal approach aka incompetence. They add to it by quoting Canada’s triple a rating among G7 and lowest ratio among the G7 for debt to gdp. But important point is that the ratio includes assets of CPP, 654.7 billion. CPP assets are required for pensions. A better measure excludes those CPP assets…and that leaves Canada’s ratio far less attractive. Our comparison peers are also not so comparable because they are unitary states versus Canada which has Provincial sub governments with substantial debts. Example: Ontario, likely still the most indebted sub national government!

21st November 2023 at 10:55 am

On the one hand, there is Pierre Poilievre calling for spending cuts and on the other, there are the provincial premiers, mostly Con, calling for increased federal spending. so, where do we go ?
There has to be a balance. The infrastructure in Canada is old and in dire need of repair across the country. The situations we face as a nation, environmentally which was shown last summer, and in health care, which is evidenced in the mental health and addiction crisis, requires spending. Spending cuts may bring down the deficit but cuts will harm the well being of Canada. Fiscal responsibility is not measured only in a ledger.
In a time of crisis it is time for a unity government. Partisan politics has outlived its usefulness, if it had any.
No one party has all the answers and those in the party think it does, as many do, then they are not leaders. They are simply politicians. Lets hope there are enough good people in office or who aspire to office who can rise above partisanship and lead Canada into a better future.

21st November 2023 at 8:47 am
Shahryar Saigol

Mr Speer still believes that the government is like a household that has to earn its income before spending it. The recent Covid crises proved beyond a shadow of doubt that government spending can eliminate poverty. The government as Monopoly supplier of money can print as much as needed to drive the economy when it slows down and it can drain the money from the economy to slow down the economy. We need spend much more now on healthcare, housing, defence and high tech and heavy industry. Or we will become the laggards of the G6.

It is precisely because of this unwillingness to spend that we are lagging behind the US today. The US has injected massive stimulus into the economy through their new spending on infrastructure and the chips act. And inflation is falling in the US!

When will the Canadian government wake up and allow our economy to reach it’s full potential.

21st November 2023 at 12:44 pm
Richard Courtemanche

The economy and finances have been left in the hands of arrogant incompetents and irresponsibles. They should not resign or leave without being made accountable; can’t get away with sabotage and treason.

21st November 2023 at 11:18 am
Helmut Baldes


21st November 2023 at 6:49 pm
Gord Edwards

Any system involving people will inevitably produce whatever behaviour is being incentivized. Individuals may ignore this, at least occasionally. But the overall result is a product of the system. What behaviour is being incentivized by our political system?

Politicians want to get in, and stay in, power. Most voters primarily support whatever party funds their interests. Politicians need to spread the largesse across as many groups as possible to ensure support.

While many voters will talk about a desire for balanced budgets few will happily accept the consequences.
Unless the average Canadian voter starts looking at the financial stability of the country as a priority we will continue on this path. Unfortunately when the situation reaches critical, the impact will be felt primarily by the children and grand children of those who voted for the decisions that led to the problem.

21st November 2023 at 6:25 pm
Kim Morton

If I was a young person today, I would be demanding everyone over 50 be stripped of their assets to pay for the debt load taken on and passed on to pay for our unaffordable and unsustainable lifestyle.

21st November 2023 at 10:21 am
The Hub Staff

What are your thoughts on the federal government’s policy choices ahead of the Fall Economic Statement being announced later today?

21st November 2023 at 9:58 am
Michael F

Personally I think from a very broad perspective this government when first elected in 2015 had a vision of using cheap debt to spur the growth of this country but making large infrastructure investments. The mantra was to grow out of the debt being incurred. Then Trump was elected and it sidetracked this government as our largest trading partner was run by the administration of a capricious fool that didn’t abide by the usual norms of government and diplomacy.

And then shortly after we experienced the once in a century economic upheaval of a global pandemic that led to a lot of unplanned spending to not let the country fall apart economically or socially. Even Mulroney had some kind words about the stewardship of this government in these unprecedented times. Have there been some mistakes and missteps? Absolutely. But remember that politics is at times nothing more than show business for ugly people. And the large egos involved often get in the way of good policy.

21st November 2023 at 12:23 pm

im so sick of liberal spending ……. then people get fed up ….. conservatives come in and fix it fiscally ( harper left a $3 Billion deficit ) …… then liberals harp on needed cuts ….. people loose free stuff …… cycle begins again.

Problem is we are running out of cycles before were are totally broke !!!!

21st November 2023 at 9:49 am
Rob Tyrrell

You should overlay the Federal government party overtop of Figure 1 in the article. You will likely be surprised that the Liberals were in charge during the rare federal surplus days.

The assumption that conservative governments have in practice been more fiscally responsible is unearned (although unfunded tax cuts are more likely the cause over unfunded spending).

21st November 2023 at 10:02 am
Sea to the Dea

Rob, Chretien-Martin over-taxing the populace is no real claim to fame. They get some leeway in the late 90s and early 2000s to make sure there was no back-sliding, but at some point that “virtuous cycle” has got to result in returning the taxes back to the people who pay them in the first place.

21st November 2023 at 10:06 am
G Jackson

Rob, federal deficits were invented by the Liberals under Trudeau I. Trudeau II has perfected it. If we do as you suggest, you will see that the Liberals came to power after the deficits were tamed (Martin et al), and the Liberal government of the day took the credit.

21st November 2023 at 2:10 pm
Sea to the Dea

Good grief. Posters need to learn the facts before posting. Harper had 2 balanced budgets, before the GFC, and then one (sort of) balanced budget in 2015 (deficit of ~$3B).

21st November 2023 at 3:43 pm
Rob Tyrrell

Past deficits and debt are to the “credit” of both Liberal and Conservative governments. The OP seems to place the blame on just one…and why didn’t you mentioned the Mulroney government’s record? The Harper government stretched and stretched, and sold some assets, to barely bring in one ‘balanced budget’.

I don’t understand your last statement. The Liberals were “Martin et al”.

That said, the current Federal Liberal government spending seems both excessive and inadequately controlled to me.

21st November 2023 at 2:56 pm
Tim Casgrain

Why do we exclude provincial deficits in these discussions?

21st November 2023 at 9:19 am