Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

$1 of deficit equals $3 of debt

  • Print

TORONTO — "I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today," Wimpy would say.

You name it, and somewhere in this country, a politician has probably made the same promise. And like Popeye’s portly friend, politicians never explain why.

Almost none of those promises have come with a bigger picture that situates them within a set of choices that are being made.

Governing is about making choices — choices about how to raise money and where to spend it.

Politicians are more than willing to concentrate on the spending and not the making.

There are good reasons to spend money in the public sector—and this is not a rant on taxes and spending.

Trusting the private sector to handle provisioning of a public good or service or asking that it be provided publicly to ensure it is done reasonably (if not always as well as it could have been: equity comes at a price, too) is a choice we can make.

Taking money from private hands — yours, mine, or the business on the corner — to pay for public goods has effects in the broader community. We can choose whether to pay the piper here or there, that’s all.

There are even good times to have our public sector run a deficit, just as businesses sometime take on debt to improve their future prospects, or families borrow to grow their possibilities.

There are also bad times and reasons to take on debt in a business or family. It’s about choices.

Right now the media is full of bad news coming from Canada’s governments. Balancing the budget is a receding goal. Cutbacks, zero-per cent increases, pension benefit changes are the order of the day.

Meanwhile, roads decay, transit systems are not built, community and social housing languish, those on social assistance remain impoverished; there’s a long list of things to fix and apparently no money for any of it.

What we’re not getting from any of our governments or their official oppositions is a comprehensive vision of how we get from where we are to where they want us to be.

Oh, we get grab bags of promises. We get small bits and pieces here and there. But we don’t get a big picture.

On health care, we don’t get a picture of how shifting money from acute care (paying hospitals) to long-term care, home care, etc. might make the system work better for an aging population — death and the route there (aging) is that other certainty.

On transportation, we don’t get a picture of how we make our city regions function better, how to integrate across boundaries, how we cut travel times to make more opportunities available to more people. We don’t get a discussion of the options and tradeoffs in paying for it, either, or in how speeding the city up might require that some modes of transportation be favoured over others.

On social care, we don’t get a realistic discussion of how to run the system of housing supports, social housing, home care, etc. to ensure the disabled are cared for and the poor get a leg up while ensuring that the money that is spent gets to those who need it.

Every $1 of deficit spending (no matter how noble the purpose) burdens the future with about $3 to be paid off by the time the principal is paid back and the interest covered. Already, interest is often one of the top four spending lines in a provincial budget—and that’s with interest rates at their lowest in a generation or more. They can only go up and the accumulated burden will have to come out of programs.

Telling us the big picture, pulling the pieces together, and making choices so that our grandchildren aren’t paying for our errors is what we as citizens should be insisting that our politicians do.

Simply protesting and demanding more, more, more won’t cut it any longer. We need to be spared the Wimpy promises. We have to choose and we have to know why we choose — tell us the big picture.


Bruce Stewart is a Toronto management consultant.


—Troy Media

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


I Dream of Diesel at Rachel Brown Theatre scene preview

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A golfer looks for his ball in a water trap at John Blumberg Golf Course Friday afternoon as geese and goslings run for safety- See Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge- Day 24– June 15, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Two Canadian geese perch themselves for a perfect view looking at the surroundings from the top of a railway bridge near Lombard Ave and Waterfront Drive in downtown Winnipeg- Standup photo- May 01, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google