Federal debt to climb back over half-trillion-dollar line

OTTAWA — The federal government’s debt will zip back over the half-trillion-dollar mark this Sunday evening, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says.

OTTAWA — The federal government’s debt will zip back over the half-trillion-dollar mark this Sunday evening, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says.

However, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty insists he’ll get back to balancing the books and resume paying down the national debt as the effects of the recession ebb.

The federation tracks the debt on a web clock (www.debtclock.ca), where the last five numbers spin almost too quickly for the eye to follow. It predicts this fiscal odometer will roll over the $500-billion line at 10:56:53 p.m. ET on Sunday.

That debt, which doesn’t include provincial or municipal borrowing, amounts to $14,880.39 for every man, woman and child in the country, said Kevin Gaudet, the group’s federal director.

It is also the first time the debt has been that high since October 2003. It first hit $500 billion in August 1994 and climbed to an all-time high of about $540 billion in 2000 before starting to decline.

Now, amid recession and huge amounts of stimulus spending, it’s on the rise again at what Gaudet says is a rate of $1,772.58 a second.

This year’s deficit is forecast at over $55 billion.

“We’ve heard enough of stimulus plans and we need now to have some deficit reduction plans,” he told a news conference.

“Canadians need a deficit action plan and we need it now.”

He said the rising deficit is putting a heavy burden on future taxpayers.

“The mountainous federal debt problem amounts to fiscal child abuse, as both current and future generations will be required to pay it off.”

He said the size of the debt is hard to grasp. A half-trillion loonies, laid out side-by-side, would circle the equator 21.2 times, he said.

Flaherty said the government has to run deficits for several years to stave off the worst of the recession. But then, it’s back to balance.

“We’ll start paying it down once we’re back in surplus and I don’t have to just say that, I’ve done it,” he said.

“We’ve paid off over $40 billion worth of debt in the first three years of this government. So we know how to do it. We know how to balance budgets. We know how to run surpluses and we will.

“We have to get Canada through this recession and protect Canadians.”

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