Thoughts on politics and the economy as we enter election week in Ontario

Every dollar in public debt means we have less to spend on things that really matter

It’s election week in Ontario, our “once every four years” opportunity to decide how public policy will translate into not just how much taxes we’ll pay but something much more fundamental than that.

The public debt of the province—the total amount that Ontario has borrowed over the years—is approaching $350 billion, which is the kind of number that is so high that for many of us it doesn’t really mean very much.

There are two real problems that we all need to face. One is that the debt is climbing at a staggering rate. In 2002, the year Dalton McGuinty took office, it was $132.6 billion. By 2013-14 it was $268.0 billion and Ontario remains the most-indebted “sub-sovereign” (as in “not a country”) entity in the world.

The second is that the higher the debt is, the fewer choices we have to make with what we can pay for, stuff like education, which, by the way, costs the province about double what it pays in interest on money we have already borrowed.

Should there be any doubt, these are all publicly available numbers—from the Ontario Financing Authority (www.ofina.on.ca).

Anyone who has found themselves with credit card debt that essentially cripples their ability to buy things like groceries, clothes or even rent has something of an inkling about what this all means.

Unfortunately, we look at public debt as a whole different kettle of fish.

Which is another problem.

As we go to the polls this week, I would suggest we take a long, hard look at what those on the ballot, and the parties they represent, say they will do if they make it to Queen’s Park.

There has to be a plan—not just for actually spending no more than what is being brought in every year, but for reducing the public debt.

If you think a government that eschews a deficit spending spree is distasteful, imagine a future where things become much, much worse.

This Thursday, as you head to the polling station to cast your vote, consider what financial experts say is one of the first things to do when you (or your province) are digging yourself into a hole.

Stop digging.

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