An enormous digital clock rolled into the Walmart parking lot last week, its numbers rapidly tallying the federal debt and how much is owed by each man, woman and child.
What Canadians owe grows by $930 a second, or $80 million a day, said Aaron Wudrick, federal director with the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.
The total debt has reached $627 billion, which means each of us owes $17,411, he said.
Then there’s the provincial debt. It stands at $298 billion, or $21,000 for every resident in Ontario. Added together, the combined federal and provincial debt is edging close to $40,000 per person.
“Debt is not a sexy issue. It’s not something people are thinking about,” said Wudrick. “Our clock is meant to shock people so they know what the government is spending.”
The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation brought the strange looking prop to Sarnia in the hope of getting the debt some attention.
Sarnia was one of the last stops on the CTF’s six-week national tour, which started in Victoria and ended in Ottawa last Friday.
Canadians are generally disturbed when they see the debt clock, said Wudrick.
But it was a tough sell in Sarnia. Only half a dozen people greeted Wudrick and Christine Van Geyn, CTF’s Ontario director, as they pulled into a sweltering parking lot.
A temperature of 31 C. (88 F.) probably kept many away, Wudrick suggested.
Mike Grunte was one of the few who braved the heat.
“I’m here because I keep track of these things,” he said.
Grunte, 74, is concerned that more Canadians don’t pay attention to the debt.
“Ultimately, it will drown us,” he said. “The interest alone could be spent on much better things, but people don’t care about that when they vote.”
The federal government pays $3.3 million daily in interest on the debt. That’s money that could be spent on programs and services for people, said Wudrick.
“It’s more than what we spent on the Canadian Armed Forces (in 2015). It doesn’t matter where you sit on the political spectrum. That’s money that is not going toward a better use.”
The CTF debt clock rolled across Canada in 1993 and taken off the road four years later when the federal Liberals balanced the books.
When the Harper Conservatives started accruing debt in 2009, the 12-foot-long clock was dusted off and hauled around on a pre-election tour.
“We know Liberals can balance a budget. We saw it eight times in the 1990s,” Wudrick said.
But the first Trudeau budget is set to add $110 billion to the debt, with no plan to get back to a balanced budget, he said.
“We were critical of the Harper government, but at least they had a plan. Governments need to learn to live within their means.”
The CTF estimates the Trudeau government’s spending plans will see the federal debt burden rise to $716 billion by 2020.
The CTF is calling for balanced budgets and a line item in the budget dedicated to paying down the debt, not just the interest on it.
The non-profit group also wants a core budget review to identify what’s working and what’s not, Wudrick said.