THE BLOG

It's Time To Take The First Real Step Towards A Debt-Free B.C.

10/21/2014 09:32 EDT | Updated 12/21/2014 05:59 EST
You may not realize it, but you're drowning in debt. In fact, we all are. It doesn't matter how prudent we have been with our money, how brilliant our investments, how lucrative our career, how stingy our spending.

Our politicians have put us in debt -- B.C. is more than $13,300 in the red for each and every man, woman, and child in this province.

A check of BCDebtClock.ca shows the provincial debt ticking toward $62 billion. In fact, in the five minutes you'll spend reading this column, the debt will grow by $47,700. This year, taxpayers will spend $2.5 billion just to service debt -- equivalent to nearly half the province's education budget.

Just seven years ago, the B.C. debt hovered around $34 billion. It's on its way to doubling in less than a decade.

For all the 2013 provincial election talk of a "debt-free B.C.," we are a long way from seeing that happen.

The old chestnut that "a goal without a plan is just wishful thinking" is never more true than with government debt. That's why the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's top recommendation to the government's budget committee this year is a Debt Reduction Act, based on the legislation that helped Ralph Klein pay off Alberta's debt.

Klein's debt reduction legislation came in two steps: First, a legislated mandatory payment toward debt every year; later, a second law mandated that 75 per cent of all budget surpluses go directly to debt repayment. While Alberta's energy boom is credited with generating the revenue needed to pay down the debt, it still took significant fiscal discipline by Klein to ensure that surpluses went to debt, not new spending programs. Within 12 years, Alberta was debt-free.

A B.C. Debt Reduction Act could make it provincial law that 75 per cent of budget surpluses go to paying down the debt, helping ward off all the special interest groups looking for more money from taxpayers.

As annual budget surpluses grow, a Debt Reduction Act sends a clear message: paying down B.C.'s debt comes first. As that debt is reduced, the amount of servicing and interest paid by taxpayers also falls. This creates a snowball effect: as debt servicing costs decrease, surpluses grow larger. 

The B.C. Act should include legislated percentages for debt repayment and tax relief, leaving no wriggle room for future finance ministers of any political stripe to work around its provisions. If a future government wants to escape this commitment to debt reduction, it should be forced to go back to the Legislature, stand up in front of the opposition, media, watchdogs, and taxpayers, and explain why it wants to repeal the Act.

The B.C. Liberals know they need this Act -- in fact, their 2013 election platform included a promise that they "will dedicate at least 50 per cent of future surplus revenues to debt reduction." It's time to enshrine that promise in law.

With B.C. back in the black, now is the time for a Debt Reduction Act. Nothing good happens to debt without a plan. As a society, we need to show fiscal discipline and follow this road map to a debt-free British Columbia.