03/02/2012 05:05 EST | Updated 05/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Politicians Pass the Buck with B.C. Debt

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One year ago, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation re-launched its legendary debt clock in Victoria. The debt clock is a remarkable tool because it is incapable of political spin. It can't blame some vague global economic situation or a previous government. It doesn't give out lengthy treatises on the value of public services or the importance of stimulus packages in sagging economies.

The debt clock just sits there, relentlessly counting up the amount of debt our elected officials have put on taxpayers.

When the debt clock was in Victoria last February, the B.C. government debt was $46.7 billion. Today, it's $51 billion. By the end of the 2012-13 budget year, it will hit $57.6 billion. And in 2015, it will rise to $66.4 billion--despite two years of planned surplus budgets.

Think about that for a second (oh, and by the way, in that second, B.C.'s debt rose $213). Our debt is $12,891 per person in B.C.

That's just our provincial debt. Many municipalities have huge borrowing obligations and the federal government's debt is now sitting at $582 billion -- almost $17,000 for every Canadian alive today. Add that to the B.C. total, and we're each $30,000 in debt thanks to government.

The real shame of it is that, in 2007, B.C.'s debt was $33.4 billion. But the world economic situation soured, and government spending kept increasing at twice the rate of inflation. When the bad times came, government wasn't ready and we went further into debt. Eight years later, the debt will have doubled.

It's time for taxpayers to fret about provincial debt. This year, B.C. taxpayers will pay more than $2.5 billion just in interest payments. Our debt is causing us to go further in debt. If we didn't have to pay interest, we would have a $1.5 billion surplus this year.

That $2.5 billion payment means six cents out of every dollar you send to Victoria is being wasted paying interest on the debt. And the payment keeps going up: next year it will be $2.66 billion, the year after $2.89 billion--just in interest.

This growing interest payment will increasingly limit government's ability to fund health care, education and other priorities, and to respond to crisis.

Debt is incredibly selfish; it is about our generation saying to the future: "our needs are more important than yours -- so pay for us so that we can have what we want." Good parents would never say that to their children, but this is what society says with its spending.

Debt can be turned around, and one need only look to former Alberta premier Ralph Klein to see how. The first step is to balance the budget every year, which B.C. is set to do in 2013. The government needs to restructure itself, ensuring it is lean and efficient, and only does the things that governments should be doing -- no frills, please.

Once government has a clear handle on its role and function, it can develop, and stick to a debt reduction plan.

Alberta, under Ralph Klein, passed a law ordering that 75 per cent of budgetary surpluses be directed toward debt retirement -- not election promises, politicians' pet projects or goodies for supportive ridings. Twelve years later, Alberta taxpayers went from paying $1.7 billion a year in debt interest to paying zero. On March 31, 2005, Alberta was out of debt. Alberta politicians had the tool they needed to say no to special interest groups wanting to cut everyone else's pay to pad their own.

Without a plan, B.C.'s debt will continue to rise. It takes a long-term strategy to dig a province out of debt, but it can be done -- but only if we have tools like debt repayment legislation, and leaders disciplined enough to stick with it.