Fraser Forum

Ontario taxpayers must pay $21.2 billion in government debt interest this year

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Government debt imposes real costs on individual Canadians and their families in the form of interest payments. Governments must pay interest on their debt—it’s not a choice. And the more money governments spend on interest payments, the less money is available for the programs and services that matter to Canadians.

As recent Fraser Institute study points out, interest on the federal debt will total $24.9 billion this year, more than what Ottawa plans to spend on transfers to Canadian families in the form of children benefits ($21.8 billion).

But how much must Canadians pay in provincial government debt interest this year?

In Ontario, the province expects to spend $11.4 billion servicing its debt. When we combine Ontario’s debt servicing costs with the province’s share of federal debt servicing costs, Ontario taxpayers are responsible for a total of $21.2 billion in federal-provincial interest payments. That’s roughly equivalent to what the Ontario government collects in HST ($23.8 billion) and a lot more than what it spends on physicians ($13.1 billion in 2015).

This year, combined federal-provincial interest payments are substantial in other provinces as well. For instance:

• Quebec taxpayers must pay $14.8 billion for federal and provincial debt interest; more than what the province spends on K-12 education ($12.9 billion).

• In British Columbia, interest payments for both provincial and federal debt amount to $5.6 billion, more than double what the province collects in Medical Services Premiums ($2.6 billion).

• Alberta’s combined provincial-federal debt interest payments total $5.3 billion this year, more than what the province will spend on social services including welfare ($5.1 billion).

The chart below displays the total annual interest on federal and provincial debt in each province, assuming the cost is distributed equally to each citizen. Newfoundland & Labrador has by far the highest combined debt interest payments ($2,747 per person), followed by Quebec ($1,774 per person) and Ontario ($1,517 per person). At $1,127 per person, Saskatchewan has the lowest combined debt interest payments.

These interest payments are one major reason why government debt matters.