Prime Ministers and Government Spending: 2019 Edition

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  • This bulletin measures the level of per-person program spending undertaken annually by prime ministers, adjusting for inflation, since 1870. (The years from 1867 to 1869 were excluded due to a lack of inflation data).
  • Per-person spending spiked during World War I under Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden but essentially returned to pre-war levels once the war ended. The same is not true of World War II when William Lyon Mackenzie King was prime minister. Per-person spending stabilized at a permanently higher level after the end of that war.
  • The highest single year of per-person spending ($8,711) between 1870 and 2018 was under Prime Minister Harper in 2009 during the recession.
  • Per-person spending in 2018 under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is just $72 short of the all-time high recorded in 2009.
  • Prime Minister Arthur Meighen (1920-1921) recorded the largest average annual decline in per-person spending (-23.1%). That decline, however, is largely explained by the rapid drop in expenditures following World War I.
  • Among post-World War II prime ministers, Louis St. Laurent oversaw the largest annual average increase in per-person spending (7.0%), though this spending was partly influenced by the Korean War.
  • Prime Minister Joe Clark holds the record for the largest average annual post-World War II decline in per-person spending (-4.8%), though his tenure was less than a year.
  • Both Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien recorded average annual per-person spending declines of 0.3%.

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