Prime Ministers and Government Spending: A Retrospective

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Prime Ministers and Government Spending


  • This bulletin measures the level of per-person program spending undertaken annually by each prime minister, adjusting for inflation, since 1870.  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 (William Lyon Mackenzie King). Per-person spending stabilized at a permanently higher level after the end of that war.
  • The highest single year of per-person spending ($8,375) between 1870 and 2017 was in the 2009 recession under Prime Minister Harper.
  • 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.
  • Our current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has the third-highest average annual per-person spending increases (5.2%). This is almost a full percentage point higher than his father, Pierre E. Trudeau, who recorded average annual increases of 4.5%.
  • 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 Chretien recorded average annual per-person spending declines of 0.3%.

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