economic update canada

Canada's economic update reveals record high debt of $1.2 trillion

Canadians have long been awaiting an official fiscal update from the federal government to better understand how badly our national economy has been impacted by the pandemic.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau shared the numbers in Parliament on Wednesday and unfortunately, as was expected, things are looking pretty bleak. But, he assures residents that Canada is well poised to deal with the fallout.

Some of the main takeaways of Ottawa's economic update include a projected deficit of $343.2 billion for 2020-21 — mostly due to one-time emergency spending through public benefits — which is a 1,000 per cent increase from what the government had at one point expected and the biggest since the Second World War.

Canada also now holds a record high debt of $1.2 trillion, hitting us twice as hard as the last recession and putting us what Morneau called "the most profound downturn since the Great Depression."

Other stats from today's snapshot include:

  • The fact that 5.2 million Canadians (a third of our entire workforce) have either lost hours at their jobs or lost their jobs completely
  • Unemployment will likely hover around 10 per cent for the remainder of the year and may stay as high as around eight per cent next year
  • The federal debt-to-GDP ratio will rise to 49.1 per cent in 2020-2021 (up from 31 per cent in one year, but not as bad as the record high of 67 per cent in 1996)
  • The Canadian economy is expected to contract by 6.8 per cent this year but expected to rebound by 5.5 per cent next year
  • There is expected to be an annualized decline of more than 40 per cent in real GDP expected in Q2
  • The Canada Emergency Response Benefit for those who are out of work due to the health crisis will be extended beyond what has already been announced, amounting to additional spending of $50 billion, along with $10 billion more for EI to follow CERB (this explains the disparity between our projected deficit and recent projections from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which did not account for this or the existing eight-week extension of the CERB)
  • A forecasted $106 billion drop in revenue

Some slightly less awful news, for comparison:

  • Canada's debt charges are only around one per cent of GDP, compared to six per cent in the 1990s when interest rates were high, our "debt needed to be reigned in" and public debt was "extremely expensive," says Morneau
  • Total public debt charges for 2020 will be $4 billion lower than what was forecasted last fall and the cost to service it (public debt charge) will drop this year
  • Federal debt structure spreads long-term and compares well to other G7 countries
  • Provincial debt has outpaced federal debt by $225 billion over the last 25 years
  • Average daily new cases of COVID-19 nationwide have declined by about 80 per cent since the peak of the virus in late April, and the worst of economic shock is likewise behind us

Morneau notes that these numbers will surely draw criticism but "our government knew that the cost of inaction would have been far greater."

"Those who would have us do less ignore that without government action, millions of jobs would have been lost, putting the burden of debt onto families and jeopardizing Canada's resilience," he said.

He also noted that $9 out of every $10 of direct financial support provided to citizens during COVID-19 has been financed by the feds, and will lead to lower unemployment and higher consumer spending to help us recover quicker.

"At a time when Canadian workers and families are facing significant hardship, austerity and tightening the belt was not the answer," Morneau said to his fellow MPs today. "Someone was going to have to shoulder the costs, and the federal government was uniquely placed to take this on."

Lead photo by

Paul Flynn

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