Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, participate in a virtual discussion from Ottawa on May 3, 2021, with seniors from Residence Memphremagog in Magog, Quebec.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

In August, at a time when vaccinations might make us feel like lockdowns are behind us, the federal government will launch a program that symbolizes one of the big looming failures of the recovery.

That’s when, according to last month’s budget, the Liberal government will start sending out a $500 payment to seniors 75 and older – a one-time bonus that isn’t justified by any economic rationale.

It is a transparent vote-buying initiative months before an expected fall election, but it symbolizes a broader problem that will intensify after the pandemic: the burden shovelled onto younger generations.

Story continues below advertisement

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s recovery budget should have focused on spending that will make things better 10 or 20 years from now, but the Liberals couldn’t resist a lot of short-term consumption and free riding on the young people who will eventually pay the bill.

That $500 cheque to seniors comes on top of a 10-per-cent increase in Old Age Security payments to those 75 and over, which will start in 2022. That’s not a measure that targets the poorest seniors, mind you: The way to do that is to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement. And seniors have lower poverty rates, and their average incomes haven’t been hit hard during the pandemic.

“Why are you giving money to the group with the lowest poverty rate in Canada?” Queen’s University economist Don Drummond said. “It’s pure politics.”

Federal budget 2021: Federal government targets child care, COVID-19 relief in a wave of new spending, as deficit projected to hit $354-billion

Old Age Security costs more every year. The Trudeau government’s budget is making it worse

Will the federal budget be a watershed moment in Canadian fiscal history?

In fact, it’s shrewd politics. An economist might at least admire its efficiency at buying votes. It goes straight to a large group that tends to turn out and vote at elections – much more so than the 25-year-olds who will foot a lot of the cost. Not to mention the poor suckers who are too young to vote.

For a moment, you might think there should be a rule for 75-year-olds: You can either take the money, or vote, but not both – to eliminate the conflict of interest. But a lot of voters have always had an incentive to shovel costs to future taxpayers.

The thing is, younger generations are facing a daunting pile-up of burdens – and they’d better hope Canadians start to care about generational fairness.

This isn’t just a case of harping about debt, or annual deficits. It’s about what kind of costs, for what kinds of things, Canadians can fairly pass on to younger and future generations.

Story continues below advertisement

Younger Canadians already have to worry about inexorable trends such as the aging of the population, which means fewer workers will pay for more seniors benefits and the exploding costs of health care.

The pandemic increased the federal debt from 30 per cent of gross domestic product to 50 per cent, and small changes in projected growth or interest rates could see it grow quickly.

It’s not that that pandemic spending was foolish – you can argue, as Ottawa does, that the CERB kept the economy from going into a tailspin. But economists such as Scott Clark and Peter DeVries, two former senior officials in the Finance Department, have questioned whether it is ethical to just dump it on younger Canadians.

But there’s also a question about continuing spending, like the $101-billion, three-year recovery plan, financed with borrowing.

If it is spent on durable things that help the economy grow, or benefit future generations, it is fair, or fairer, to run a deficit to do it, Mr. Clark argued in an interview. Capital spending to improve the health care system might count, he said. But consumption, to buy goods or services or pay benefits for now – that we should pay for ourselves, with taxes, rather than pass it on to future taxpayers.

Of course, there will be debates over what is investing and what is consuming. A new child-care program might be a bit of both, depending on your point of view. But there were 700 pages of things people want now in that budget, too. David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, told The Globe and Mail’s David Parkinson last week that he thought $25-billion of Ms. Freeland’s recovery spending went to growth, and $75-billion was for consumption.

Story continues below advertisement

That ratio is an indicator of a postpandemic failure, where the promise of building back the country has been used as an excuse to spread rewards. Politics provided an incentive for Ms. Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to shovel the burden on future generations, and they just couldn’t resist.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies