Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland faced incredible pushback from the Finance Committee after she failed to attend numerous meetings on Budget 2023. She pushed back and called the opposition 'filibuster' an act of "bullying."
"One thing that I learned during the NAFTA negotiations is that appeasing a bully never works," she said. "And that tends to be my approach in life."
Ultimately, Freeland ended the two weeks of filibustering by Conservative MPs by testifying for 90 minutes on Bill C-47, the Budget Implementation Act. They criticized her for viewing Parliament as an "inconvenience" for refusing their requests thrice over the past several weeks.
"I'll acknowledge the Minister is here after multiple requests that she has ignored even though the Governor of the Bank of Canada has come regularly at the committee's request," said Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan.
Freeland took partisan shots at the Conservative finance critic who claimed she misled Canadians on balancing the budget by the fiscal year 2027/28 in her fall economic statement last year.
"The only people who are trying, I think, unsuccessfully, because Canadians are smarter than that, to mislead Canadians are the Conservatives," she told MPs. "If the Conservatives are interested as they should be in the substance of what's happening in the Canadian economy, I'm happy to answer."
The federal deficit is expected to reach $40 billion in 2023, almost $10 billion higher than forecast in the fiscal update. It projected a $4.5 billion surplus for 2027, but the recent budget now forecasts a $14 billion deficit that year.
During the finance minister's testimony, she said federal debt charges are "absolutely handleable" but would not discuss the figure, according to Blacklock's Reporter.
According to those forecasts, debt costs will continue to rise yearly through 2028. The debt will total $1.2 trillion by the end of 2023. Debt interest charges will cost taxpayers almost $44 billion in 2023 and reach $50 billion in 2027.
Cabinet's last pre-pandemic budget, 2020, totalled $644.2 billion in spending, with $508 billion the following fiscal year. This year's projects federal spending at $496.6 billion, with half-trillion budgets expected in the coming years.
"It is so important that we work together to pass this legislation as quickly as possible," she told MPs.
As reported by Blacklock's Reporter, Conservative MP Adam Chambers challenged Freeland over Ottawa's plan to tackle ongoing deficits that raised the federal debt past $1.1 trillion. "The government said it was just going to run a couple of small deficits when it started, and now they are as far as the eye can see," he told the committee.
"How much are we spending or projected to spend on interest on the debt this upcoming fiscal year? I am just looking for the number," Chambers asked Freeland. It's really important to put numbers in context. Without context, numbers are meaningless," she replied.
"Our debt service charges are low in Canada's historical context, and they are low compared to what our peers in the G7 are paying."
"What is the gross dollar value we're going to spend on interest on the debt next year?" asked Chambers of Freeland. "I am opposed to fiscal fear-mongering by the Conservatives, and so the important point…to put all numbers in context," she said.
"Our debt service charges are handleable," maintained Freeland. Debt interest charges will cost taxpayers $43.9 billion this fiscal year.
"We're spending almost as much on servicing the debt as on health care in this country," said Chambers. "It bothers me that we're not willing to admit this. For some reason, we don't want to discuss that fact."
Freeland agreed to stay beyond her allotted time to take questions from MPs at the committee.
"I was taught as a child in Sunday school, as are many of us, that the blessed are the peacemakers. As much as I believe appeasing bullies is a mistake, that's an important lesson, too," she said.
In the following years, taxpayers will be on the hook for $45 billion in debt servicing costs in 2024 and $46.6 billion in 2025. In 2026, it will cost $48.3 billion and a record-breaking $50.3 billion by 2027, double the pre-pandemic cost.
The Fraser Institute uncovered that total federal spending increased 27% in 2022/2023 compared to 2019/20 — an average annual increase of 9%. The COVID pandemic expenditures partly increased federal spending by 73% to $644.2 billion in 2020/21 before declining by 21% to an estimated $508 billion in 2021/22.
According to the Institute, much of the increased federal spending remained independent of the pandemic, "representing a permanent long-term ramping up of federal expenditure."
On May 6, Liberal Party members voted 96-76 against balanced budgets to properly manage spiralling federal debt.