Lies Liberals Tell us about our Nation’s Finances

For years, the Liberals have been telling Canadians that they’re the fiscally responsible party.  They’ve been telling Canadians that Conservatives run up the debt, while they pay it off.

They’re lying.

I have just completed a detailed analysis of the governments by every Prime Minister since Sir John A. Macdonald.  In doing so, I discovered some very telling information.

I looked at the political party each prime minister belonged to, their fiscal record over each year they were in office, and how the numbers played out. I didn’t attach any ideology or partisan interest to my research.  I looked solely at their spending habits.

Canada’s state broadcaster, the CBC, leads the field in disseminating this misinformation:  The CBC has a graph which shows the annual deficit of each Prime Minster.  This graph shows Mulroney’s government running large deficits, Chretien running big surpluses, and Harper’s governments running large deficits again.

To be fair, they do accurately report the massive deficits of Trudeau’s regime, however deficits alone do not tell the whole story, because they hide some very critical information.

For anyone living under a rock, a deficit occurs when a government spends more money than it takes in as revenue.  This means it must borrow the difference: if, for example, you earn $100 in a month, and spend $150, you need to borrow $50.  That is $50 that you must, at some point in the future, pay back to whomever lent it to you.  Usually with interest.

If you earn $100 the following month and spend $150 again, you have now accumulated a debt of $100, and, over time, those monthly deficits add up.

When Canada became a country in 1867, the government was already in debt $93 million.  In the 147 years since, Canada, through year after year of deficit financing, has accumulated a national debt of over $600 billion dollars.

Liberals will tell you this is the fault of Conservative governments.  They like to blame Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper for failing to keep federal spending under control.  Stephen Harper is particular demonized because it was his government which took Canada back into a deficit situation in 2009. What Liberals conveniently forget when they tell you this is they, along with their socialist allies, the New Democratic Party, forced the Conservatives to do this.  Remember the constitutional dispute at the end of November 2008?  The Liberals and NDP, working with the separatist Bloc Quebecois, formed a backroom deal to overturn the results of an election just a few short weeks before.

Nevertheless, Stephen Harper is blamed for the ensuing federal deficit, despite capitulating to the demands of this coalition to spend a very large amount of money – financed by borrowing – on economic stimulus.

The Liberals are lying to you.

When a government comes to an end, subsequent governments must deal with whatever financial mess gets left behind.  Over time, the mess gets bigger and bigger as governments borrow more and more money.  The situation becomes more drastic when a government starts borrowing money to pay the interest on money prior governments have borrowed.

When I ran through these numbers, I spent a lot of time determining the legacy of each Prime Minister’s government.  I applied any surplus generated by subsequent governments to the oldest balance owing.  I also worked out how much interest was payable to each government’s outstanding balance, and applied it accordingly.  If a government spent a surplus on programs rather than applied it to the debt, the amount they spent shows on their own spending record, so is automatically taken into account, by transferring any equivalent older debt to them.

(For example, if Jean Chretien’s government ran a $10 million surplus in one year, that $10 million was applied to the debt accumulated by prior governments.  If, in the following year, Jean Chretien’s government spent that $10 million on programs rather than debt retirement, then that $10 million would be showing in their own spending record, so their new spending ends up balancing out against what was applied to the older debt.)

On the following graphs, for clarity, I’ve left off any Prime Minister who did not borrow money for their own program spending.  If they were forced to borrow money for interest payments, the interest borrowed was added to the former Prime Minister’s balance owing, since we cannot blame a subsequent government for the debts of their predecessors.

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This first graph shows how our national debt grew.  By holding the mouse pointer over the various bars, you will see how much of the national debt is attributed to each Prime Minister over the years.  Since it is a little difficult to see, I’ve split the graph out into intervals, each covering approximately 50 years.

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This graph shows how Robert Borden’s debt, most of which was accumulated during the First Word War, wasn’t paid off until the year 2000!  It gets worse…

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We are still paying for Mackenzie King’s spending habits, despite the fact that King left office in 1948!  This is the impact of our government’s failure to pay off his debt in a timely manner.  Instead, government after government borrowed money to pay the interest on King’s spending during the second world war.

Which party was in office the longest between 1948 and the present? The Liberal Party of Canada.

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Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s spending habits were particularly disastrous.  First, he borrowed massive amounts for his own program spending, and in doing so, completely neglected King’s spending.  When Mulroney assumed office in 1984, Trudeau’s financial legacy was spiralling out of control, forcing Mulroney’s government to borrow money to cover the interest payments.

Mulroney did borrow some money for his own program spending, however, all in all, if you exclude the interest payments on Trudeau’s debt, you will discover that Mulroney ran a surplus.

I think I should repeat that:

Mulroney ran budgetary surplus.

Who has been telling us, repeatedly, that Mulroney’s governments ran massive, unacceptable and irresponsible deficits?

The Liberal Party of Canada.

Here are two more graphs, showing the debt accumulated first by Conservative governments, and second, by Liberal governments.  The numbers are shocking:

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I’ll finish up with one last graph – showing how much of the 2013 national debt belongs to each Prime Minister.

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Out of the national debt at the end of the 2013 fiscal year, Pierre Trudeau is responsible for a whopping 42%!  Mackenzie King is responsible for 36%!  Mackenzie King’s massive portion can be directly attributed to Pierre Trudeau’s failure to control spending, while Trudeau’s portion can be directly attributed to exactly the same thing: his failure to control spending, leaving a disastrous financial legacy – a financial albatross hanging around the government’s neck which will remain for generations to come.

We can’t hold Justin Trudeau personally responsible for his father’s actions; but we can suppose that Justin Trudeau’s biggest ideological influence was his father.  After all, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was Prime Minister during Justin Trudeau’s most formative years.

If Pierre Elliott Trudeau wasn’t fiscally responsible, what evidence do we have that Justin Trudeau would be?


And that’s terrifying.

Justin Trudeau: Like Father, Like Son.

32 thoughts on “Lies Liberals Tell us about our Nation’s Finances”

  1. Interesting graphs…a lot of effort went into them.
    I think we have to look at mitigating circumstances in each prime ministers time period. King was PM during WW2. Mulroney was PM at a period of double digit interest rates of upwards of 20%…his policies to implement the GST and Free Trade set the governments books in order for Chretien’s government to benefit the most from it.(Forgetting that Chretien promised to rip the GST and FTA up) Especially at the time period of the world’s greatest economic time period since WW2. Chretien’s government looked like financial wizards, thanks to Mulroney.
    Harper was elected just before the 2008 world wide economic crash. When inter-bank transactions froze up, huge sums of money went into the system to prevent a complete financial melt down. The entire world went into deficit spending, not just Canada.
    Trudeau? Trudeau had no excuses. The man was a spend thrift.

      1. Today we have a generation of voters, that were not even born when Trudeau #1 ruled… salivating like Pavlov’s dog whenever they hear Trudeau #2’s name go ring-a-ding.
        Bruce Posch

    1. I will grant you that Mulroney’s implementation of the FTA and GST were good ideas, but your dates for interest rates are incorrect. see

      the BoC rate rose steadily during Trudeau’s term, peaking at over 20% around 1983 (before Mulroney came into power in 1984). during Mulroney’s term, they were generally in the 9 to 14% range, slowly dropping down to the 5-8% mark by the end of his term

      1. The interest payable on the debt was based on figures supplied directly by StatsCan, Steve. The numbers are accurate.

      2. I stick with my comment…. Mulroney’s term faced the “double digit rates” I used, because bonds are issued at a set rate. The rate is set for the term. Example, when 20% interest rates hit in the early 1980s, bonds were sold at that rate for five years. Mulroney got stuck with them.

  2. Okay, some thoughts in response. I fully expect you to not agree with (m)any of them, but whatevs…

    First, I find this approach to tracking deficits and assigning a portion of the ongoing federal government debt (now around $615B) to individual PMs to be bizarre. I will simply highlight two outcomes of that approach:
    1. WLM King, who was PM back in the 20s/30s/40s, is responsible for 42% of the current debt, while Harper, who has racked up some $150B in deficits over the past 6 years, is only responsible for 5%
    2. “Mulroney ran budgetary surplus” (this is the PM who ran 8 consecutive deficits of ~$30M)

    I suggest that if these comments were heard by the man in the street, they’d be laughed at.

    In my books, governments are responsible for handling what has been handed to them, not just what they spend themselves. Even if they inherit a massive deficit, they are elected with a mandate to *do* something about it.

    In my view, the data largely reflects the basic fact that the Liberals have in power for longer stretches than the Conservatives have been. Setting aside Clark’s <1 year in power and Campbell’s even shorter reign, there have only been 4 Conservative governments over the past 90 years: Bennett (5y), Diefenbaker (6y), Mulroney (9y) and Harper (8y and counting)… a total 27 of the past 90y. And only 2 of those occurred in the past 50 years… 16/51y.

    Governments in most countries over the past 50 years have incurred a deficit in most years; that has become the accepted ‘norm’. The deficit is higher in the poor times, such as during a recession, and sometimes 0 or even a surplus during the good times. Thus, since the Liberals have been the governing party for 2/3rds of the time, they naturally will be responsible for most of the annual deficits.

    If Conservatives had been in power for more years, would the result be any different? We can speculate all we want about this; I would say no, not much. Budgets, deficits and the general financial situation is really a function of world economic influences, plus the ongoing influence of the previous government’s decisions (policies, deficits). It doesn’t much matter who’s in power… they will spend more (generate a deficit) during a recession (to kick-start the economy), as the public will demand it.

    To compare governments from different eras, one should factor in inflation and economic growth. For the following notes, I’m mainly looking at the numbers (for budgets, spending, revenue) as a percentage of GDP; that makes comparisons more meaningful. And I’m focusing on the past 60 years.

    Here are my references:
    Canada’s debt in dollars and as percentage of GDP
    Federal revenue and expenditure to GDP ratios
    Federal fiscal transactions as a share of GDP
    Bank of Canada rate
    Inflation rate
    A quick look at Canada’s federal debt-to-GDP ratio

    The 60s and most of 70s were good for Canada; slow, steady growth, small deficits, the debt/GDP ratio slowly declined. When did spending get out of control and deficits increase significantly? It started during the latter part of the Trudeau years in the mid-70s (affected by, driven by and/or caused by inflation.. a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing). It took off when interest charges on the debt started becoming significant (because of interest rates that were steeply increasing), and it continually climbed at a steady rate through 1996. 20 years of Trudeau and then Mulroney.

    Yes, Mulroney inherited a mess and he made some fundamental changes to address it; still, when he left office 9 years later, he hadn’t made much progress. Yes, debt-carrying costs (interest) were high, but he didn’t significantly reduce program costs (wrt GDP). They dropped a bit initially (to less than revenue) then grew again toward the end of his term to match revenue (till 1987). There was only a 4y period (1988-1992) when program costs were significantly lower than revenue. Thus 9 years of huge annual deficits and an ever-increasing debt, and the debt/GDP ratio climbed from 30% to over 60%. He failed in his efforts to wrestle the deficit monster.

    The debt/GDP ratio peaked in mid-90s (at 68%). It was Chretien and then Martin who finally got things under control. And it was not just because of a strong world economy, lower interest rates, and Mulroney’s efforts taking hold… they significantly reduced program spending (starting in 1994-95). The debt/GDP ratio dropped to close to 30% by the end of Martin’s term as PM.

    The ratio dropped to under 30% in Harper’s first couple of years. But it rose again because of the stimulus spending (and huge deficits) following the 2008 global recession. It’s now back up to mid-30s (roughly the same as it was in the 60s).

    What should we aim at? To be totally debt-free? From what I read, the answer is no… debts are needed to fund needed infrastructure, and a debt/GDP ratio of 25-50% is ‘recommended’ as being okay. Harper is aiming for 25%?

    To me, a relevant question is which party is best to handle Canada’s finances over the next 4-8-20 years? As I wrote above, I don’t think it matters as much as many people would suggest. It’s more a matter of *where* they will spend or cut taxes. The Liberals likely will keep program spending and taxes the same… they will focus on the environment, people issues (safety nets). The NDP even more so. The Conservatives will spend about the same and cut taxes slightly… and their focus will be spending on justice and security issues (e.g. border services, military), they will reduce environmental restrictions and provide other incentives to businesses. All will have scandals.

    The result… the resulting deficit and debt would about the same, and mostly dependent on world influences. If the bubbles bursts in the USA, we’re all screwed, no matter which party is in charge.

    In summary, a couple of questions..

    1. Has a PC/CPC federal government ever cut program spending (not all spending, just program) significantly? Not that I know of.
    2. Now that the Canadian (and world) economy has rebounded, will Harper/CPC strive to create a significant surplus, and use it pay down some of the debt and thus the reduce debt/GDP ratio? I doubt it; there’s talk of reducing taxes, and implementing the income splitting proposal would cost around $3B annually

    1. Your comments are completely missing the point made in the article. If you neglect interest payments, and factor in how much the major economic indicators changed (and in what direction) over the tenure of any of the last several prime ministers, it becomes clear the Mulroney has the best record since St. Laurent. Mulroney inherited >10% interest rates on $200 billion in debts he never racked up. On top of fighting that spirally debt, he cut taxes to stimulate economic growth, a policy that even the Liberal leadership agrees with to a point. That is the sole reason that Chretien was able to make real progress on cutting the debt.

      In retrospect, i kind of wish Mulroney had never run however, so that the full consequences of Trudeau’s spendthift policies could have run their course and ended in default, which would have ensured that the Liberals would never win again.

      1. That’s right, Mulroney CUT taxes and raised spending to “stimulate” growth, while running massive deficits. This article is a spin job to desperately try and justify why Conservative governments can’t balance budgets. Debt servicing is part of a budget and you can’t weasel out of it just because someone else put the debt there. Harper had a six year bull market to put things right and he couldn’t do it. Why? Because he kept cutting taxes and adding spending. Hardly seems fiscally conservative to me.

        1. First, remember when the government was forced to run a deficit. It was late November of 2008 and the opposition was threatening to attempt to usurp power without an election. Harper was forced to prorogue Parliament and bring forward a new plan that the opposition would support. The OPPOSITION forced Harper into a deficit.

          Second, if you look at Trudeau’s borrowed amount, the following government of Mulroney spent LESS on programs than Trudeau did. WAY less. The BULK of Mulroney’s government spending was INTEREST on Trudeau’s debt. That’s TRUDEAU’S FAULT to begin with.

        2. It isn’t the principle amount owing that’s causing the harm; it’s the interest on the debt that’s accumulating that’s causing the harm.

          Debt is the “gift that keeps on giving”, and the fact that when things go south economically, which mean that if the government is going to soften the blow of a recession, taxes need to be kept low and modest government spending is needed to keep people working and afloat through tough times.

          The problem is, though, because of Trudeau’s reckless spending habits, and now because his son wants to spend MORE money on top of what has already been spent, the compound interest on Trudeau’s spending has put us where we are.

          It isn’t spin, it’s fact: The interest on PIERRE ELLIOT TRUDEAU’S spending is the cause of the financial mess we’re in now. Mulcair claims he will balance the books – the only way he can is by raising taxes on everyone, ensuring equal distribution of poverty, while Justin Trudeau says he will run three years of deficits and balance the budget in 2019, which, coincidentally, is an election year.

          No, thanks. We’re better off without either of those two.

        3. I’m absolutely gobsmacked by some (all?) of the assertions made in the original article. Yes, debt servicing is part of the annual budget and yet it’s being treated here as if it was just being added to the national debt. Huh? Does the author of this site not realize that bondholders expect to be paid that interest each and every year? Mulroney running surpluses? Must be Conservative “accounting”, the same kind that can assert that a fleet of F-35 jets will only cost $12B or whatever, rather than the REAL cost of about $75B… or who knows. This must be the only place where a Conservative can run annual deficits of about $30B for several years and still be praised for running a surplus. Wow. That’s really all I can say. Note to everyone reading this. Find out where this fellow went to business school and DON’T send your kids there.

          1. Of course bondholders expect to be paid interest each and every year. That’s the point! But you can’t blame Mulroney for what Trudeau foisted upon him by leaving him with a massive debt to service.

            The point, which those who are willfully blind continue to over look is this: Had it not been for Trudeau’s debt, Mulroney would have left office with a surplus, rather than a deficit. Add up the actual program spending of Mulroney, and you’ll see it’s far less than the revenue the government collected over the same period of time.

            By trying to blame Mulroney for Trudeau’s spending habits, you’re being deliberately deceptive.

          2. You completely miss the point I made – debt servicing is an annual requirement. If I borrow $100 from you on the condition I’ll pay you $2 a month for a year, at which time I then return the original $100 to you, then, every month, I am down $2 in my operating expenses – so I need to either cut my other spending, or find a way to earn an extra $2 every month.

            The Mulroney government reported deficits – nobody is arguing they didn’t, because the government is ongoing, regardless of what group of idiots are running the show. What this article illustrates is not that the deficits were reported, but that it was the Interest on the prior debt that Trudeau ran up that pushed them into deficit to begin with. If you subtract the interest paid on Trudeau’s debt from Mulroney’s spending, you’ll see that revenue exceeds expenses. You cannot blame Mulroney for Trudeau’s spending habits, because Mulroney is not Trudeau. Trudeau, and the Liberal Party in general, are the real cause of Canada’s financial situation, not Stephen Harper or Brian Mulroney.

            I am amazed that you cannot understand that.

  3. I heartily recommend Steve Ricketts’ post: it’s clear, cogent, factual and virtually non-partisan. A wonderful antidote to the screed you posted, dependent as it is on justifying a conclusion you’d reached before addressing the facts. I also think it’s nothing more than sleight of hand to use charts which effectively omit Chretien’s contribution… except by ascribing Chretien/Martin entirely to Harper. Perhaps if you’d started with the idea of analyzing the multitude of factors without regard to who was in power, and then examining the various administrations, you’d have been less likely to jump to unsupported conclusions.

    1. Maybe if you weren’t a Liberal supporter trolling those opposed to your party’s disastrous policies, and maybe if your leader weren’t tanking in the polls right now, your comment would either a) not have been posted, or b) have been more objective, and far less of the very same “screed” you accused me of posting.

  4. Where can I get access to the data you used? I’ve been looking for a breakdown of historical Federal budgets for a LONG time, with very little luck.

    1. I used two different sources – first, for some of the older data, Stats Can. The CANSIM database is a good place to start. I emailed StatsCan for some help, explained what I was looking for, and they were very helpful in pointing me in the right direction.

      The more recent stuff is available through Finance Canada. It takes some digging to find what you’re looking for, but when you’re able to define what it is you want, it’s all there.

    2. Statistics Canada – CANSIM Tables. If you have trouble, send them an email, and be very clear about what, exactly, you’re looking for. I had the data I wanted within a week, if I remember correctly.

      The other place to check is Finance Canada. They have more recent budget information.

  5. Are you trying to be funny here? Because these various graphs and “analyses” of government spending are so completely bonkers that it defies rationality. Tell me, what school of business did you go to?

    1. Except, of course, for the pesky fact that the financial data comes directly from, (a) Statistics Canada (for the older data), and (b) Finance Canada. Except, also, of course, for the pesky fact that the interest amounts are worked out based on the actual “Debt Servicing Charges” column which is found within said data. Except, of course, for the fact that you’re trying to hold Brian Mulroney responsible for Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s spending habits, which, while you can make an argument that Mulroney didn’t pay anything off, the fact remains that Mulroney inherited a mess to begin with, and implemented economic and tax policy (like the GST) which enabled Jean Chretien to take credit for eliminating the deficit, where, in reality, Mulroney’s policy is what increased revenue to the point that it was possible.

      So, ultimately, no. This is research and analysis, not partisan spin. But do keep lying to yourself. After all, the Liberals lie to you, so you may as well do the same.

      1. Paul Martin cleaned up the mess that Mulroney left us with and went further to give us more spending, cut our taxes, left us with a buffer to guard against “international shocks” as he put it, and paid off debt. What did Harper do? He cut the GST by 2 points and left us completely exposed to the financial crisis by eliminating a big revenue stream. He screwed up big time. Also Chretien initiated the Gateway pipeline and Paul Martin accelerated it, he consulted with Native groups and it was set to be complete by 2009 with Chinese financial backing ($400 million worth). Harper gets in and cancels the project only to scramble back years later once he realized he made a terrible mistake costing Alberta and the rest of the country over 100B in lost profits, taxes, and royalties due to the massive discount on our oil.

        1. Nobody denied that Martin was “able” to eliminate the deficit – thanks, largely, to Mulroney’s policies which were already in place when the Liberals came to power in 1993. The GST is what eliminated the deficit, not Martin’s fiscal policy. Because the Conservatives were thinking long-term when the GST was implemented, it took time for it to actually work; and work it did.

          All Martin did was take credit for Mulroney’s policy.

          But the fact remains – the sheer size of the debt that Trudeau the Worst ran up is the cause of the financial state we currently find ourselves in; not Harper’s deficits, which pale in comparison to the disaster of Trudeau the Worst, and wouldn’t even exist had it not been for the deficits of the 1970’s and first half of the 80’s.

  6. Easily the most ridiculous article ever, trying to shift the blame. Fact: Mulroney ran up the Deficit by 300 billion in 10 yrs. Harper another 140 billion in his last 6 yrs. . That is 440 Billion in just 16 years by PC PM’s. Pierre Trudeau ran a debt of 80 billion over 16 years. The true tale comes when you look at debt to GDP ratios and again Mulroney was by far the worst offender there. Facts beat rhetoric any day dude.

    1. You’ve missed – like most – the simple fact that loans have interest.

      Consider an example:

      Let’s say, for sake of argument, that in 1980, PET Borrowed $100,000 at 10% per year, amortized over 25 years. (I know that government borrowing doesn’t work this way, but, regardless, bonds still get paid back with interest).

      That debt would not be paid off until January 1998.

      Trudeau left office in 1984, and the 1984 budget would carry through until 1985.
      Mulroney was in office from 1984 until 1993.

      When Mulroney took office, before he had even spent a penny, under this example, he would have had to budget for and find loan payments of 908.70 – NONE OF WHICH WERE HIS DOING.

      For EVERY YEAR of Mulroney’s time as Prime Minister, under this example, he was saddled with interest payments that were directly the fault of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

      Over the term of Mulroney’s time in office, he had to spend $11,709.60 (using this example) in interest – new spending – that he wasn’t responsible for borrowing. That cannot be blamed on him.

      Because Trudeau ran up the debt so much, the interest payments that were required were more than Canada could cover WITHOUT borrowing any new money – because to do so, government spending would have had to be cut back so far that it would have been disastrous to the economy – and when Mulroney came to office, Canada was hurting economically.

      So, not only did Mulroney need to cover Trudeau’s interest payments, but he had to borrow money to pay Trudeau’s interest payments. You can’t blame that on Mulroney; because Mulroney simply inherited Trudeau’s debt.

      No, this post is not ridiculous; it’s factual. Mulroney, had he not needed to cover Trudeau’s interest payments, would have left office with a surplus in the budget – just like Stephen Harper did last year.

      Nice try, though.

      1. No dude, you missed the obvious. Mulroney was PM for just under 9 years. Interest rates, especially those that the government pays DO NOT run the deposit up nearly as much as you claim. He ran it up,all by himself, just as Harper did. When Harper took over the Liberals had run 8 straight surpluses and handed the PC’s an economy that was the envy of the world. He ran it into the ground with 6 straight deposits. It only came to a bogus surplus because Harper needed it to have any shot at winning the election. Wake up dude, your lost and just plain wrong. It really is sad of you to defend something that is so obvious. Mulroney brought the percentage of GDP paid to interest from under 30% to over 60% in 9 years and you blame that on rates??? total croc and your a fool for even suggesting it. Then the liberals reduced that to around 35% before handing the keys to Harper. The Liberals had the economy in such great shape, that even under Harper the ratio dropped to under 30% before Harpers economics took effect and started to drive that ratio back up. over 50%. Easily 2 of the worst performers as PM ever. So nice try to you, but your attempt really was very lame.

        1. And you would be wrong, but further debate is clearly a waste of time, since you’re too blinded by your hate for Harper and jealousy of successful people to see the truth.

          1. WOW dude, your true colours are showing thru. I raise valid points and you ignore them and continue to show your hate for the Liberals and Trudeau. You claim I am the hateful one YET your the one with a web page dedicated to spreading your bs. My facts outweigh your rhetoric any day.

          2. And again, you would be wrong. I showed you the reasons why, and I backed up my base, underlying data with information taken directly from StatsCan. You are ignoring THAT, Dave.

            I can’t help it if you’re choosing to be wilfully blind, so I’m really not going to bother trying to convince you any further. Your mind is made up, and that is, of course, your right.

            But don’t blame me – I’m not the one with the incorrect ideology here.

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