Politics and Public Debt: The Dominion, the Banks, and Alberta's Social Credit

Politics and Public Debt: The Dominion, the Banks, and Alberta's Social Credit

Politics and Public Debt: The Dominion, the Banks, and Alberta's Social Credit

Politics and Public Debt: The Dominion, the Banks, and Alberta's Social Credit


Through the window of history, Politics and Public Debt examines the influence of debt-holders over fiscal and economic policy-making by Canadian governments. Robert Ascah focuses on debt management issues faced by the Canadian government between 1930 and 1952, a time shaped by stresses of depression, war, and reconstruction. He takes special note of Alberta's historic default of 1936, an event as little known as it was defining for both the province's finances and the country's. In Politics and Public Debt, economists, political scientists, bankers, investors, historians, and students interested in Canadian politics, government and the future of public finance will find valuable background and perspective on a subject that affects us all.


In 1992, I attended a lecture by Professor John McCallum at the C.D. Howe Institute. McCallum was talking about the economic consequences of Quebec separation and the audience included a number of Canada's captains of industry. In the question period following the lecture, the discussion touched on the issue of government debt default and I was astonished to hear a leading member of Canada's financial community boldly assert that no province had ever defaulted on its debt.

Two thoughts immediately sprang to mind. The first was the famous quotation by Spanish philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The second was the pressing need for someone to set down on paper the story of government debt in Canada, and, in particular, the amazing events surrounding the default of the Government of Alberta under Premier Aberhart.

Robert Ascah's book fills that need admirably. Through a tremendous effort of scholarship, the author takes us beyond the facts and figures into the paneled board rooms to meet Bill Aberhart, R.B. Bennett, Graham Towers and Clifford Clark. One can almost imagine the smell of cigar smoke and the taste of after-dinner port as bankers denounce the cancer of Social Credit and describe how it imperils the very foundations of western civilization, not to mention the dividends of their shareholders. In the hours before the default, the dock can be heard ticking and one can almost feel the nervous tension as Aberhart and his officials wait for the federal reprieve that never comes.

This is a story that cries out to be told, and Robert Ascah has done us a great service in bringing alive this little-known, but critical chapter of our history. His account of this period helps us to see how the economics and politics of government debt shaped the development of our country and brought us to where we are today. Throughout the 1990s, issues of government debt--both federal and provincial--have dominated Canada's political agenda. Reading this book gives us a new perspective with which to understand . . .

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