This paper examines the macroeconomic implications of rising government debt in Canada and the short-run costs and long-run benefits of stemming the rise.

The discussion begins with an evaluation of the long-run consequences of increasing government indebtedness, first based on the simple arithmetic of the government's long-run budget constraint, and then based on simulations of the Bank of Canada's main model of the Canadian economy, which incorporates several channels through which government debt may affect real economic activity. The principal conclusion is that the main economic cost of higher government debt is a lower sustainable level of domestic consumption.

Simulations with the full dynamic model highlight the trade-off of short-run loss for long-run gain presented by deficit reduction. There are important short-run costs of stemming a rise in debt. However, the results of this paper show that substantial net gains are obtained from doing so, since the present value of the permanent long-term gains in consumption far outweigh these short-term costs. The simulations also suggest that a fiscal contraction would require an easing of monetary conditions relative to what they would have otherwise been to maintain an inflation target.