Inside Politics

Bruce Carson not alone in bankruptcy

Bruce Carson may have been making news lately because of a so-called checkered past filled with debt, but he's far from alone.

Carson, a political insider and a former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is facing allegations of influence-peddling for allegedly using his influence to lobby Indian Affairs on behalf of a water company trying to sell filtration systems to reserves.

Once the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network told Harper's office about the story it was working on, Harper referred the whole matter to the RCMP, prompting heightened media and political interest.

One of the latest stories to break involved Bruce Alexander Carson's personal finances.

In 1993, he was in debt to the tune of $103,359 and had a mere $250 in assets. Carson declared bankruptcy. But his problems didn't end there.

In 2002, he piled up $369,000 in "liabilities" and was forced to put forward what is known as a "proposal", which is one step short of bankruptcy. A proposal allows the individual to, in essence, stop the clock and work out a deal to pay his debts, which is exactly Carson did. That information is contained in bankruptcy and insolvency records that are freely available from the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada.

Sadly, Bruce Carson has lots of company.

It was just last week that the office released its latest statistics on insolvencies - a combination of bankruptcies and proposals. And the story was much the same for consumers in 2010. They make up the bulk of the insolvencies: 92.4 per cent in 2010 and 95.75 per cent in 2009.

In 2010, 151,712 Canadians were insolvent. Of that total, 116,381 declared bankruptcy and 35,331 offered proposals to get out of debt.

Although the numbers are decreasing compared to 2009, they're still too high, which is why the governor of the Bank of Canada and the finance minister have been sounding the alarm about consumer debt.

So while Bruce Carson's money problems have formed part of a political narrative (sure to be spun out in the election) prompting questions about the Prime Minister's judgment, Carson is part of an unfortunate trend.

In short, he is one of the names behind the statistics that the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada publishes every few months.

David McKie can be reached at david_mckie@cbc.ca

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