Nfld. & Labrador

Ticking debt clock sets tone for N.L. budget hearings

Newfoundland and Labrador's finance minister used an eye-catching display to push his point on cutting debt, as he heard a series of pre-budget consultations Monday.

Newfoundland and Labrador's finance minister used an eye-catching display to push his point on cutting debt, as he heard a series of pre-budget consultations Monday.

"I wanted people to see the big picture," said Tom Marshall, who displayed a debt clock on a screen to remind presenters that while they may have spending priorities, Marshall has an agenda of his own.

The screen showed a ticking clock, and a constantly increasing figure showing what the provincial government pays on its debt.

At about $1,400 per minute, the display was hard to miss for those who attended the sessions at a St. John's hotel, the first of a series of meetings that will finish in mid-February.

"That clock is ticking away showing a tremendous amount of money on interest that I'd rather see go into programs," said Marshall, who is chairing the annual consultations that will lead to a spring budget.

Marshall last fall announced that the government is expecting to finish the current fiscal year with a record-breaking surplus of $881 million.

Much of that money has been directed to paying down the provincial debt, which had hit a high of about $12 billion. At a per capita figure of $21,420, it still ranks as double the national average.

Anti-poverty activist Derek Winsor, who works with the Bridges To Hope community group, said Marshall's display was very effective.

"I thought it was a great impact on the room and for people around the room," he said.

"It was a great impact for me, and I think it is something all of our general public need to see."

Marshall said that his focus on debt does not mean there will be no extra money for new spending or new programs, but he will not endorse anything that will make the debt clock tick faster.