Well, I'm going to have to change this blog's policy of no graphics.
Ian put some charts together to illustrate the recent history of federal deficits in Canada. Unfortunately, I think they aren't the right charts for the question.
Showing a graph that illustrates the percentage change in debt in any given year doesn't create a fair comparison. For obvious reasons, it is biased against the earlier borrowers.
I would argue that graphs of net federal debt mislead in the same way, because changes when the debt is small can look much more significant than larger deficits do when added onto a large debt.
So, here's my graph. I took all the deficits and surpluses since 1961, and used the Bank of Canada inflation calculator to convert them to constant 2003 dollars. Here's the result:
What I think it shows, clearly, is that Pierre Trudeau's government built up the deficit, Brian Mulroney did very little to address it, and Jean Chretien's government was the one that took action and made the change.
Now, elsewhere, James Bow argues against free will, and suggests that external factors are mostly responsible for this development. I agree that external factors certainly play a role, but I think that personal decisions have also been very important. We only need to compare Canada and the United States' financial patterns in the past few years to see that.
POSTSCRIPT: Another follow-up from Ian Welsh.