Here come the novelty cheques

It will be announcement season in Canada soon and just in time for the federal election so everyone should be fair-warned before witnessing the government use your money to try to influence voters.  Voters in bigger cities that is, because once again the Conservatives have developed infrastructure spending with timelines that are far too tight for most smaller communities to take advantage of.

The latest rash of big novelty cheques will be handed out in the name of preparing the country to celebrate our 150th birthday in 2017.  It is a big enough accomplishment and worth supporting.  On top of that, there is a historical precedent for making infrastructure investments to celebrate national milestones.  There were big investments as we prepared for our centennial in 1967 and it is not shocking that there will be investments now.  What is shocking is the restrictive schedule and lacklustre announcement for the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program.

The first sign that there was something fishy with the program was that it was announced on a Friday, which is officially the dead-zone for political news.  Friday announcements are usually made with the hope that no one is paying attention.   The question is why that was done and the speculation is that it is to hide the fact that it is a slush fund designed to create photo-ops for Conservative MPs in the days and months leading up the October 19th fixed election date.

The program is certainly not that ambitious, doling out $150 million dollars in infrastructure funding for 1,800 community projects.  The big problem is that the timeline is absurdly short.  A May 15th announcement for a June 9th application deadline in Ontario all but ensures smaller towns will not be able to have an application in on time.  Big cities that employ full-time professionals such as lawyers and engineers won’t just have the inside track - they will have the entire track to themselves.  That’s not fair to smaller towns and it certainly isn’t fair to the north, which is mostly a collection of those types of communities.

This is nothing new though and some NDP research is digging up real numbers to show how the Conservatives are underspending in Northern Ontario, year after year.  The findings have to do with FEDNOR (our regional economic agency) and compares money that was allocated in federal budgets to money that was spent on projects.  The lapsed spending is not confined to Conservatives either, since the Liberals let a lot go unspent when they were in power.   The totals are shocking with a little more than $40 million unspent over the last two decades.  Much of that - almost 19 million - happened in the last 4 years under the Conservative majority.

The lapsed money goes back into the federal coffers and pays for all sorts of stuff like unnecessary and overtly political advertising or even slush fund projects.  At the same time we are forced to fight for small federal investments that make a big difference like the subsidy that kept the ACR passenger trains running, or the money that was needed to repair the federal port in South Baymouth that serves the Chi Cheemaun ferry.   Remember those things next time you see a Conservative politician walking around with a big cardboard cheque.  Also remember that the government has managed to turn the federal investment for our sesquicentennial into another partisan exercise - for shame!