The temperature and amount of sun might be down this summer, but announcements touting government spending are up more than 20 per cent.
The Telegram tallied provincial news releases from June 21 to Aug. 5 and found 157 noting past, present or future funding commitments, everything from pavement to playgrounds to pumpers, in all areas of the province.
That’s 27 more than in the same period last year.
It’s impossible to attach a dollar figure to this year’s expenditures. Not all announcements — such as fire trucks still to be tendered — came with a price tag. And, in some instances, the spending was part of a bigger pot, like the $216.4 million allotted for road and bridge improvements this year.
Still, the announced spending has involved millions.
Progressive Conservative supporters might argue the government is just spreading the love, but Liberal MHA and critic Marshall Dean suspects something else is being spread.
He accuses the Tories of buying ballots for this fall’s general election.
“Fundamentally, you’ve got to draw the conclusion these announcements are about buying people’s support with their own money,” he says.
“There’s lots of things needed, but you know government saves up the announcements, basically, to use it at the right time.”
From a broader perspective, Dean says the announcements are a distraction from the real issues.
“If you’re out doing photo-ops and handing out cheques and so on, and giving promises, you don’t have to deal with things like the Muskrat Falls issues and the disputes with pharmacies and the challenges facing the fishery and so on.”
The general election is set for Oct. 11, the first fixed election date in the province’s history.
The Liberal critic believes the government is milking that with its announcements.
“Yeah, they’ve been able to, as a government, strategize around that, obviously, and we have to try and counteract that some way,” Dean says.
Political scientist Amanda Bittner is of the same mind.
The MUN prof suggests the Tories can prepare for polling day in ways previous provincial governments couldn’t.
“A lot of these projects (being announced) may have been in the works for who knows how long, but they timed them strategically,” she says.
But Bittner is hardly shocked at the notion a government would make more announcements in the weeks before a campaign.
“Normally, just prior to an election, people tend to roll out spending announcements, whether they have mini-budgets or special announcements about funding this or that, in order to demonstrate they are catering to different groups of society. That is normal and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an increase over last year for this reason alone.”
She notes elections around the world have historically been fought around parties giving people things like jobs. And, she adds, it’s worked.
“It’s still the case that government certainly wants people to know that they are active and they care about them and they are doing things for them, and things like that. Yeah, it’s pretty common.”
Premier Kathy Dunderdale was on the west coast — where she was involved in three announcements — and unavailable for an interview Friday.
However, in a statement emailed Thursday night, she said, “First of all, I make no apologies for sharing information with the residents of our province on how our government is spending their tax dollars. People should know what their government is spending money on and public announcements are a good vehicle to accomplish that.”
Dunderdale said if there’s an implication the government isn’t being above-board in making announcements this summer when a fall election is scheduled, she wanted to put it in perspective.
“This year, our budget came out on April 19, three weeks later than the previous year's budget. The weeks and months following budget day are always busy in terms of government announcing further details of investments and new initiatives laid out in our budget.”
The premier said there will come a time when it will be appropriate to curtail funding announcements prior to the election, but that is not months ahead of the vote.
“The business of governing the province cannot be stalled for a lengthy time period just because of a fixed election date. And it is completely appropriate that our government inform residents of how public moneys are being spent.”