I’m sure the new playground in Meadows will be a wonderful thing.
I’ve never been to Meadows, but the provincial government issued a news release Monday telling me that the playground, on the grounds of Templeton Academy, will get $15,000 in provincial recreational grants funding. The playground, apparently, will be used both during and after school hours, and, according to cabinet minister Terry French, is part of a bigger plan: “The provincial government is pleased to support community-based organizations in their efforts to encourage citizens of all ages to get out, get active and adopt more healthy lifestyles.”
They’ve been dribbling out for weeks, these $12,000 to $15,000 announcements of government spending on recreation equipment — the projects announced one at a time, every day or so. Sixteen news releases have been issued so far, so they will probably be trickling out for the next three weeks. There are 40 of them coming, in total.
Before that, it was firefighting grants: $8,000 to $10,000 per fire department, although in the case of the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs, at least it had the decency to bundle some of the announcements so they include six or seven departments at a time.
Now, I’ve been a deputy chief of a fire department, and the fact is that $10,000 doesn’t buy you very much. A helmet, Nomex hood, fire jacket, bunker pants, boots and gloves for one firefighter is an investment in the thousands of dollars. Pretty much every scrap of equipment designed for firefighting purposes is remarkably expensive.
Ten thousand dollars is obviously better than nothing — but it’s not that much better. When it comes to recreational funding, it’s probably not that much either, although some of the news releases can generate a smile. I won’t soon forget the Nov. 24 release that let me know the town of Kippens is going all California on us, and is getting $15,000 to build its own beach volleyball court. I hope it’s getting money for a fence, too, because there’s nothing neighbourhood cats like better than a big sandbox.
It makes you wonder what the parade of news releases is actually supposed to do.
It’s the same thing with the announcement of road work — a spring tradition of fountains of news releases, all, I suppose, designed to tell you how much your government cares for you — and maybe to make you grateful for having such a caring and thoughtful government, such a benevolent sovereign power. There’s often a quote from the local MHA, if the MHA is a government member. These things have to be noted. There are rings to be kissed here, at a minimum.
But just what exactly are we supposed to be thankful for? The
governments involved, whether provincial or federal, didn’t make the money they’re dishing out — they just allocate the spending, which presumably comes in from oilfield revenues, corporate taxes or business taxes.
Surely we’re not being asked to be grateful for how the money’s parcelled out? After all, governments are supposed to weigh the various needs in the province and address the most significant needs first. We’re actually paying them to do that. Health and safety issues shouldn’t be a political plaything — if Harbour Main or some other place needs new fire equipment more than any other town in the province, why should it matter what the community’s political stripe might have been in the last election?
Months ago, there was quite a lot of discussion about the bizarre rules in place with the Harper government’s infrastructure spending plan — how the plan had specific signage rules that had to be adhered to, that the signs had to be a particular size, that the right artwork had to be used, that the federal government’s sponsorship should be spelled out in letters of a certain size.
The only real reason for the signs and the news releases (beyond telling us that the government is actually doing the job it is being paid to do) is if the notification itself is intended to impress upon us that the spending is about who you know and not what you need — and that we have to cosy up to those who hold the purse strings, and vote the right way.
And that it’s not only that a government can give you a cheque — it can also carefully and deliberately keep one from you.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.