Spending spree

Russell Wangersky
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Right at twilight in the valley at the foot of the Tablelands in Gros Morne and the light is a curious yellow, half the fading sun coming through the high fog, the other half the reflection of the unworldly colour of the wedge-topped cliffs.

The valley was already creeping towards darkness, but you could still see Wallace Brook bending around the lowest topographical line, kicking back in gentle oxbows, religiously obeying the contours.

Almost no cars at all on the road, the only ones passing with their headlights on by then and streaking towards Trout River, lost in their own little tubes of light.

In among the juniper and the high marsh grass, down below one of the lookouts, a big bull moose was working its way through browse, head down, great slabs

of antlers still brown-looking, absolutely unconcerned, as if it was sure that hunting season hadn’t started yet and that it was safely inside a national park, to boot.

Beside me, a blue car, parked; a man and his wife with binoculars, looking at the same moose.

“Gotta be 750 pounds, dressed,” he said.

Sometimes, it’s just the way you look at things. Perspective, as they say, is everything.

At the same time the moose was was working the Gros Morne browse, at least one provincial cabinet minister was working the crowds at Woody Point nearby, gladhanding the way that politicians always do in election years.

And what an election year this has been so far.


Road warriors

Cabinet ministers have been on the road all summer long, punching in the highway miles and doling out millions upon millions of dollars in provincial spending: the total now is over $200 million, with a momentous splash of cash on Wednesday — 26 separate projects that will cost $148.7 million, counting federal and municipal contributions.

Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien has been on a one-man firetruck gifting spree all summer long: face it, if your town doesn’t have a new firetruck by now, he just must not like you.

Health Minister Jerome Kennedy? If he had to wear a backpack to carry around the money he’s handed out this summer, he’d be in hospital now for back surgery.

Now, I understand that we have a long history of porkbarrel politics in this province.

For years, you could tell when you were leaving a district held by a government member and entering one held by an opposition member by the way the pavement would suddenly deteriorate into cracks, potholes and hummocks.

I can even understand why there might be a holdover from those days right into the present. Like it or not, the success of an MHA in his or her district is still often measured by their ability to land government cash.

Who can forget the last federal election, when CBC News broadcast a man saying he planned to vote for Fabian Manning in the riding of Avalon, because whenever federal cheques showed up, “Fabian was there, too.”


Getting cute

What I don’t understand is how anyone could stand up and baldly say that there’s no collection between the rivers of cash and the upcoming election.

But that’s exactly what Premier Kathy Dunderdale has tried to claim.

“I don’t know how you could do that, given all of this money was announced in April. This is our budget. This is not new money we’re spending,” she said on Wednesday.

“This is normal practice. You bring down a budget and then you spend the ensuing months telling people what the details of that budget are. There’s nothing going on here now that hasn’t gone on every year since we’ve brought down a budget, no matter who formed the government.

“This is normal, standard practice. If I were spending outside of the budget, then I could understand that kind of a criticism. But telling people how their money is going to be spent, how that offends people given that the money was announced in April, I’m at a loss to understand.”

That is too cute by half. There are precious few of the big projects that are going to see shovels in the ground before 2012, which means, while they might be announced this budgetary year, the funding’s mostly going to have to come from future budgetary appropriations. (Unless, as they’re announcing these projects, they’re actually banking cash for the work from this year’s budget, what they’re really doing is announcing fiscal commitments that will tie the hands of future finance ministers.)

Bottom line?

Dunderdale can say these are all regular, necessary budget announcements, but it still looks like 750 pounds of political porkbarrel to me.

Not only porkbarrel — 750 pounds of bull as well.

And you can’t dress that up pretty.


Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: CBC News

Geographic location: Trout River, Woody Point

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Recent comments

  • Herb Morrison
    September 05, 2011 - 17:50

    Russell. The only thing that is difficult to understand within the context of the Provincial Government’s breaking open their piggy bank, is the reaction coming from columnists, other media commentators, and some members of the general public and people in general. It’s an election year. The dropping of the writ marking the official start of campaigning is only days away. Historically, t’is the appointed time for the Governing party to start making funding announcements. Well, duh!! Whether its’ a Federal or Provincial Election, irregardless of the political stripe of the Governing Party, the political game is being played out as it has always been. Any expressions shock or disbelief are as phoney as many of the promises which will be made Candidates of all Parties, as they attempt to attract votes during the campaign. The fact that The P.C.’ s have a lot more pork to distribute then some previous Governments is the only thing that is unique within the context of this situation. Politics and righteous indignation do indeed make strange bedfellows.

    • W McLean
      September 06, 2011 - 00:17

      Herb, it has already been very well documented that this year's ''breaking open" of the piggy bank has been without precedent. Read the last few days' worth of the paper. Read.

  • Cyril Rogers
    September 04, 2011 - 20:20

    Stanley.... The newspapers have a duty and obligation to report on political porkbarrelling and Kathy and company have done it in spades this time. Their announcements overwhelm any previous funding announcements by the PC's over the past 7 years and if you look at Friday's paper, these numbers are posted. They are so out-of-whack as to be almost obscene. When supporters try to defend gross excesses, a party is in trouble, either now or the next time around.

  • Harvey
    September 04, 2011 - 10:45

    If they committed 5 months ago, why did they not announce 5 months ago? It's always been this way...only this time the smell reeks.!!!Ms Dunderdle, ALL OF US ARE NOT STUPID!!!

  • Sheldon
    September 04, 2011 - 09:23

    Carl, see this past friday's telegram editorial for your answer.

  • Carl
    September 03, 2011 - 12:06

    If Wangersky wants to argue that the recent funding announcements are abnormal, then he should provide some facts to support that argument. I would like to see a comparison between the number of announcements and the total amount of money being announced this year versus non-election years. Maybe this year's trend is abnormal, or maybe it is perfectly normal as the Premier says. Either way, it should be easy to prove. Is anyone at the Telegram up to the task of finding out the facts and reporting them?

  • stanley
    September 03, 2011 - 10:19

    Suprise! Another column by ranger bashing politicians. Someone must have accidentally hit the repeat button. I mean, give me a break. They are announcing money that was announced 5 months ago. By Russell's logic, any dollar spent ever in government is technically buying votes with taxpayer money. Now, if people were saying "if you elect us, we'll spend money for you here or there", then that's porkbarrell politics. Simply announcing money they've already committed to spending?? You're reaching russell.

    • Demand better
      September 06, 2011 - 09:25

      As the commentary says, they are announcing projects that have nothing to do with the budget as they are future commitments. So you can be as deluded or disingenuous as the politicians, however, it is clear that this is all about 'vote buying' with your/our money. Has it always been played this way. Yes. Should we stand for it. No! Tell us what the priorities were when you cam into power, show me tangible measures against those priorities, don't tell me that you have/or are going to spend more money.