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Editorial: Expand N.L. broadband and leave behind the petty politics

St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan speaks Tuesday at The Rooms during an announcement of a federal-provincial expenditure of $28.45 million for high-speed internet access in the province.
St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan speaks Jan. 2 at The Rooms during an announcement of a federal-provincial expenditure of $28.45 million for high-speed internet access in the province. - Joe Gibbons

Tuesday, the provincial and federal governments announced they, along with private partners, would spend $40 million to improve internet service in this province, bringing broadband high-speed internet to 1,500 households in 70 communities.

It’s a valuable, if expensive effort: businesses, families and entrepreneurs need access to high-speed internet, and not just for easy access to Netflix. More and more, access to the internet, and the ability to seamlessly use it, is a necessary skill.

Federal Veteran’s Affairs minister and St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan was on hand to take part in the announcement, saying, in part, “This is a real investment in what we call the new wharf, the new road. This is how businesses get product to market.”

It’s just too bad the announcement was treated exactly like the old wharf.

How?

Well, the overall project was announced, but the specific areas where the money is to be spent was not.

Just like the old wharf, the new wharf is not just funding, but a multiple political opportunity: the announcement didn’t include the areas where the money would be spent so that individual federal politicians could announce the money in their own districts.

From the tragically familiar school of “me and the premier brought you this cheque,” the move is all too common in this province. Whenever administrations announce funding for the types of things that governments are elected to steward, it’s critical to tie the name and political party of the sitting member to the announcement.

It is remarkably similar to the offensive fire truck parade that successive provincial administrations have grown so fond of.

Fire equipment is hugely expensive, and smaller municipalities often can’t afford the capital outlay: the province steps in, as it should, to fund the purchase of equipment that’s necessary for the protection of its citizens. It’s legitimate spending.

Then, every year, a cabinet minister travels at government expense around the province, often with a local MHA if the announcement is in a government district, to present the fire equipment to the grateful municipality.

What is everyone expected to do? Touch the brim of their hat, bend a knee, grovel and thank the blessed MHAs for their largesse?

It’s a grotesquery, a vile charade of “public service” — and you can only imagine how many millions of taxpayers’ dollars are spent every year right across this country bolstering the political reputations of government members at different levels of government.

There’s nothing wrong with a government spending money to address the needs of constituents.

That’s why we have governments in the first place: to administer public funds for the good of the public as a whole.

But turning every opportunity into political self-promotion?

It’s obvious, it’s shabby, it’s petty and paternalistic.

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