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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Federal gravy train pulls into every station

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Canada Day on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 1, 2019.
- Patrick Doyle/File Photo

I’m just sitting here, watching the money roll in — well, roll out, actually.

Even as the news media in Toronto was announcing the federal government was preparing to commit $1 billion for transit upgrades for Toronto transit projects, I was getting news releases about the announcement (scheduled for today) of funding for ocean research in St. John’s. It’s been going like this steadily through the month: $6 million to help Indigenous communities in Alberta and B.C. participate in energy projects. Another $26.8 million in legal aid funding for immigrants and refugees. A whopping $1.2 billion to help Quebec City’s tramway project — $1.9 million for an Alberta agricultural farm project. It’s raining cash, in funding gobbets large, medium, small, and sometimes barely noticeable. But even though it’s already ankle-deep, the storm hasn’t ended yet.

Global News pointed out that, in projects big and small, the federal Liberals made 277 funding commitments last week alone, totaling more than $2.8 billion. The week before, Aug. 11 to 18, a total of 595 spending promises were made, with Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers on hand to dole out commitments for $4.9 billion. (Global News and journalist David Akin do a fantastic job of tracking the spending, maintaining their own detailed federal announcement database.)

This week promises to be every bit as lucrative and, in fact, probably more lucrative — because once the election is actually called, spending announcements have to stop. And that’s coming soon.

And I know that it’s a perennial thing, that Conservative governments have also done the same “here’s your MP with a cheque” thing — though not necessarily to the same scale.

That doesn’t make it any more palatable.

The simple fact is that if something is worth funding, and if it’s in an area under federal purview, it should just be funded.

Announcements shouldn’t be stockpiled for the greatest possible electoral benefit, nor should budgets in election years be bloated up so that Liberal politicians will have announcements in their hands to wave around in their federal ridings in an effort to help get elected or re-elected.

It’s just plain tawdry.

First off, it’s our money anyway, collected from taxpayers to do exactly the kind of projects that it’s being spent on. In other words, it’s electionizing the normal duties of our governments. “Here’s your governance, with an unhealthly dose of politics gravy poured all over the top.”

Now, I’ll admit I’ve been in the media for long time, and I’ve seen virtually every campaign follow the same line: fiscal conservatives dole out election cash the same way Liberal and NDP governments do, though not with such expansiveness.

The simple fact is that if something is worth funding, and if it’s in an area under federal purview, it should just be funded.

Still, it will not ever change the way I vote — because it’s smoke and mirrors, with the attendant travel for MPs and ministers ponied up by the federal treasury. What kind of rubes would vote for someone who uses our money to travel to come and tell us what a good thing they’re doing for us while presenting us with a “gift” consisting entirely of our own taxes?

Wait — we’re exactly that kind of rube. The gift announcement process must work — otherwise, it wouldn’t be such an obvious, co-ordinated and constant part of campaigning.

Oh look, here’s $32 million over the next three years for Habitat for Humanity; here’s 334 funding announcements in New Brunswick in a single week worth $133 million. Flood mapping in Saskatchewan. Aquaculture for P.E.I. Chickens for every pot.

Sigh.

“But everybody else does it,” wasn’t a great argument when you were trying to get your parents to let you stay out extra-late for the pre-back-to-school end-of-summer teen bonfire.

It’s not a good argument now.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.


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