Sunday, October 07, 2007

Introducing the Department of Pork

I posted last week about some of the glaring problems with the Cons' infrastructure plan. But in a column which received far too little attention, John Ivison points out that the Cons are deliberately diverting their already-meager funding to immediate pork projects rather than genuine infrastructure needs, going so far as to create a new planning group for that purpose:
The government is sitting on a $33-billion fund to be spent under its Buildings Canada Infrastructure Plan over the next seven years, and it hopes to leverage a further $50-billion from provincial and private-sector partners.

The problem is that Mr. Cannon has had difficulties getting projects out the door, to the great frustration of his colleagues, who want to go into an election having promised to build wharves in Saskatchewan, bridges where there are no rivers and a shiny new hockey arena in every riding...

Whatever the reason for the slow pace of project rollouts, Mr. Harper has lost patience and has moved to set up an infrastructure group within Mr. Cannon's department, led by the former head of the Conservative research bureau, Ian Harry.

This group will report regularly to the Prime Minister's Office with updates on how to spend the money "strategically" -- that is, in Conservative and marginal ridings.
As an aside, let's note that Ivison's numbers may not be entirely accurate based on last week's report. Instead, the $50 billion number seems on my reading to include the $33 billion coming from the federal government - and half of the $33 billion in turn is based on a transfer of gas tax revenues to municipalities, rather than actual infrastructure projects.

Which isn't to say that it's a bad thing for spending decisions to be in the hands of municipalities or provinces rather than the federal government. And that goes doubly in light of what Ivision has revealed about the Cons' current spending strategy.

It would be bad enough, if perhaps more justifiable, if the Cons were merely distorting the timing of infrastructure announcements in order to receive immediate credit for future spending. But from Ivison's column, it's clear that Harper has specifically ordered that the shape of infrastructure spending will also be based on purely partisan considerations rather than actual infrastructure needs. Which raises the spectre that the Cons could soon be pouring large amounts of federal money into bridges to nowhere while more pressing needs in non-Con regions are ignored.

Of course, the new infrastructure group is far from the only example of the Cons' view that Canada's public money is nothing more than their own partisan re-election fund. Remember their general plan to divert 5% of all government spending to their own purposes in years to come, as well as specific examples such as their move to stretch the definition of environmentally-friendly cars in order to provide tax breaks on vehicles manufactured near Jim Flaherty's riding.

But it takes a special kind of chutzpah for Harper to have deliberately set up a publicly-funded body for the sole purpose of spending public funds for the Cons' political gain. And the more attention the Cons receive for having set up their Department of Pork, the more likely voters will be to conclude that the Cons can't be trusted with the power to waste Canada's public money.

(Edit: added label.)

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