Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Following the spending

David Akin is on the beat of following and trying to make sense of the massive trail of Conservative spending announcements. He reports: "Since the Oct. 14 federal election, government MPs have issued 544 news releases for projects worth a combined $35 billion, according to a Canwest News Service analysis."

Akin notes the departments that are out in front on the announcements, HRSDC and Canadian Heritage, although HRSDC dwarfs Heritage in the numbers being announced, $17 billion to $218 million. This is a valuable bit of trend analysis Akin's doing, allowing us to see that the Heritage effort is clearly designed to "...shake opposition claims that the Conservatives are cutting arts funding." How much of a political "save" this arts spending will prove to be, however, to make up for the indelible perception Conservatives created in the fall election and which is now continuing with the CBC cuts will be up to the voters to decide. They seem to be undercutting their efforts with the give and gut approach.

Kory Teneycke is quoted here, offering the expected government position on the spate of announcements, one part of which I found to be unintentionally insightful:
"Telling people what you're doing is as important as what you're actually doing," Teneycke said. "The general impression in (much) of the public was that we had cut overall arts spending when, in fact, arts funding was up. So the more you highlight the work that you're doing, the more credit you'll get for the work that you're doing."
That emphasized part is what critics might say this government has been all about. Creating an impression, here with arts funding, as Teneycke offers, that is not necessarily what's occurred. The line that arts spending "was up" was not accurate in relation to the time period before the fall election, which seems to be what Teneycke was referring to here. The Conservatives have referred to an overall increase in the Canadian Heritage department at large which includes much more than straight "arts funding" for television, film, media, etc., in order to make their arts funding increase argument. How that balance between the two streams of spending within Heritage continues to play out now is unclear: traditional arts spending versus that on "sport, youth, citizenship and identity, and diversity and multiculturalism" occurs all within the Heritage department. But no doubt, the line will be that if Heritage spending overall is up, arts funding is up when that is not necessarily the case.

The spending looks to get even more interesting to follow down the road. On the weekend, CP reported the new one-page infrastructure funding application:
The federal government will dole out $4 billion for infrastructure projects based on a one-page application form that solicits only the most basic information.
How this is at all justifiable in respect of $4 billion in spending is a bit of a puzzler. In an era when governments are being pilloried for failed oversight, this seems like a road map for potential abuses, all in the name of cutting "red tape."

Lots of work to do for the opposition and media just to keep track and make sense of it all...