Saturday, May 09, 2009

The politics of infrastructure

Kevin Lynch's unceremonious departure as clerk of the Privy Council Office while the PM was away this week has been the subject of commentary for the past few days, with a thread of concurrence running through the views of Adam Radwanski, John Ivison and L. Ian MacDonald. Particularly from Radwanski & Ivison, that thread being that Harper and his Giorno led political team have made the judgment that infrastructure funds are not flowing quickly enough and the new clerk, Wayne Wouters, is being tapped to remedy that issue. As Radwanski puts it, the potential danger is this:
Obviously, the government needs to get money flowing quickly in order for it to get any credit for helping the country out of recession. But the type of infrastructure spending in question usually takes years to actually bear results. As it tries to accelerate that process, there's a risk of billions of dollars being misspent.
The "political imperatives" have apparently won out, the minority government political backdrop, of course, driving it all. So, the results of this manoeuvre (or gamble) will need to be carefully watched. Especially since reports to date on the Harper government's infrastructure spending have already exposed a partisan bent. 75% of federal infrastructure money doled out since 2007 has gone to Conservative ridings. And last week we learned that 94% of disability funding has been channelled to Conservative ridings. So they're already down this road, it's just a question now of how much worse it will get and what else will be uncovered.

Nevertheless, the message has now been sent from the highest level that it's a priority for the already questionably managed funding to be expressed. Sounds like those parliamentarians on the infrastructure oversight watch are going to have their work cut out for them in coming months to an even greater extent than they already do.

Update: Two additional columns on the Lynch departure today that are must reads and that speak to the partisan PMO's dominance over the PCO: MacDonald's new column here and Travers. There really isn't anyone who thinks this is a good move on Harper's part. Is he the smartest guy in the room? Or is everyone else wrong?