Monday, September 14, 2009

Conservative pork barrelers breaking the public trust

Updated (11:50 p.m.) below.

The trend continues, Gerard Kennedy hits a bulls-eye against the Conservative government and top Conservative cabinet ministers who have loaded up their own ridings with infrastructure spending to the exclusion of others. The Harper Conservatives are not administering this key financial stimulus in the national interest, contrary to the showy, dreamy, feel-good ads running on our tv screens. They're engaged in old fashioned pork barreling, in their own self-interest.
Of the top ten ridings in Ontario receiving Infrastructure funds, four are represented by Conservative cabinet ministers, including the minister responsible for infrastructure, Transport Minister John Baird, and a fifth riding by the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary.

Minister Baird’s riding and those of two of his colleagues have unemployment rates almost one half the provincial average – yet he awarded them and himself two to three times as much money as the average of all other Ontario ridings.
Think that's partisan bunk? The numbers speak for themselves and even frequent Liberal critics such as John Ivison picked up and ran with Kennedy's point in a column today:
Of the top 10 ridings in Ontario receiving infrastructure funds, four are represented by cabinet ministers, including John Baird, the Minister of Transport, and a fifth by the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary.

"How does the Prime Minister explain to the 408,000 Canadian families who became unemployed since last fall that his cabinet is too busy trying to buy votes to create the jobs that are needed?" he asked.

The government didn't deny the allegation, with Tony Clement, the Industry Minister, merely offering up the weak excuse that funding decisions are made with other levels of government.

It was unfortunate for Mr. Clement that he had to rise in the place of the absent Mr. Baird because it allowed Mr. Kennedy to point out that the Industry Minister's Parry Sound-Muskoka riding will benefit from 28 projects, five times the national average.

Mr. Kennedy also pointed out that three Conservative MPs, including Mr. Baird and government whip Gordon O'Connor, from the Ottawa area, where unemployment is half that of the rest of Ontario, will receive two to four times as much money for infrastructure stimulus as the average Ontario riding.

"[Jim] Flaherty [the Finance Minister] said that the money would be targeted toward communities most in need," Mr. Kennedy said in an interview. "This is a breach of trust."
This is an area of legitimate criticism -- the Opposition can argue with some conviction that the government has placed its own partisan interests ahead of the country's economic recovery.

Throw in the very real likelihood that millions of dollars have been spent on projects of dubious worth -- rumours are already emerging of a private school in the Collingwood, Ont., area that has received funding for a new sports field -- and the Liberals have the makings of a "waste, corruption and mismanagement" scandal of their very own. (emphasis added)
The above material that's being advanced by Kennedy is compelling. It fits the story line for the Conservatives and their pork barreling that we've seen to date.

In February, Kennedy reported that 75% of federal infrastructure money doled out since 2007 had gone to Conservative ridings.

And subsequent to that revelation, in April, news came that 94% of funding for disability projects in the "Enabling Accessibly Fund" went to Conservative ridings. For disability projects.

That Collingwood private school funding referenced by Ivison above is an instance in Helena Guergis' riding and has caused a bit of a backlash. Now that Ivison is giving it some attention, it may yet become a symbol of the larger problem. It's pretty ripe for the picking, that example. It deserves more attention, as does the rest of Kennedy's ongoing critique.

Update (11:50 p.m.): I see Jim Morton had a similar take in his blog post, noting Ivison's piece as well.