Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Debunking Conservative talking points on the distribution of stimulus spending

When questioned about the Conservative-skewed infrastructure spending we're seeing reported now, the Conservatives have offered a defence that goes kind of like this, as articulated by Peter MacKay's spokesperson:
"There are three levels of government involved in the selection and the funding, so there are three levels of accountability," he said.
It's a diffusion of responsibility defence, the Conservatives are only one third of the equation. Really? Here are some examples that raise questions about that talking point. If anything, the federal government is a very determinative third of the equation.

1. In Nova Scotia, a four-rink project in Bedford, approved by both the local and provincial officials, a project that topped Halifax's list, went unapproved. If all three levels were involved, surely the project would have been approved given its priority status by the locals? Note by contrast, a recreation centre project in Conservative Minister Peter MacKay's riding that had no comparable local or provincial support received federal funding, although not from the federal stimulus plan, the source of the funding remains unknown. How is the three-level harmonious approval process at work here?

And note that MacKay may have done a little "backfilling" by announcing $1 million for a different Bedford rink project last week. That rink, however, is private.

2. In Toronto, following the announcement of the infrastructure funds to be spent in the city, it came to light that Conservative-leaning city councillors had gone to Ottawa to lobby for pet projects. They obtained some of those projects for their own wards and those projects were separate and apart from the list submitted by the city of Toronto (links there).

3. In Conservative Minister Helena Guergis' riding, a private school received funds over public facility applications and the incident has flared up. One of the reasons is the question of the validity of the local approval. The local council didn't approve the project and the one city official who did sign a letter has come under fire. The Mayor, Deputy Mayor and at least two councillors were caught by surprise about the funding.

So there you have three instances that we know about, because they've been reported by media, where it's not clear at all that there are "three levels of government involved in the selection and the funding." They're enough to raise questions about the legitimacy of this talking point on infrastructure spending choices. Further research would likely turn up more.