Saturday, October 17, 2009

Harper's Toronto infrastructure adjustment

Updated (9:00 p.m.).

Let's take a closer look at that curious spending announcement on the Toronto Reference Library that Stephen Harper showed up to make yesterday. What a sudden and odd occurrence. Toronto has not been high on the list of priorities for the Harper gang. So what was this really all about? Here's a theory. This was political damage control to mitigate the impact of the "big cheque" scandal and the underlying and rising narrative of Conservative partisan self-interest, manifested in the "Harper Government's" advertising onslaught and infrastructure spending skewed to Conservative ridings. A big, flashy move clearly needed to be made.

To much media coverage, the Prime Minister took the opportunity to spin his announcement as apparently conclusive (!) proof that infrastructure stimulus spending is being impartially spent across the country. His very appearance was meant to send that message, he didn't need to be asked the question.
Even the questions were mostly softballs. A CBC reporter asked, “What do you make of Liberal criticisms that most of the stimulus money is going to Tory ridings?”

The prime minister kind of shrugged, threw up his shoulders and said, “Well, here I am,” winning a belly laugh from the assembled. “We have 500 infrastructure projects in the City of Toronto, where we do not hold a single seat.”
That answer is not responsive, however to the evidence. Research and reporting have told us how skewed the spending is. With respect to Toronto itself, the "Government of Canada" is contributing $190 million to Toronto's infrastructure when it is estimated it should properly be $312 million. It's even more obscene elsewhere. Example: Peter MacKay's riding of Central Nova gets $101 million, Liberal and more urban Dartmouth gets $5 million. Got that? There's the skewed spending within Nova Scotia. And also, Peter MacKay's riding received $101 million, the largest city in Canada: $190 million. Something has clearly gone awry.

But what's most interesting about Friday's Toronto infrastructure announcement, the fact that this Reference Library investment did not appear on the Toronto infrastructure spending list released on September 11th. At some time in the last month, there was a decision made to fund this project. What's changed? The political climate and the heat on the Harper Conservatives. The growing perception that they're funding Conservative ridings and interests over all others.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed up in person to bestow the largesse Friday, after taking a pass last month when the city and federal governments announced the main stimulus program that will grant nearly $587 million – one-third of it federal – to 500 projects across Toronto.

Mayor David Miller said the library grant hadn't been finalized in September when the rest of the stimulus program was announced.
So, suddenly finalized. And splashily announced in the heart of downtown Toronto in one of the highest profile Liberal MP ridings, Bob Rae's at that.

The partisan manipulation of the infrastructure spending continues, unabated.

Update (9:00 p.m.): The $100 million to Peter MacKay's riding, assuming that's the total amount, would represent one third federal financing, i.e., $33 million. So the correct comparison, I believe, should instead be $33 million to his riding versus $190 million to Toronto. Which is comprised of what, 21 ridings? The comparison is still valid.