Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Stimulus progress truthiness under the magnifying glass

Update (11:35 p.m.) below.

This Chronicle Herald report should make for some difficult questions for Jim Flaherty as he prepares to address stimulus progress tomorrow in Winnipeg:
Shovels were in the ground on only seven per cent of the projects funded by the Harper government’s largest infrastructure stimulus program by late September, newly released data show.

The revelation from the government’s own numbers is likely to add weight to opposition claims that the bulk of the unprecedented wave of government spending won’t hit the street until the construction season of 2010, when the worst of the global economic downturn may have passed.

The database detailing spending under the $4-billion Infrastructure Stimulus Fund shows that construction has started on only 201 of 3,034 projects – building, water, road and sewer ventures across the country.
The report does mention that perhaps other projects have started given that these numbers are current to the end of September and that there are other government funds that contribute to stimulus spending too that are not dealt with in the above referenced database. But it speaks for itself as a concrete measurement out of the government's own "largest stimulus program" and they're the government's own numbers. They're useful context as we prepare to hear Jim Flaherty spin in an alternate universe tomorrow:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will present the fourth update on the federal government's stimulus package in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

A federal source says he'll show that 12,000 stimulus projects have been announced to date, and 8,000 of them are underway.
What farce these numbers are becoming. It'll all be clear as mud. 201 construction projects underway according to the government's own database...versus 8,000 "stimulus projects" pulled from who knows what sources. The program will be presented as "working," "creating jobs," etc., etc. Yet that'll be quite the chasm for Flaherty to explain, 201 versus 8,000. Maybe there's some new math Deficit Jim will teach us.

Perhaps someone might also ask Mr. Flaherty, if there are any questions permitted at the p.r. event, about his government's job promises. Apparently the federal government does ask municipalities to report job creation to them (click to enlarge):

(Schedule H)

Yet the government tells the parliamentary government operations committee they don't have the numbers.
They explained the department didn't ask the provinces and territories receiving the money for a tally on how many jobs their projects could create or maintain as part of the contribution agreements signed with the federal government.
Huh? How does that square with Schedule H above? It doesn't.

Here's the probable reason why there is confusion rampant within the government, as between the political and bureaucratic arms:
...employment data from Statistics Canada suggests the government is far behind its targets for job creation. The government is counting on its stimulus program creating or maintaining 190,000 jobs by the end of 2010.
The jobs just aren't being created, only a few hundred projects underway, see above. The government just wants to be able to say they are. Otherwise, they'd tell us the numbers. Oh wait...based on all of the above, credibility on those numbers might be a problem too...

Update (11:35 p.m.): From a CP report earlier tonight, here are more numbers to confuse the situation more:
The $4-billion fund, which requires matching cash from provincial and municipal governments, has approved 3,226 projects across the country, said a spokesman for Transport Minister John Baird.

Of those projects, 1,390 - or 43 per cent - accounting for $1.4 billion in federal funding have moved beyond the announcement stage and have started work, Chris Day said.

The government considers a project to be underway as soon as it is put up for tender, he added - so the public may not see construction crews at work, but new jobs will be created through design and engineering.
Given how tightly controlled the information is, this is hard to verify. Good luck to the intrepid reporters out there trying to reconcile these numbers with those above.