OTTAWA – Parliament has been a very busy place this week. I will be reporting to you soon on some the things I’ve been working on recently – border issues, pensions, and healthcare to name a few – but I want to take the chance this week to talk about one issue in particular; the federal government’s economic stimulus plan.
As some projects near completion, we are starting to hear reports about some of the strange conditions placed on the recipients of federal funding. In order to receive funding under the Recreational Infrastructure Canada Program (RINC) recipients had to sign a contract which imposed the following conditions upon them; “Economic Action Plan” signs had to be installed within one week of receiving the federal signs, and proof of the new signage must be provided by way of two photographs in JPEG format (one close-up and one distance shot) of each sign. In other words signs first, money later.
Another pre-requisite put into these federal contracts was that recipients were required to invite political representatives of the Conservative government to a ground-breaking or ribbon-cutting ceremony, and that other invitations to these events must be made “in consultation with the Governments of Canada, prior to the event.” This explains why a Conservative backbench MP would fly in from hundreds of kilometres away to attend an event in another riding, while the sitting opposition MP was not invited to their own local ceremonies. The cost of flying Conservative MPs across the country for these announcements along with their staff, media planners, and meals is probably quite high, and I don’t think taxpayers should foot the bill for what amounts to Conservative campaign announcements.
Almost as if to add insult to injury, we are starting to hear reports that the stimulus money is also flowing very slowly. As a result of the delay in receiving the federal portion of the funding, some of the approved projects and their sponsors have actually had to borrow money just to keep work on their projects going. The interest on these unaccounted for loans has left the local sponsors with higher carrying costs that will not be covered by slow moving federal government which forced them to borrow in the first place.
Another problem for groups and governments that have been approved for stimulus projects is the firm and fast deadline for completion of these stimulus projects of March 31, 2011. If a project is not completed by that arbitrary date, then federal portion will be withdrawn. The most recent update on the stimulus plan released this past week suggested that up to one-third of these projects will not be completed by that deadline. Anyone working in or even familiar with the construction industry can tell you that work can be delayed for many reasons beyond the control of the planners and builders – bad weather, problems with suppliers, etc – so it seems that this arbitrary deadline is at best misguided. Heck, even the federal government’s own renovations on Parliament Hill are a full six months behind schedule.
The final stimulus funding kick in the pants has been reserved especially for taxpayers. At a time when the Conservative government is tabling a record deficit of about $56 billion this year – eclipsing the record set by the last federal Conservative government – the Finance Minister decided to blow tens of millions of dollars more on what amounts to partisan propaganda surrounding the “Economic Action Plan.” As many struggle to pay their household bills (made worse by the HST tax hike) the federal government spent $130 million in advertising their work last year, including a full $50 million on the Economic Action Plan alone. That’s right; the Conservatives spent $50 million last year just to tell us over and over again that they were spending our money. No wonder Flaherty and Harper are running the largest deficits in Canadians history.
From the very first announcement of the federal stimulus plan and the Economic Action Plan to ribbon cutting ceremonies today, we have seen what the Conservative government’s priorities really are; propaganda and petty partisan politics ahead of stimulating the economy, good government, and basic common sense.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River