OTTAWA — MPs return to the House of Commons on Monday, officially ending their summer of spending, a summer that saw government MPs hand out cheques for almost $8 billion for at least two tennis courts, several hockey arena renovations, two flagpoles and one gazebo.
There were also cheques for umpteen multimillion-dollar science grants, dozens of wastewater treatment plants, a handful of overseas development projects and, of course, plenty of federally funded summer festivals.
The grand total for the 94 days since the House of Commons last convened: 1,447 cheques presented by Liberal cabinet ministers and Liberal MPs worth a combined $7.8 billion.
By comparison, the Harper Conservatives, during the 83-day long summer after their 2011 majority win, distributed 457 cheques worth a combined $3.8 billion.
These numbers come from an exclusive database maintained by the National Post of every single spending announcement made by the federal government since the 2008 general election.
The gazebo in question is a new picnic shelter in Rockland, N.B., built with $13,482 in federal funds, funds that came from a special pool of money set aside for infrastructure projects to mark next year’s 150th anniversary of Canada.
That fund, known as the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program and worth $150 million a year, was established by the Harper Conservatives in the 2015 budget. At the time, Liberal MPs Judy Sgro and Adam Vaughan derided it as nothing more than a pre-election “slush fund” that Conservative MPs could dip into for some easy publicity via cheque-handout photo opps.
But once in government, the Liberals renewed this “slush fund” for another year with another $150 million and, over the summer, it was among the most popular envelopes of money from which Liberal MPs drew a cheque.
Overall, 108 cheques were written to be drawn from the Canada 150 fund worth a combined $11 million, including the one from Liberal MP T.J. Harvey, who was on hand to smile for the cameras in celebration of Rockland’s new gazebo.
And, as is the custom of every government anywhere, anytime, only government MPs and never opposition MPs get to hand out those cheques, even if the money is to be spent in an opponent’s riding. So it was that, on Aug. 8, Liberal MP Bardish Chagger, who is also the government House leader, visited Rosseau, Ont., a cottage community in the heart of the riding held by Conservative Tony Clement. bearing a clutch of cheques.
It was Clement, of course, who, in 2010, had his name forever attached to the word “gazebo” in Canadian politics after the auditor general raised an eyebrow about a $100,000 gazebo built in Orrville, Ont., but sold to Parliament as part of the infrastructure required to be host of the 2010 G8 summit held 70 kilometres away in Huntsville.
This year, Chagger had no money for gazebos but she did have plenty for other projects including dock repairs in Lake of Bays, an arena upgrade in Whitestone, and a library renovation in Huntsville. All told, Chagger had 12 cheques that day to be cashed in Clement’s riding for a combined $531,611 in federal funds.
Clement’s riding, though, was just one of a tiny handful of ridings held by opposition MPs which got cheques from the Canada 150 fund this summer.
Of the 108 cheques drawn on the Canada 150 infrastructure fund, 76 worth a combined $6 million were cashed in ridings held by Liberals.
Liberals were also kind enough to distribute 14 Canada 150 cheques worth a combined $596,100 for projects ridings held by Conservatives (almost all of that was the 12 projects in Clement’s riding) while 11 cheques worth a combined $417,244 went to NDP ridings, including $2,500 for the purchase of two flagpoles in Harley Township in the northern Ontario riding held by New Democrat Charlie Angus.
DAVID AKIN 09.19.2016