As the minister in charge of this strategy, Navdeep Bains, put it, this “Atlantic Growth Strategy” involves “targeted investments” that will help boost the region’s “long-term prosperity.”
So what were Monday’s “targeted investments”? Paving a parking lot at a theatre and building new forward tees at a golf course in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. An energy retrofit at the YMCA in St. John’s. Building a new stage at a folklore park in Miramichi, N.B.. Combined bill for the federal taxpayer: About $350,000.
All very nice and much appreciated, no doubt, by those in Yarmouth, St. John’s and Miramichi. But does anyone really believe those kinds of projects will help with “long-term prosperity” for any community?
And yet, there are dozens of these kinds of disbursements every month from the federal treasury no matter who’s in charge, Liberal or Conservative. The so-called regional economic development agency has always had a few thousand for new boards at the hockey arena, a new coat of paint at the curling club or, as the Liberals did last week in northeast PEI, a donation of $5,000 for an international tuna fishing derby.
The Atlantic regional economic development agency — responsible for 32 federal ridings — will get $316 million for projects like that this year.
Meanwhile, the three ridings in northern Canada will split $55.4 million from their regional economic development agency. The Quebec version — 78 ridings — will get $319 million. The one for southern Ontario — 112 ridings — gets $257 million.
And the agency that makes “targeted investments” in the 104 ridings west of Ontario gets to spend $196.5 million.
These numbers, incidentally, are pretty much in proportion to how the Harper Conservatives divvied up this combined $1.1 billion of money handed out every year in the name of regional economic development.
Stephen Harper once thought these regional development agencies were a terrible idea, that they did little to actually create good jobs and were nothing more a vehicle for the excesses of pork-barrel politics.
Once in office, though, he not only did not follow through on his earlier objections, he created two new handout agencies! Thanks to him, we have the northern Canada and the southern Ontario development agencies.
Two major federal parties — the Conservatives and the New Democrats — are engaged in leadership races right now. Voters in both those parties should challenge leadership aspirants about these development agencies. A billion dollars a year is not exactly chump change, even for the federal government.
What else could that money do? Instead of spending federal development funds by region, what about spending it to support specific industrial sectors? Or using it for a national focus on older workers? Or pouring more of it into funds and training to support aboriginal entrepreneurs who often have a difficult time securing bank financing because of uncertain property rights on many reserves?
In the meantime, when I next visit beautiful Yarmouth, N.S., I plan to play the new fourth hole at the Yarmouth Golf and Country Club and relax at the new and improved clubhouse after my round — part of which will have all been paid for by the $43,500 taxpayers from all over the country contributed to that club Monday as part of a “targeted investment” .
That’s how federalism worked during the Harper decade. And it looks like the Trudeau government is in no hurry to change.
BY DAVID AKIN, PARLIAMENTARY BUREAU CHIEF
FIRST POSTED: MONDAY, AUGUST 22, 2016 06:33 PM EDT