Liberals played politics during House of Commons break with blizzard of cheque handouts worth $1.25B

OTTAWA — It was a blizzard of cheque handouts from MPs the likes of which has never been seen in the nearly decade-old National Post database that tracks each and every federal government spending announcement.

Last week, with the House of Commons in recess, Liberal MPs announced 188 loans, grants, contributions and government contract awards worth a combined $1.25 billion.

And while the cash was disbursed relatively evenly among ridings held by all parties, some Liberal MPs did manage to leverage some partisan politics into the mix as they handed out government money.

The Ontario riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, for example, is held by Conservative MP Tony Clement, yet it was Liberal MP Paul Lefebvre who represents the riding of Sudbury, just to the north, who showed up in Huntsville last week to hand out $2.7 million to four organizations in Clement’s riding.

Attending Lefebvre’s Huntsville news conference was Parry Sound-Muskoka Liberal candidate Tricia Cowie.

Certainly, she treated it as a campaign event

“Certainly, she treated it as a campaign event,” said Clement, who noted he was not told about the event.

Some of the politicking was a little less obvious.

Several Liberal MPs issued press releases and held press conference to ‘celebrate’ — government-speak for ‘re-announce’ — grants Science Minister Kirsty Duncan had announced earlier in the week.

Duncan, at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton on Tuesday, announced $52 million in Canada Foundation for Innovation grants at 39 universities. Within the next couple of days, ministers Bill Morneau, Amarjeet Sohi, Maryam Monsef, and Jim Carr had organized press conferences at universities in their ridings to “celebrate” these grants.

While the Harper Conservatives had their own issues with spending announcements while they were in government — at least one showed up with a giant government cheque with the Conservative party logo on it — “re-announcements” were rare in Harper’s final four years in office.

Last week’s spending spree also came on the heels of two reports — one from the Parliamentary Budget Office and another from the Fraser Institute — criticizing the government’s multi-billion-dollar infrastructure spending plan.

Among other things, the PBO said infrastructure money was not getting out the door quickly enough.

Now, with the 2017 budget expected to be tabled on March 21, Liberals seem to have moved their cheque handout program into high gear.

Since they took office in October 2015, the Liberals, as of Monday, have made nearly 4,200 spending announcements, including last week’s cross-country blitz.

By comparison, the previous Conservative government made 7,300 spending announcements during its entire four and a half years in office.

Infrastructure Canada announced approval last week for 63 projects worth a combined $241 million. Most of those were for a series of water and wastewater projects in Quebec’s national capital region and in eastern Quebec.

The other big spender last week was International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, who announced overseas funding commitments for 23 programs and projects worth a combined $260 million. Her department approved grants to organizations like CARE, Oxfam, the Canadian Red Cross, and the International Medical Corps for their work in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. Much of that was aimed specifically at improving health outcomes for women and children and for displaced persons and refugees.

Two projects alone accounted for nearly half a billion dollars in spending commitments, both by Public Services Minister Judy Foote. In North Vancouver, B.C., on Feb. 28, she announced that the papers had been signed for a $230-million contract to have Seaspan’s Vancouver shipyards finalize the design of a new Royal Canadian Navy ship. A Liberal, Jonathan Wilkinson, is the local MP.

She also visited Esquimalt, B.C. and announced $250 million in improvements and renovations to the federal dry dock facility. Esquimalt is in a riding held by New Democrat Randall Garrison.

Those were the big-ticket items from the last week, but there were plenty of smaller grants and contributions.

For example, Denis Lemieux, the Liberal MP for the Quebec riding of Saguenay, brought home $15,000 in federal funding to help with renovations to the Legion in his riding.

Wayne Long, the Liberal MP for Saint John, N.B., served up a cheque worth nearly $200,000 to upgrade an aquatic centre.

And Catherine McKenna, the federal environment minister, visited Montreal to announce that her department will spend $83 million over seven years to buy new radar systems that will feed data into a new government supercomputer to help improve weather forecasts.

The median size of the federal cash commitment in last week’s announcement blizzard was about $838,000.

• Email: dakin@postmedia.com | Twitter:

National Post with David Akin

March 6th 2017

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