Thursday, September 17, 2009

Campbell's politics stalling federal stimulus money

I thought writing about infrastructure stimulus spending would be dull. Then along came Shirley Bond.
B.C. has done a bad job of getting federal stimulus money out into communities.
And the reasons for the delays are all about appearances. That’s what keeping B.C. communities from getting some $450 million in federal funds for stimulus projects.
The New Democrats focused on the issue in question period this week.
Bond, the transportation minister, took the questions.
It was amazing, like she was doing an impression of Tina Fey doing an impression of Sarah Palin. The answers had little to do with the questions, but gosh darn, look at al the great things going on thanks to federal funding, said Bond,
The reality is that eight provinces have signed agreements to claim their share of the $4 billion in stimulus infrastructure money the federal government announced in January.
Not B.C. That’s about $450 million waiting to be put to work creating jobs and improving infrastructure across the province.
Back in July, Community Development Minister Bill Bennett said municipalities could hear within a week about projects to be funded under the program. Time was of the essence, he said. The government had “the pedal to the metal.”
Two months later, they’re still waiting.
The problem is political. The federal infrastructure fund requires matching contributions. For municipal projects, the total cost has to be split equally three ways.
For provincial projects, it’s a 50-50 contribution from the province and Ottawa. (On that basis, municipal projects deliver the greatest stimulus bang for the buck. The $450 million in federal money is matched by another $900 million from local and provincial governments.)
The province is OK with all that. But Premier Gordon Campbell has been trying to cut a special deal for B.C.
Funding has been frozen while he tries to persuade Prime Minister Stephen Harper to do a special agreement so B.C. can call its contribution a capital investment, rather than operating spending.
It’s a lame reason for stalling help for.
Either way, the money is added to the provincial debt and taxpayers will have to pay the interest in future.
But Campbell wanted a deal to keep the commitments out of this year’s operating expenses, so the deficit would look smaller.
Politically, that matters. Campbell promised during the election campaign that the $495-million deficit was easily achievable, without deep cuts.
The deficit is now at $2.8 billion. The province’s share of stimulus funding could push it higher, or bring even deeper cuts to health care and other services.
That would be embarrassing for Campbell and the Liberals. But it would mean nothing to the people of British Columbia. Call it operating, call it a capital expense – the province is still spending the money and it will still be added to the debt. There is no real difference.
Campbell’s unsuccessful attempts to cut a face-saving side deal could be costly.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities works at hard at staying friendly with the provincial government. But they’ve spoken out about the stalled infrastructure money.
The worries aren’t just about delays. The federal money could be entirely lost.
The Harper government wanted quick job creation. So the federal contribution only comes for work completed by March 31, 2011.
That was 26 months away when the program was launched. But now many communities are heading into the slow winter construction season. Some important projects can’t be considered, because there just is enough time to complete them.
Other federal spending has been flowing.
But still, $450 million is a lot of money to leave on the table. Prince George, on a per capita basis, could expect $8 million. Trail, $900,000. Kelowna, $12 million.
Those communities – and hundreds of others - could do a lot with that their share.
The money seems to be tied up for just one reason – the Liberal government’s political considerations.


DPL said...

Gordo tried to cook a deal and it didn't work with the feds. Now here in the village of Victoria we have a mayor and council pushing for a very expensive bridge and gosh folks we have to decide next week because the federal money will go away. Heck the federal money was never here because Gordo can't afford to sign on the dotted line for the province's share. And of course the bridge wasn't an issue during the last municipal election and suddenly its about to fall down. Remember when the ship going between Victoria and Seattle( Princess Margarete) was just about to sink according to the socreds yet a year or so later was back on the route with a new paint job. And lurking in the back ground is a sewer system ordered by Gordos gang that must have plans in place almost immedialty. Cost? Take a guess. Hell it took this town a couple of years to come up with one outdoor urinal for the late night drinkers, but we must be bridge converted in about one month total. BC sure is a weird place to live and pay taxes. We are looked at by politicians as a bunch of sheep waiting to be sheared

Dawn Steele said...

Virtually everything I've seen the Campbell administration do since 2001 has appeared to be driven primarily by communications objectives aimed at projecting competence, as opposed to any real effort to serve the public interest, so this is not really a surprise.

This, I believe, has been the method behind the premier's apparent attention-deficit madness: If you could just keep people focussed on an illusion that you were driving progress, by churning out rapid-fire announcements re new initiatives, no one ever had time to assess whether any of it really made any sense or actually achieved progress.

That's also why the initiatives have been so skewed towards capital vs program spending (more tangible plus it still lets you balance budgets, thus simulating sound fiscal management, even if it's adding even more to the total provincial debt). And most were prepared to overlook the intermittent bad news as long as the economic bubble maintained the illusion that overall progress was being made.

What is surprising is how quickly the whole facade has collapsed once public anger over the HST, Olympic costs and a fudged budget in recent months has erased the willingness to believe that all those buttons being pushed so conspicuously in Victoria were ever connected to the wheels of economic progress.

Apparently, that public will to believe was the only thing holding it all together. So the more they stand there desperately pushing buttons while nothing happens, the more foolish it all looks. And there is no Plan B, because no solid foundations were ever laid behind all those big announcements. Any hope for salvation will rest with being able to jump in front of the parade and hope that people are still afraid enough of the NDP to be willing to suspend disbelief once again, if and when the economy turns around.

SDGREEN said...

The BC Liberals are in complete meltdown; total chaos and it seems their MLAs really do not care a bunch.

It is time to rid ourselves of Gordon Campbell and his very destructive policies AGAINST the people of BC.

Anonymous said...

Tina Fey won an Emmy for her impersonation of Sarah Palin - might be that Bond felt inspired.

Justine Hunter, 09/16/09 in the G&M, "Gerard Kennedy, the federal Liberal critic for infrastructure spending, has been tracking the Harper government's stimulus spending since the January federal budget. [...] And of the money that was secured in B.C. earlier this year, there was a clear pattern: He said 90 per cent of the money landed in ridings currently held by federal Conservative MPs."

Perhaps the real reason Campbell, Hansen & Co. will not reveal the details of 'death-by-a-thousand-cuts' is because the bulk of them fall in NDP ridings.

Anyone remember the great ICBC car seat fiasco? Who was the BC Liberal MLA that headed that little shenanigan?

Anonymous said...

That would be Linda Reid