The New Building Canada Fund, a $14-billion fund to support projects that “promote economic growth, job creation, and productivity,” is mostly doing so in Conservative-held ridings, a Global News analysis has found.
Of 96 projects announced under the fund as of Tuesday, 79 of them are in Conservative ridings, 10 are in Liberal ridings, and 7 in NDP ridings. Conservative ridings are also getting the bulk of the cash: 53 per cent, or $324.5 million so far.
Map: New Building Canada Fund projects and current federal ridings
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Project locations are approximate.
Most of these projects are local infrastructure improvements: things like upgrading the municipal wastewater treatment plant, extending water mains, or enlarging highways. Generally, federal funding comes as a part of a cost-sharing agreement between different levels of government. The amount of money the federal government is chipping in ranges from $150 million for a transit project in Edmonton to just $22,000 for water infrastructure upgrades in Saint-François-de-Madawaska, in rural New Brunswick.
Overall, the projects selected for funding show “a pretty unmistakable bias in the way in which the federal government is making its decisions to favour Conservative ridings on the eve of a federal election,” according to Ralph Goodale, deputy leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
In an emailed response to questions about how projects are selected and why so many are in Conservative ridings, Michele-Jamali Paquette, director of communications for infrastructure minister Denis Lebel, wrote, “My response to your questions is that, provinces are responsible for prioritizing projects to the federal government for funding.”
What’s also interesting is which specific ridings have been targeted so far. Many projects seem to be clustered around southern Manitoba. Another cluster is New Brunswick.
“If you look at the locations and their distribution across the country, it’s pretty obvious that the Conservatives are using this for electoral purposes and making decisions based on where they think they can get the biggest political bang for the buck,” said Goodale.
“They’re sprinkled around constituencies where they may be tight races in the next election.”
“It certainly appears as if things are scattered strategically in certain parts of the country,” said Jon Pammett, professor of political science at Carleton University, though he isn’t sure why some areas, like southern Manitoba, appear to have been specifically targeted.
Provencher, a Conservative riding in Manitoba, has six local projects partially funded by the federal government under the New Building Canada Fund. The district is currently represented by Ted Falk, who won his seat in a byelection in 2013, announced after the retirement of former cabinet minister Vic Toews. Falk won a solid victory in that byelection.
The New Brunswick riding of Madawaska – Restigouche has also received six funding commitments. It’s held by Bernard Valcourt, the current Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Valcourt was elected in 2011, when he beat Liberal incumbent J.C. D’Amours by just under 2,000 votes.
Some opposition-held ridings got funding attention too. Churchill, in Manitoba, got four projects funded. It’s currently represented by the NDP’s Niki Ashton. Ashton handily won her seat last election, but her riding is getting a little bigger this time around due to boundary changes.
Liberal-held Kings-Hants also got four funding announcements. Scott Brison, the current MP, won in a close election in 2011. Just over 1,000 votes separated him from his Conservative competitor David Morse, who will be running again this election.
And the top three biggest funding commitments are in opposition ridings:
- Edmonton Centre, held by the NDP’s Linda Duncan, is getting a light rail transit extension, for which the federal government is contributing $150 million. It’s also the only non-Conservative riding in Alberta.
- Ottawa Centre, held by the NDP’s Paul Dewar, is getting $62 million for sewage tunnels designed to prevent untreated sewage from flowing into the Ottawa River.
- Westmount-Ville Marie, in Montreal, is held by the Liberals’ Marc Garneau. In January, the federal government announced $43.7 million for upgrades to the Port of Montreal in the riding.
Although these particular projects are in opposition ridings, the fact that they’re big commitments in urban centres mean that their effects are felt more generally, said Pammett. “If it’s transit for the whole city, it’s not necessarily going to be appealing to people only in one area.” These announcements could be an effort to improve the government’s image in areas where there is a high concentration of seats, he said.
Money could be a long way off
Although government ministers have been announcing projects all over the country, in several cases, the money is contingent on final agreements being signed or the project meeting federal application requirements.
And the announcements keep on coming – there were 57 from the beginning of May up to July 7, with more coming out every few days – possibly right up until the election is called for this fall.
But according to the original plan for the New Building Canada Fund, most of the fund’s money won’t actually be spent for years: for example, the government plans to spend ten times as much in 2023-24 as it did in 2015-16.
“It’s all back-end-loaded,” said Goodale. “So they make announcements today, but the projects are all two or three or four years down the road.”
Neither Infrastructure Canada nor the infrastructure minister’s office would say how many projects are currently under construction. However, documents tabled in the House of Commons show that on April 30, 2015, 12 New Building Canada Fund projects were under construction. 45 projects had funding commitments on that date.
“If they hadn’t back-end loaded the dollars, they could be investing in a great many more projects right now rather than just making the announcement in a few places and saying the dollars will come later,” said Goodale.
Does it work?
But are voters really swayed by funding announcements for new storm sewers?
“I don’t think we know directly how effective it is. It’s a very difficult thing to research,” said Pammett.
At the federal level, he said, “There’s not so much evidence that people are really moved by direct things that are designed to impact them: personal little boutique tax cuts or maybe they’re going to create new sewers in your district or something like that. People often don’t really attribute those benefits to the people giving them.”
There are other impacts though. “It has a mixed effect. People in a way don’t want to sneer at (the projects) if they look like good things, but it creates along the way a kind of cynicism: why are they doing this at election time, it’s only where they hope to make gains, that kind of thing. Whether it’s true or not.”
“It sort of feeds the cynicism that’s already around in the public about why politicians are doing things. And in a way, that’s not very healthy for the political system in general.”
The information for this report was compiled from news releases sent by Infrastructure Canada, announcing the different funding commitments. Several projects were also announced Wednesday, however, this analysis only included projects announced up to July 7, 2015.