January 5, 2018 8:05 pm

When it comes to cheque hand-outs, the Trudeau government easily tops Harper’s record

Numbers obtained by Global News show the Liberals are signing off on spending commitments at a faster pace than the Conservatives under Stephen Harper. David Akin reports.

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After just over two years in office, the Trudeau Liberals have made nearly 9,000 spending announcements, easily eclipsing the 7,300 spending announcements made during the four-year majority government of their predecessors, the Harper Conservatives.

The combined value of all those Liberal announcements made in just over two years stands at $34.27 billion versus the combined value of four years of Harper announcements at $45.14 billion.

The chief difference between the two governments when it comes to the number of projects announced has been the role of each government’s minister responsible for science in publicizing spending.

Liberal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan has been much more active than any of her Conservative predecessors.

Even though actual spending on science research grants, for example, is similar between the two governments, the Trudeau Liberals have been much more aggressive in dispatching Duncan around the country to announce and explain the value of individual science research grants and granting programs.

Watch below: Kirsty Duncan announces research infrastructure spending. 

 

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The data on the spending announcements during the two Parliaments is drawn from an exclusive Global News database.

The database does not track every federal grant, contribution or loan. Rather, it tracks the spending announcement itself and the data is drawn from individual accompanying press releases.

Often, Ottawa will provide a grant to a municipality or an organization without issuing a press release or, alternatively, only the local recipient organization will announce that it has received federal support.

So, for example, the Global News spending announcement database has logged 3,472 spending commitments in which Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi was the minister named on a federal government press release announcing the spending. But the department itself says it has approved spending on more than 4,000 infrastructure projects, all of which the public may review at a federal government open data site.

And while most other federal departments also publish their grants and contributions through sometimes difficult-to-find government data portals, there is no one-stop shop where the public can review all the handouts made by every government agency or, for example, review all the federal cheques sent to organizations in a particular region or riding.

Global News assembles its database on spending announcements from several press releases published by several different sources, including government and MP websites, as well as multiple national and regional newswire and press release distribution services.

READ MORE: NOTEBOOK: How we use Twitter to keep track of thousands of federal government spending announcements

So far as the public relations value of a spending announcement goes, the Trudeau Liberals, like just about every government before them, stick to one hard-and-fast rule when it comes making spending announcements: It’s a game only government MPs can play.

Whether it was during the Harper years or whether it’s during the Trudeau years, no opposition MP ever gets political credit for bringing a cheque to fix up a local community centre, repair a water treatment plant, or help pay for a Canada 150 festival.

In fact, opposition MPs often complain they’re never even told when a government MP is coming into their riding to hand out a cheque.

“They create this idea that the MP is like some local-pork-barrel king who you elect to the government and he comes back with a bag of money,” said Charlie Angus, an NDP MP who represents the northern Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay. “It doesn’t work that way. In all my years of opposition, we’ve always done extremely well and often our riding receives more than a minister’s riding. And that’s good. That’s the way the system should work.”

Indeed, Angus’ riding and two other northern Ontario ridings are tops among all ridings in the country when it comes to the number of projects to have received federal funding since Trudeau came to power.

Angus said he’s experienced the odd “bush-league” stunt in which he gets wind of a spending announcement press conference in his riding and, when he shows up, no one has put out a chair for the local MP.

“I don’t lose any sleep over it as long as they’re writing the cheques, as long as it’s coming into the riding. I don’t really worry who they send up to send out the cheques. I just want to make sure the funding is there,” Angus said.

The local MP — government or opposition — can often play a key role in connecting local groups to dozens of federal government funding programs. Infrastructure Canada, for example, provides grants under a municipal asset management program. Heritage Canada can help pay to fix up local museums, art galleries and theatres. Employment and Social Development Canada makes grants of up to $25,000 available to seniors’ groups. And so on.

READ MORE: Federal budget 2017: Trudeau government projects $28.5 billion deficit in 2017-2018

Kenora, held by Liberal Bob Nault, is the number one riding when it comes to the number of projects to receive federal funding support since November 2015. The Global News database has tracked 187 spending commitments announced for Nault’s riding, totalling $169.9 million.

The number two riding in the country is Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, held by Angus’ NDP caucus colleague Carol Hughes. There have been 156 projects in Hughes’ riding getting a combined $62.4 million in federal support since 2015, while in Angus’ riding, 117 projects have received a combined $70.2-million.

And while opposition MPs have sometimes suggested that the government of the day is engaged in pork-barrel spending, there appears to be little or no evidence that either the Liberal or Harper government engaged in systemic funding discrimination to the disadvantage of a riding held by the opposition.

For the current parliament, of the nearly 8,220 projects in which the federal government spending was limited to one riding, 54.8 per cent of the projects were in ridings held by Liberal MPs. And Liberals hold 54 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives hold 29 per cent of the seats in the Commons and 27 per cent of all projects receiving federal cash were in Conservative-held ridings. Similarly, the NDP hold 13 per cent of all seats and, so far, about 16 per cent of all projects getting federal funding are in NDP-held ridings.

READ MORE: Atlantic MPs press for more federal funding for economic development in their region

It was largely similar for the 41st Parliament, the parliament of the Harper majority government. Conservatives held 60 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons and 58.6 per cent of the 6,089 spending announcements made in those four years were for projects in Conservative-held ridings. The New Democrats held 32 per cent of the seats and had 26 per cent of federally funded projects, while the Liberals held 14 per cent of all ridings and had about 11 per cent of all federally funded projects.

Again, those statistics for the Harper years are for projects for which there was a press release. Had the Harper government been more active issuing press releases for science research grants, the Liberal and NDP numbers likely would have been higher since the vast majority of the country’s major research institutions are in ridings largely held, during both parliaments, by Liberals or New Democrats.

So far for the 42nd Parliament, the current parliament of the Trudeau majority, the average number of spending announcements across all 338 ridings is 23 projects funded for a combined average of $41.9 million.

The prime minister’s riding of Papineau, in Montreal, ranks well down the list. The Global News spending database has tracked just three projects in Papineau which have received a combined $810,669 in federal cash.

This picture was distributed with the press release from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency — the federal government regional economic development agency — when it announced $13,482 in federal funding for this gazebo in Rockland, N.B. The local Liberal MP, TJ Harvey is in the middle.

Courtesy: Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

And the database shows that the riding which appears to have received the least amount of federal love since Trudeau took office is held by a Liberal: Surrey-Newton, in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, where Sukh Dhaliwal is the MP. There, Ottawa has provided financial support for just one project since November 2015, an $800 cheque to help pay for an Aboriginal Day celebration at a local prison.

That said, MPs such as Dhaliwal or Trudeau who represent ridings in urban areas, tend to end up with fewer projects than their rural counterparts. That’s because federal cash often goes to projects in urban centres, such as a transit corridor improvement or a waterfront redevelopment, where the federal money will be spent in several ridings and not, as it often it is in large, rural ridings such as Angus’ or Nault’s, where the federal money will be spent in one riding.

In fact, the largest cheque to be handed out in 2017 was for a single project in which the money will be spent across several ridings, and that cheque was delivered by the prime minister himself. On June 15, Trudeau visited Montreal to announce a federal commitment of nearly $1.3 billion to help build a light rail network.

The Global News database identified 523 spending announcements made since November 2015, worth a combined $7.2-billion, in which the project will benefit two or more ridings.

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