Politicians in any government at any time will spend their summers doing the barbeque circuit, often with federal cheques in hand to fund any number of local projects.
But this summer, days away from the beginning of what looks to be a very tight federal election contest, the Liberals are pouring it on with spending announcements, with a distinct focus on ridings and regions that are likely to be hotly contested.
Last week, for example, the federal government made 334 funding announcements in New Brunswick alone. The party swept all 10 seats in the province in 2015 but stands to lose as many as half of those seats, according to a seat projection analysis done by Global News.
First, the federal government announced how much just about every municipality in New Brunswick will get from an enhanced federal gas-tax-fund rebate program. That was shortly followed by another press release from Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez bragging about the hundreds of festivals, Acadian Days and Canada Days underwritten in part by federal grants.
To top it off, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself showed up with a cheque in Fredericton, where local Liberal MP Matt DeCourcey will be facing a stiff challenge from both the Green Party and the Conservative Party. Trudeau’s cheque was worth $11.4 million and will help Fredericton with flood-mitigation projects.
Add all of those 334 funding announcements up, and they total $133.4 million worth of talking points for Liberal MPs campaigning for re-election in New Brunswick.
Across the Northumberland Strait in Prince Edward Island, there are but four seats up for grabs, and all but one should be reliably Liberal. The one up for grabs is the seat at the province’s western end, Egmont, which went Conservative in the general elections of 2008 and 2011 before Bobby Morrissey won it back for the Liberals in 2015. It can’t but help, then, that in the flurry of spending announcements last week, there was also a pile of new money announced for municipalities and businesses in Egmont. Morrissey can point to 27 municipalities or projects that just last week received a combined $5 million in fresh federal funding commitments.
Like New Brunswick, P.E.I. communities also learned how much they’re getting in gas-tax-fund rebates, but there were also several grants doled out of the Atlantic Fisheries Fund that went to oyster producers on the island — many, again, in Morrissey’s riding of Egmont.
Overall, the federal government last week announced 88 funding commitments on the Island worth a combined $28.2 million.
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For the entire country for the week of Aug. 12 to 16, the federal government made $4.9 billion worth of spending commitments spread out across 595 announcements, including those in New Brunswick and P.E.I.
All of those announcements were new to the Global database that tracks spending announcements. And while the gas tax refunds are spending that would happen with or without an announcement, the point is the announcement itself, giving local MPs the ability to point to specific commitments made in their ridings. It’s also worth nothing that the gas tax fund rebate announcement were made last week only for New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Nunavut. So far, at least, there have been no other gas tax fund rebate announcements for other provinces.
The single biggest announcement last week was a commitment to spend $3.6 billion over several years buying new armoured vehicles for the Canadian Army. Those vehicles will be built in London, Ont., though the contract will benefit suppliers and manufacturers across the country. The other biggie was a $500-million contract awarded to Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax for a navy maintenance contract.
Of those spending announcements, 517 commitments worth $829 million were for projects in which the spending will be exclusively in ridings where the Liberals are the incumbent party; 30 others worth $18.2 million were for projects in ridings where the Conservatives are the incumbent party; and 14 spending announcements worth $56 million were for projects in ridings where the NDP is the incumbent. For the rest of the announcements, like the armoured-vehicle announcement, the money will be spent across multiple ridings or regions.
And while it’s true that not every announcement generates news coverage, all of these announcements do give a local MP something to point to as evidence that the federal government — the federal Liberal government — is working for them.
The spending announcement blizzard continues this week. On Monday, Liberal ministers and MPs are set to hand out cheques in Toronto; Burlington, Ont.; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.; Kensington, P.E.I.; Victoria and Fredericton.
Global News tracks each and every spending announcement through a Twitter-based reporting project dubbed Ottawaspends. You can read about that project and follow @Ottawaspends to keep up. So far in the life of this Parliament, there have been 16,493 spending announcements worth a combined $72 billion.
David Akin is chief political correspondent for Global News.