Armchair Mayor column, The Kamloops Daily News, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009
At least three things are true about federal infrastructure funding programs: they are always confusing, always highly political, and quite the snoozer.
Last week, as you know, with much fanfare, an announcement was made of $34.9 million in funding for projects in this region. That was followed this week by Liberal accusations that only a small percentage of federal economic-stimulus money had been released, and that an obscene proportion of it was going to Conservative ridings.
Oh, no, say the Conservatives, the Liberals can’t add, and are just playing politics — imagine, politicians of any party playing politics with our money.
You’ve probably spent many sleepless nights in the past couple of weeks trying to figure out what’s going on with this dough, so hang on — I’m going to try to sort it out for you.
It’s always best, when you are in government, to make funding announcements sound as good as they can possibly be; if you’re in opposition, your job is to make government funding announcements sound unimpressive.
Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy’s view of the federal government’s economic-stimulus largesse is that it amounts to a mere $2.7 million for our Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding, not $34.9 million.
How could such a disparity come about? Either we got the money or we didn’t.
First of all, that $34.9 million number is a little deceiving. It’s a collection of small and large projects covering the entire riding. A third of it, roughly $11.6 million, is actually “our” money. That is, it will come straight out of municipal bank accounts.
But, you say, “there’s only one taxpayer.”
Not really. There are about 22 million taxpayers among a population of 33 million in Canada. There are around 44,000 taxpayers out of 83,000 residents in Kamloops, if you count voters as taxpayers whether or not they pay property taxes directly.
If you’re buying something, would you rather pay the whole shot yourself or have a bunch of other people fork over most of it? That’s why local governments are always going to Ottawa and Victoria asking for money.
Now, then, much of the debate over the “stimulus” money is based on which fund it actually comes out of. That may seem like splitting hairs, but read on.
There’s a distinction between everyday funding that would have been handed out anyway, and all that extra money that’s supposed to be creating jobs and getting the economy moving by putting us all deeper in debt.
The $719 million announced for B.C. — of which the funding for this region is part — actually comes from an older pot of money as well as the stimulus package. That’s the key to figuring this thing out.
One pot is called the Building Canada Fund, which, despite being called “a new approach” by the Tories, is a pretty traditional infrastructure program.
Such programs have been around for a long time. They are offered for a specific number of years, and municipalities are given deadlines to apply. These programs are designed to address “infrastructure deficits” such as water and sewer projects, but are usually open for less urgent projects such as recreation facilities.
These programs exist no matter what’s happening in the economy. The Building Canada Fund was announced earlier, and was not promoted as a “stimulus” package. It’s more or less a replacement for the old Infrastructure Canada fund run by the Liberals. Depending on which website, which press release or which analysis you read, it contains $8.8 billion over seven years, $17.6 billion over seven years, or $12 billion over two years.
Part of the money is earmarked for cities under 100,000 population via the “Communities Component.”
By far, most of the $34.9 million for around here comes from that fund, and not from the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund at all.
For example, Kamloops’ Softball City project at Rayleigh will be funded under the Building Canada Fund. Of the $9.79 million total, the City will ante up a third ($3.26 million), with Victoria and Ottawa splitting the rest.
The City sent in its first application last March after being told it had 14 days to get it into the Building Canada Fund, then covered its bases with a second application when invited to apply to the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund just last month. Up until a few days ago, City Hall didn’t know which, if either, fund the money would come from.
Several other projects, such as Westsyde riverbank protection, a Chase water project, some roadwork in Merritt, and the TNRD’s garbage project, also come out of this fund.
The only one of significance that actually comes from the stimulus fund is a water project in Barriere worth $788,682 including all three thirds.
Your next question is: “What does it matter, as long as we get the money?”
Good point. I suppose it matters only if you’re interested in the nuances and bafflegab of politics. Looking at the numbers tells us we really aren’t getting much out of the feds’ stimulus package per se.
Technically, it appears to me, the $34.9 million stimulus announcement would more accurately have been portrayed as a $788,682 (or $524,000 if you prefer) stimulus announcement.
Or, at the very least, a $23.2-million everyday infrastructure announcement, since that’s actually what Ottawa and Victoria are chipping in all told.
Then, the next day, we all could have made our own announcement of the $11.6 million that is coming directly from local pockets without being funnelled through our federal or provincial governments.
By the way, the City’s water meter project, not covered in last week’s announcement, also comes under the Building Canada Fund.
If you didn’t quite follow this the first time, take it to bed with you tonight and start over. It will send you off to dreamland a lot faster than counting sheep.