Monday, February 19, 2007

Spending money like a... Conservative!

Scott picked up on this from the Toronto Star:
With the possibility of a spring election in the air, the Toronto Star examined hundreds of government news releases since the beginning of December, and tallied more than $9.8 billion in spending announcements.

The period coincides with the election of Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion, which kicked off a sharper, more focused debate over the Conservative government's political priorities.

Nearly half of the three-month total – $4.5 billion – has been announced in the first three weeks of February alone.

The $9.8 billion total is a rounded number, as the total was growing almost hourly last week as new announcements were posted to federal websites.

In most instances, the spending announcements amount to rolling out details at a local level of larger programs that were budgeted last spring.

Sometimes there were ribbon-cuttings by ministers or MPs; sometimes the news was announced twice, days apart in separate news releases; sometimes different ministers in separate news releases announced the same spending.

No wonder speculation is whirling around Ottawa that the upcoming budget, expected late March, could trigger a federal election.

"It certainly smells like pre-election spending," says Liberal finance critic John McCallum.

But it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's surprise $1.5 billion announcement in Quebec last week for a national EcoTrust program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants that really raised eyebrows. That $1.5 billion is new money, above and beyond the $2 billion the Conservatives' 2006-07 budget projected for environmental spending.

It is to be included in next month's budget, but it is money Harper, on the eve of an expected Quebec election, said he would draw from the 2006-07 year-end surplus, the very kind of spending he condemned his Liberal predecessors for. Further, it's money that will not be spent if the next Harper budget does not pass.

"It seems there is no limit to the hypocrisy of this government, because when they were in opposition they would slam us at every opportunity for spending the budget at the end of the year, the `March madness,' and now I think they've gone mad themselves," says McCallum, MP for Markham-Unionville.

McCallum says the Liberals believed it was "appropriate" to spend year-end surplus money "in important investments like the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and other things."

"The difference is we never said it was wrong to do. They say it's wrong to do and now they're doing it."

It's got small-c conservatives like John Williamson, director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, griping that the Conservatives have put on the backburner their commitments to paying down debt and broad-based tax relief.

"When it comes to spending and making announcements, the `new' government looks an awful lot like the old government," Williamson says.

He says the government has failed to keep its promises on two counts: it is not reining in spending growth, and it is "spending down the surplus" just as the Liberals used to do.

"They vowed (during the last election campaign) to hold any spending growth down to inflation growth plus population growth, which is slightly under 3 per cent in 2006," he says.

Now, program spending is growing at a rate of around 7.8 per cent, he says.

"Politically, the government will find it difficult in the future to lampoon the opposition for its spending record. They're virtually indistinguishable after one year in power."


I'd use the term spending money like a drunken sailor, but by the time a sailor is drunk, said sailor is out of money.

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