Not any more

Abundant signs of Tory spending

In Canada on September 9, 2010 at 22:34

Don Martin: Abundant signs of Tory spending

Don Martin/National Post

Don Martin/National Post

Cape Spear in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The Action Plan sign is there but there’s not much action.

  September 9, 2010 – 7:49 pm

Visitors watching Atlantic waves crash into the eastern tip of Newfoundland this summer couldn’t miss one clear sign of Canada’s recession. There, within camera range of the iconic Cape Spear lighthouse, billboards advertised economic stimulus dollars at work, even though there wasn’t a shovel in sight.

Similar signage blankets the western edge of the country with more than 5,000 places in-between featuring Economic Action Plan posters promoting your federal deficit dollars at work.

Political opponents are raising a hullabaloo in Ottawa this week following the release of documents to The Canadian Press showing excessively costly and controlling behaviour by a government that insisted every paved pothole had to be flagged for government credit.

One can only imagine the mother of all billboards that will dangle over the proposed Quebec City hockey arena if Prime Minister Stephen Harper kicks in almost $200-million for this gargantuan seat-buying opportunity.

Liberals with short-term memories label it all a propaganda exercise, inducing voters to reward Conservatives for covering the country with dollars they borrowed from the next taxpaying generation. They seem to have forgotten their own sponsorship scandal was rooted in federal flag-waving over a lot of work that was never actually done.

But the potential for negative psychological consequences hasn’t escaped government notice.

As the stimulus program peaked this summer, those green-and-white government signs became the flagman for approaching detours, lane closures or water main replacements.

Motorists had a lot of time to study them, usually stuck in hot cars amid traffic jams caused by a government-induced construction frenzy, which may, or more likely may not, have been an effective anecdote to the recession.

The Economic Action Plan was ringing positive as it became the 2010 edition of the dreaded neon orange Construction Ahead warning.

One official involved in the stimulus kick-start only half-jokingly confides he suggested the signs should have been put up before work started, removed during the actual construction and reinstalled after the improvements were completed.

In some cases, the signs highlighted an even more infuriating situation. While this isn’t meant to disparage the vast majority of hard-working construction workers, the sight of shovel-leaning hordes was not uncommon. And it irks to know the bill for their idle efforts will go to a national debt my daughters will have to help pay off.

The millions to promote the work is not expected to rate more than a tsk-tsk mention when Auditor-General Sheila Fraser releases a report next month on the stimulus spending.

She’s expected to quibble over the frantic speed of the cash rollout, which lacked what she believes could have been better safeguards, but is unlikely to expose obscene examples of squandered money because the projects were sponsored and paid for by provincial and municipal partners.

That goes to the heart of any signage “scandal.” Taking a bow for funding infrastructure improvements is routine government behaviour, but the Harper government went overboard in demanding stand-alone posters. The usual and more economical route would have been to partner on a single project display outlining the public breakdown of total costs by all governments.

The minute the Prime Minister’s Office ordered his bureaucrats into nitpick duty over sign counts, location and their timely placement, memo blizzards were bound to follow imposing ridiculous pre-funding conditions to bizarre excess.

Mercifully, Canada’s most aggressive government-induced construction blitz will soon be over, possibly followed by a spring election. That’s when signs of any political payoff for the Conservatives will emerge.

National Post
dmartin@natinoalpost.com

Posted in: Canada, Full Comment, Policy  Tags: , , ,

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