Straight Talk
DAVID AKIN - AKIN: Little appetite to cut spending in budget 2013

Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY

DAVID AKIN | PARLIAMENTARY BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA - In the last couple of years, your federal government has handed out $1.3 million to about 25 curling clubs across the country which will use the money to pave their parking lots, fix up their locker rooms and build new snack bars.

More than $14 million has gone to about 50 hockey arenas across the country, destined for new roofs, new windows or new heating systems.

Another $3.5 million has been doled out to fix up community centres with new paint jobs or flooring.

There's been money for new baseball diamonds, hiking trails and playground equipment.

Ottawa calls all of this stuff "infrastructure spending," handouts the government says will "promote productivity" and be "a key enabler of economic growth."

There's going to be a lot more of this.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty boasted Thursday that his government will engage in a new 10-year $53 billion plan for what the government is calling "the largest and longest federal infrastructure plan in Canadian history."

Notwithstanding the fact that, say, the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway by Sir John A. Macdonald might have qualified as the largest and longest infrastructure plan in our history, it's hard to figure out how paving parking lots at curling clubs or putting a new roofs on hockey rinks will somehow boost the country's productivity.

But if your local club or playground missed out on a fix-it-up grant in the last round of infrastructure funding - that one was worth about $33 billion - then you'll be pleased to know about this second chance.

To be fair, some infrastructure projects sound like they've got potential to live up to the program's lofty goals. Last week, for example, Ottawa announced $30 million to fix up crumbling bridges in northern Ontario. And two weeks ago Edmonton got $250 million for a new light-rail transit system. Also last week, Ottawa said it was ready to spend $50 million to build that long-promised highway from Yellowknife, N.W.T., to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., on the Arctic Ocean. Those kinds of things sound like they have a chance at being "a key enabler of economic growth" and there may be more like that over the next 10 years.

But too many projects from that last infrastructure program - the curling clubs and so on -- get frittered away on projects whose only value seems to be generating a photo-op for the politician who's handing out the cheque. And now we have another decade of the same ahead of us.

The next general election is two years away but already the Conservatives are readying to bribe us with our own money for their re-election.

In the meantime, those hoping for a sharply smaller federal government may be disappointed.

Mind you, those who want Ottawa to spend less on defence, prisons, border guards and the RCMP should be thrilled. Spending in those areas will drop nearly $3.5 billion next year.

And yet, despite the axe the law-and-order government is taking to law-and-order programs, so-called discretionary spending is on an upward trend although Flaherty promises to "restrain the growth" of this spending. But grow it will while many might have hoped it would shrink.

The deficit this year will be $25.9 billion. It will be $18.7 billion next year and then $6.6 billion in the fiscal year that ends in the spring of 2015. If Thursday's budget can be believed, Canada will see a tiny surplus of $800 million by the spring of 2016. In the fall of 2015, the Conservatives will campaign for re-election. I suspect you will hear Tory candidates talk a lot about how they are months away from achieving that tiny surplus. And I suspect you will hear very little from the Tories about the $150 billion these so-called Conservatives managed to add to the national debt since taking office in 2006.

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