Stimulus spending favours key Tories

The biggest winners of the Conservatives’ stimulus extravaganza include one of the prime minister’s closest friends, a riding the Tories desperately hope to win in a byelection next week, and a longtime party stalwart.

OTTAWA — The biggest winners of the Conservatives’ stimulus extravaganza include one of the prime minister’s closest friends, a riding the Tories desperately hope to win in a byelection next week, and a longtime party stalwart.

Eastern Ontario MP Scott Reid, the Nova Scotia riding of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley and British Columbia MP Jim Abbott are three of the clearest winners in the distribution of stimulus spending, a broad analysis by The Canadian Press shows.

Several urban cores also fare well. Downtown Ottawa, in a riding held by the NDP, is also a top scorer, with millions devoted to sprucing up federal government buildings.

Downtown Vancouver, held by the Liberals, does well too, as does Winnipeg Centre, held by the NDP.

Ottawa has been showering the country with money in the last few months, funding thousands of building projects across the country in an attempt to create jobs and lift Canada out of recession.

To determine out how money is being distributed, The Canadian Press closely analyzed the government’s only public database of all stimulus programs: an interactive online map that displays Ottawa’s individual budget announcements (at www.actionplan.gc.ca/eng/map.asp).

Drawing on the underlying data that supports that map, the analysis counted, located and evaluated 4,833 projects announced across the country as of Oct. 25. Each project was assigned a riding.

The map does not include precise dollar figures, so each project was also assigned a score, according to whether the government said it was small (under $100,000), medium (between $100,000 and $1 million), large (between $1 million and $5 million) or extra-large (over $5 million).

While the map does not include every announcement the government has made in the name of stimulating the economy, The Canadian Press compilation is the most comprehensive study published to date.

The results show that Conservatives come out on top in most provinces, although occasional opposition ridings do well, too.

In British Columbia, Conservatives win seven of the top 10 rankings. Ditto for Ontario. In New Brunswick, three of the top four scores go to Tories.

Even in Quebec, where inter-governmental haggling has dramatically slowed the flow of stimulus, Conservatives punch above their weight.

The highest scores, by a long shot, went to Reid’s riding in the rural area southwest of Ottawa, and to the Ottawa riding that includes Parliament Hill, represented by New Democrat MP Paul Dewar.

Both MPs scored a sky-high 258 points, with more than 80 projects having been announced in each riding.

Lanark’s list is dominated by funding for parks, roads, bridges, libraries and community projects, while Dewar’s projects are mainly upgrading to federal office buildings.

Lanark is frequently touted by federal officials as the poster child for effective stimulus.

The unemployment rate in part of Lanark is 8.7 per cent, almost a full percentage point lower than the provincial average.

Another part of the riding has an unemployment rate of just 5.9 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

But there are many pockets of poverty in the riding, especially in the small towns that dominate the landscape.

“I’m flabbergasted at the results,” said Michael Firth, Reid’s assistant. “I don’t believe it.”

He said he had no faith in the methodology used to compile the numbers, and said his own observations suggest more money is going to urban rather than rural ridings such as Reid’s.

Reid has deep roots in the party. Before he was elected in 2000, he served as a top adviser to Reform leader Preston Manning during the 1990s.

Sharp and loyal, he has often been touted for cabinet, but was sidelined for a while for impolitic comments about bilingualism. He is the deputy House Leader.

Reid recently made the national news by posing with a giant stimulus cheque with his name emblazoned on top.

Government largesse was also striking in the Nova Scotia riding of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. The riding has been held by a former Conservative and now Independent Bill Casey, but he is stepping aside. The Tories have high hopes of winning back the seat in a byelection set for Monday.

Indeed, the Conservative candidate, Scott Armstrong, has made access to stimulus a central plank of his campaign, arguing that his riding will have better luck winning government money with an MP on the government side of the House.

The riding scored 126 points, beating out even Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s nearby riding with 118 points.

Stimulus has also been relatively generous in the Quebec riding of Montmagny-L’Islet-Kamouraska-Riviere du Loup, where the Conservatives hope their candidate can take the seat from the Bloc Quebecois in the byelections next week. The riding has 57 points, which seems low compared with other provinces, but is the fourth-highest in the province where stimulus has been slow to flow.

On the West Coast, the clear stimulus winners are longtime Tory MP Jim Abbott in the riding of Kootenay-Columbia, and the downtown Vancouver riding of Liberal MP Hedy Fry, where the port facilities are being improved.

Like Reid in Ontario, Abbott has been involved with the Conservatives since the Reform days. He was first elected in 1993 and has had no trouble hanging on to his seat.

He served for a while as parliamentary secretary for Heritage and the Status of Women, and was noted for advocating for the commercialization of the CBC.

The unemployment rate in the Kootenay area is 8.8 per cent, a full percentage point higher than the provincial average.

The spending pattern fits with pork-barrel campaigns of the past, says Kevin Milligan, an associate professor of economics at the University of British Columbia. Typically, the party handing out the money will favour its loyal friends or target ridings they think they can win, he said.

“I don’t see any particular reason here why we would expect this program to be different,” he said.

Academics have found that spending programs most susceptible to pork-barrelling dedicate a large amount of money to a national purpose but don’t have specific local goals, Milligan said.

The federal stimulus program fits the bill, he said, because federal cabinet ministers — in conjunction, at times, with their provincial counterparts — made the final call on where the money would go.

— with data compiled and sorted by Willis Fong

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