Conservative Ridings Receiving Disproportionate Share of Government Subsidies: Sixth Estate Pork Barrel Updated
If the Conservative Party is serious about cutting down on government spending in favour of private donations from individuals, perhaps they should look to their own ridings first. According to data being released today by Sixth Estate, and based on the government’s public grant and contribution records, since May 2011 Conservative ridings have received a disproportionate share of money from the federal government compared to Liberal and NDP ridings.
Today I’m making a major update to one of my other occasional features, the Pork Barrel, which tracks federal government spending by riding and party across the country. After the last election, I started up the Pork Barrel based on the government’s public funding announcements. In the new version I take a step back and base the list on the full list of project grants diclosed by each department and agency in their quarterly Proactive Disclosure reports.
The above chart does not show the total government spending by party, but rather the total amount of money spent per party per riding. In theory, the bars on this chart therefore should be the same, meaning the government was spending, on average, the same amount of money in each riding. As you can see, it is not. Instead, it would appear that the ridings held by opposition parties are receiving only a fraction of the amount of money that ridings held by Conservative politicians do (with the exception of Elizabeth May’s riding, which until this May was held by Conservative MP Gary Lunn).
This update includes all grants over $25 000 published in May and June. The next Proactive Disclosure reports for summer and early fall are due out at the end of the month, and a few weeks later I’ll provide a new update.
Despite the name Pork Barrel, I’m open to being surprised by a government that puts national interests ahead of party interests and thus spends money in Opposition ridings as well as government ones. The reasoning here is quite simple. In Canadian democracy, individuals run in riding elections, but the government is expected to govern the entire country. It’s not an easy fit. In the past more than one government has lost its way and started funding its friends and associates. How well a government can resist the temptation to turn taxpayers’ dollars over to its friends and allies is one of the marks of how democratic and accountable it truly is.
The one exception to my approach is a small group of HRSDC granting programs. The Proactive Disclosure policy only requires that the government list projects that were over $25 000, but most Opportunities Fund grants are to businesses to hire just one or two people. So I’m continuing to tack those and other similar small projects on from the News.gc.ca news portal. So far the results are not encouraging.
There are some caveats to this percentage. First, many if not most of the contributions registered in the database during the previous quarter would actually have been initially processed before the election, even where the final decisions and signatures from the minister’s office came afterward. So in a sense what we’re seeing is the final flush of cash from the minority regime. What happens next remains to be seen.
Another caveat is that although the Opposition is doing fairly well overall, a great deal of their funding is concentrated in just three core urban ridings which they happen to hold. Since May, millions have been poured into the ridings of Olivia Chow (downtown Toronto), Marc Garneau (downtown Toronto), Hedy Fry (downtown Vancouver), and Megan Leslie (Halifax). Some of that money goes to local causes, but most of it goes to the industry trade associations, social advocacy NGOs, and other non-local organizations that tend to collect in urban locations. Obviously there are programs in both Opposition and Conservative ridings which have been funded routinely for many years now, and whose cheques continue to go through on the nod.
The previous Pork Barrel listings were a count of new announcements of funding through the government’s online news portal at News.gc.ca. The new version here makes use of the Proactive Disclosure pages which all government departments and agencies are required to maintain. There are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches.
On the one hand, the Proactive Disclosure databases are huge, cumbersome, and incomplete: they aren’t required to include any grants that are less than $25 000. On the other hand, they’re also much better than government press releases. It is highly misleading to go solely by government announcements, because if government is interested in playing up its noblesse oblige in its own ridings more than those of the Opposition, it could do so simply by announcing some funding and not announcing other agreements. So the new approach is, on the whole, more thorough.
I always share my data.
The following sites are used in the Pork Barrel analysis:
- Aboriginal and Northern Affairs (Summer 2011, p. 4)
- Agriculture Canada (Fall 2011)
- Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (Fall 2011)
- Canada Revenue Agency (Fall 2011)
- Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (Fall 2011)
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency (Fall 2011)
- Citizenship and Immigration Canada (Fall 2011)
- Correctional Service Canada (Fall 2011)
- Economic Development Agency for Quebec (missing)
- Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (Fall 2011)
- Environment Canada (Fall 2011)
- Finance (Fall 2011)
- Fisheries and Oceans (missing)
- Foreign Affairs (Fall 2011)
- Health Canada (Summer 2011)
- Heritage Canada (Fall 2011)
- Human Resources and Skills Development (Fall 2011, A to F)
- Industry Canada (Fall 2011)
- Infrastructure Canada (Fall 2011)
- International Trade (Fall 2011)
- Justice Canada (Fall 2011)
- National Defence (Fall 2011)
- Natural Resources Canada (Fall 2011)
- Northern Economic Development Agency (Fall 2011)
- Parks Canada (Fall 2011)
- Public Safety (Fall 2011)
- Privy Council Office (Fall 2011)
- Public Works and Government Services (Fall 2011)
- Service Canada (Fall 2011)
- Status of Women Canada (Fall 2011)
- Transport Canada (Summer 2011)
- Treasury Board (Fall 2011)
- Veterans Affairs (Fall 2011)
- Western Economic Diversification (Fall 2011)
Small Projects Funds:
- Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities (HRSDC)
- Skills Link (HRSDC)