Million dollar questions -

Million dollar questions


The Ottawa Citizen and Halifax Chronicle-Herald join forces to scrutinize what information the government has released about its stimulus spending.

An Ottawa Citizen-Halifax Chronicle-Herald investigation shows 57 per cent of the projects, with more than $1 million in federal funding nationwide, went to Conservative ridings. The party holds only 46 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons. Conservative ridings therefore received 23 per cent more million-dollar-plus projects than if the projects were divided evenly among all ridings…

The difference between government and opposition ridings is particularly pronounced in Quebec, where the Conservative ridings received 22 per cent of large projects, although the party holds only 13 per cent of the ridings, which means they received 62 per cent more per riding than if the money were divided evenly.

A spokesman for John Baird’s office says “the totality of infrastructure funding” will show fairness in distribution. At the same time, the government has declined to release a list of projects, despite the Prime Minister’s assurances that such a list was available.


Million dollar questions

  1. It just keeps on getting worse. But will enough Canadian's care?

    • NO!

    • Maybe – this time the Tories are doing something Canadians understand, what this government is doing with their tax dollars.

    • Maybe if it were actually getting worse, they would. But since it isn't, they don't.

  2. That is pretty bad, but I think the more telling self-preference is in the under-million projects. There are just so many of them that they add up.

    Just look at the photos from the Cheque Republic and it is clear that most of those by far are under a million, like the $500,000 Helena Guergis handed over to a private school in her riding for a private soccer field. You really want to know who's on the board of that private school!

  3. Once again we have people focusing exclusively on infrastructure. The infrastructure needs of rural and suburban communities (per capita) are greater than those in cities. Moreover, infrastructure is only a small subsection of the total stimulus, at 12 billion. There are plenty of other aspects of the stimulus that primarily benefit people outside of Tory ridings.

    1. 200 million for aerospace (good for Montreal)
    2. ~3 billion more in gas tax revenues for cities (doesn't benefit any one community more than another, but changes any percentage numbers considerably
    3. $2000 Apprenticeship incentives (good for auto workers, many of whom live in NDP-held ridings)
    4. 250 million for GO Transit (the GTA's train system)
    5. 20 billion in income tax cuts, and corporate tax cuts (again don't benefit any one community)
    6. 7.8 billion in social housing, which is primarily an urban problem (ie. good for places that don't vote Tory)
    7. An auto bailout, and support for other industries, like forestry to the tune of 7.5 billion
    8. 8.3 billion in skills training
    9. The home renovation tax credit (neutral)

    • To be fair to the Cons! What?
      Without doing any research it seems logical that it is impossible to assign the money to specific ridings in major urban high density downtowns, say Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver. It just spills over the whole area, regardless of individual riding origin.

      • So first off, this isn't generally true, because if you go the website and click around a bit, many of the projects have specific addresses attached to them (eg. refurbishing a performing arts centre).

        Second, I'd be very comfortable with taking an urban jurisdicition like Toronto and looking at the stimulus spending allocations to the city in its entirety and allocating an equal amount to each riding for analytical purposes.

        The point is we can't even do that, because Captain Accountability refuses to be accountable.

    • Yay GO Transit.

      Too bad that John Baird screwed over commuters in his own city by pulling funding for rail transit in Ottawa. The first rail line would have opened this month.

      Just like Queen's Park no longer thinks Ottawa is in Ontario, John Baird no longer believes Ottawa is in Canada.

      • Ottawa got 413 million dollars out of 4.7 billion for Ontario in the Building Canada fund, 8.8% of the toal. With 812,000 people, 6.2% of the population of Ontario. Ottawa was certainly not screwed.

  4. A week ago many of us were saying that putting the govt on propation was a huge mistake and Ignatieff was an idiot. But right now it looks like he handed Harper a loaded gun to shoot himself in the head with. Lord only knows what next week will throw up above the tideline. Good work Ted.

  5. Sigh…probation.

    • Yeah, aren't the Cons all against probation in favour of stricter measures? You know, time in the clink. Cheque fraud!

  6. HH I'm puzzled. Why do you have to try and unravel the govt's arcane stimulus package? Why aren't they doing it? Isn't it in their interest to be as open and transparant as possible. You must concede the optics aren't good, and the communications strategy is wanting to say the least.

    • There is pretty complete data out there – this is probably the best I have found (… I am in the process of running a regression to see whether being represented by a Tory MP was a statistically significant predictor of getting infrastructure money via building Canada. I would also like to add controls for population density.

      As for why the government has responded poorly, there are a few things I can think of. Maybe they are incompetent, or at least did a rush job on the stimulus such that they lack key data. Maybe they fear that announcing all the projects at once will take away the ability of MP's to go to lots of ribbon-cuttings and such. Maybe they fear that the more they address this issue, the greater its salience gets.

      • Your control for population density is wrong, or at least, not clear. If we were just talking about paving roads…maybe (although even then I'm not so sure). But infrastructure spending includes not only roads, but also transit, public buildings and many other projects not at all density dependant. There may be more road projects needed in a rural riding but there will be more transit projects needed in an urban one.

        • And infrastructure apparently also includes doorknobs and boilers.

          • As a matter of fact, Ted, it does…when the doorknobs are part of a larger initiative to improve accessibility for the disabled at that site…which this was, and which Joan Bryden conveniently omitted from her report.

            Or is that not important to you?

          • As a matter of fact, Ted, it does…when the doorknobs are part of a larger initiative to improve accessibility for the disabled at that site…which this was, and which Joan Bryden conveniently downplayed in her report.

            Or is that not important to you?

          • Making a building more accessible is indeed a good thing.

            But it is not infrastructure and it is not stimulus. It has it's own funding. As do replacing old boilers. There are capital cost reserves in the budget for this stuff.

            It is exactly this kind of gaming the numbers and the categories and the criteria that Harper's own Budget Chief was so very critical of in each of Say Anything's three reports so far.

          • But that wasn't Easter's complaint. His complaint was "this building is only a few years old, why wasn't accessibility designed in in the first place"? Conveniently forgetting that when the building would have been designed, he was probably the cabinet minister responsible for the province and would likely have been involved.

          • It's not that simple, Ted. The federal gov't has been experimenting over the past years with adopting stricter accessibility guidelines. I know because I'm an architect, and I worked at a firm where such a design was being implemented on a federal building.

            This might be another example of a building undergoing such a renovation. (emphasis on "might," since I don't have all the facts)

            It's not that the building wasn't accessible to begin with, nor was this classified under the usual maintenance budget, because it's a particular project, going above-and-beyond the requirements of the Canadian building code.

        • I am only up to the C's so far, but should note that even with no controls there is no statistical relationship between a town having a Tory MP and getting more money per person.

          When looking at the Building Canada fund (but not the smaller ISF) I get the sense that you might be right about the population density not working as a control. Of course if you look at Building Canada my larger point is confirmed: the stimulus involves many things, some of which (namely the ISF stuff) is going to show up in rural areas, others of which will benefit Toronto.

          Toronto got 1.6 billion (the link I posted includes a number of projects that hadn't been costed yet, but they are listed elsewhere on a press release regarding Toronto), or about a third of the money for Ontario. That is actually more than their population would warrant. This is maybe why you don't hear David Miller – an olympic champion at asking for money – complaining.

          I mean at the end of the day, these projects have an 85% approval rate. That is, funding for 85% of all proposals was approved. How the Tories could have effected a 23% difference in the number of projects by rejecting only 15% is beyond me (even if you assume that rejections were done in a highly partisan fashion).

      • Also bear in mind that rural townships have an inversely smaller capacity to generate matching funds to meet the arcane Conservative requirements for funding.

        • The stimulus includes a top up fund for smaller communities to address that issue. For instance, Armstrong Ontario's community road improvements will cost 60,000. The feds gave them 27,000 – much more than a third of the total costs.

      • "I am in the process of running a regression…"


        • I'm sorry that statistics is boring. Would you prefer that I just cherry-pick data and make a big fuss?

          • You are responding to Foreigner there, hosertoh. I think his comments would improve immeasurably if he actually took time to cherry-pick data and make an argument. As it is now, he mostly provides inane non-sequiturs.

          • You are responding to Foreigner there, hosertoh. I think his arguments would improve immeasurably if he actually took time to cherry-pick data and make an argument. As it is now, he mostly provides inane non-sequiturs.

  7. New piano song for Harper – Pork Barrel Polka

  8. If the money were "divided evenly" as appears to be the ideal here, then the government could have simply diviied up the entire stimulus budget and sent out a big cheque to every household in the land. "Here folks, do something stimulusy with this free money. No paying down the mortgage, you must spend it."

    That way we'd get perfect equity and peace would reign over the land. Of course, no bridges would get built, no roads would get paved and no sewers would get sunk either. But no-one would get more or less than their rightful share.

    • Isn't that the idea behind the EI reform?

    • So this was argued by many as the correct course and the main reason it was rejected was actually because it was believed that citizens would save (eg pay down debt) rather than spend the bulk of it – which would not stimulate.

      • If the government were really interested in the economy rather than in political survival the best course would have been to slash taxes in the lower and middle classes (less than $100K per year household income) and resist the urge to spend like drunken teenagers. Make investments, sure, but don't announce how much your going to spend and then start shopping around looking for something to spend it on.

        Christ, my driveway could use paving. If I'd had the foresight to apply, I probably could have got the gov't to pick up the tab for that. Ridiculous.

  9. Wow. This feels like JOURNALISM! WELL DONE!

    • Really? Why should we believe the reporters who wrote this story?

      In particular, the Chronicle-Herald representation in Ottawa, Steve Maher, reguarly grinds his axes with the Harper government in his weekend column for his paper, and then goes back to reporting "straight news' like this the rest of the week. I'm not one to autmomatically assume the big bad liberal mainstream media are out to get the Tories, but if opinion columnists are now the investigative reporters too, then I look forward to an in-depth analysis of the Conservative stimulus package from, say, L. Ian McDonald. Maybe it would show how fairly the money is being distributed and how it's creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. I assume everyone will lend it the same level of credibility as this study, yes?

      • Talk about shoot the messenger.

        But you know what? It's pretty easy for Say Anything Steve to debunk all of this fact finding by the Liberals and a rapidly increasing number of independent journalists.

        Release the numbers. All he has to do is release a simple spreadsheet with projects and actual dollar values. Just like Harper promised he would a couple of weeks ago. Just like he promised he would when he agreed to the Liberal's report card requirement. Just like John Baird promised he would when he argued for a waiver of the basic accountability protocols in implementing the stimulus. Just like the Public Budget Office has been asking and asking and asking.

        Unless of course, providing voters with actual information instead of spin would show something much worse than we already know.

      • Come on. You aren't going to pretend L Ian MacDonald is a journalist, are you?

  10. Can I make a suggestion to the media types here?

    Why don't you find a couple of big ticket projects from Liberal or NDP ridings that were specifically rejected by the Conservative government and provide the details. Don't try to prove a bias by statistical guesswork, give us some good old anecdotal evidence that we can sink our teeth into.

  11. So you think the reporters are lying?

    • My read of the story is that they took some arbitrary cut-off line for projects, looking mainly at ones worth more than $1 million, but didn't explain why that was the number that should be used. But my bigger concern is that people who get paid to express personal opinions in their newspapers are the same ones doing investigative reporting. That's a conflict.

      • They took that cut-off line because that's how Harper divides up the projects, as they write in the article. Harper, for some reason, lumps projects into price ranges of 10,000 to 90,000, 100,000 to 500,000, 500,000 to 1,000,000, 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 and 5,000,000 plus.

        It wasn't arbitrary to decide big projects were $1M plus.

        • They probably started with the 5 million dividing line and did not get the result they wanted.

        • So… does anybody know what's between 90,000 and 100,000?

          Or is that Harper's "rainy day fund"?

      • I'm surprised at the reactions of some folks to these numbers because – honestly – I have to stifle a yawn. Someone with the math skills and the interest could probably crunch the numbers but it appears to me that, outside of Quebec, these numbers show almost perfect equity. Likely less than 5% difference (plus or minus) between ridings and stimulus dollars when properly weighted.

        • Well, I'm no math genius, but I'm pretty sure that when 3 Tory ridings in Nova Scotia get $162 million more than the 8 non-Tory ridings… we're talking about a little more than 5%.

          • So why not find out what projects were rejected in the non-Tory ridings and bring the information back to the table? The very item we're discussing shows that somewhere else in the country that apparent discrepancy has been countermanded.

            All these statistics mean nothing without specifics.

          • "All these statistics mean nothing without specifics."


            Who has the specifics? The government. Who has not yet bothered to provide them? The government.

            This is not some Conservative gotcha game. This is about transparency and accountability. If the data is released and shows that the stimulus is (a) flowing and (b) distributed in a defensible way than I'll be the first to say "job well done."

          • Well, we're on the same page then…

            So far, I haven't seen a lot of concrete evidence of any wrongdoing. People are leaping to conclusions without the facts. I do think the Cons are at fault for being too grudging with the information but that's always been their way, it seems.

            To be honest, I'm quite surprised that this issue is getting so much attention. despite the sketchy evidence, at the same time as Peter McKay is being revealed as a gormless idiot who has been systematically misleading the House on a consistent basis for the past 2-3 years. About torture.

            We need to look at ourselves when we consider how horrible our leadership is allowed to be…

          • I agree with you. Except for the torture thing – I think the armed forces has done a good job.

          • I don't mean to suggest that our soldiers were participating in torture, only that the issue in the House of Commons – which has been raised over and over and over again – is whether or not our military was knowingly handing over prisoners to those who were likely to torture them. It's not just McKay, but Harper as well, who claimed repeatedly that there was "no credible evidence" that such transfers were taking place. If Colvin was trying to raise the alarm – and he clearly claims that he was and has the paper trail to back him – then the government's claims of ignorance are just not credible at all.

            It was a deliberate and sustained effort to cover-up the truth, IMO.

      • On your point about cutoffs – as Ted notes below, this is a government cutoff.

        On your point about opinion and investigative reporting – I personally find it refreshing to see that opinion columnists acutally have to do some homework before reporting an opinion. There are very few columnists in this country who actually bother to gather facts before spilling their brains onto a page. I don't read Maher so I cannot speak to him specifically, but the notion that columnists should not do reporting or investigative reporting is flawed.

      • Aren't there two newspapers colaborating on this story?

  12. This one is too funny.

    Here's a quotation for your next juxtaposition post, Aaron:

    "I just don't understand where Jack is coming from. I mean, I don't see how you say 'We've got a government that's corrupt, but you know, maybe we can get better health care.' I don't follow the logic. It would be like me saying 'Well, the government's corrupt. This is an opportunity to get a tax reduction.' Well, you know, we might get tax reduction, but we still don't think a corrupt party should be running the government of Canada."

    —- Stephen Harper, November 2, 2005 after the release of the Gomery Report

    • Since you have brought up the corruption of Adscam—-what was the percentage of the monies which were stolen from the taxpayer that went to help elect candidates from the Conservatives or the Bloc or the NDP or did 100% go to the Liberal Party.

      You really think that you have a scandal when you are showing a few % more stimulus funds going to CPC ridings then Libs—–the only ones shocked over this are Libs—–as an entitled group they have become accustomed to receiving special treatment from gov`t——-no more—–the party is over.

      • Yeah, that exactly what we're all complaining about…we miss our entitlements. The media smells blood in the water now William. Whether it's completely fair or not. I would say give a guy a break, but since we're dealing with a crowd that relishes the low road, well…what goes around comes around.

        • The media didn`t get their election, and believe me they were the only group that wanted one, so they are now flailing around, being prodded along by Kinsella, hoping for a scandal. Wait till the Auditor looks over things then make an informed decision.

          Everyone is looking a little silly here—-paying heed to an amateur internet sleuth like Ted, and reading the partisan works of a reporter who receives his tips while sniffing around ladies washrooms.

  13. Read the articles John. There is lots of discussion of the many projects that were in fact rejected. But an exclusive private school gets $500,000+???

    • I read the articles and there are only vague references to other projects and no details about them at all. Which in no way excuses public money going to support a private school. I'll be sending off my inquiries to both the federal and provincial governments on this one.

    • That isn't systemactic evidence, and it is ancillary to the question of whether the Tories are favouring Tory ridings. Rather that is asking whether the money is being spent well – a different question, and certainly one worth debating.

      As for spending money that benefits a private school – lots of private businesses are benefitting from stimulus money. Of the private enterprises out there, I would think schools rank pretty high when it comes to their public good effect.

    • That's great! Now do Newfoundland. Let's see how many went to Tory ridings there.

      Shouldn't we provide some context to these discussions? Why isolate things? Like when Wayne Easter singled out doorknobs. It wasn't just about doorknobs, it was part of a greater project.

  14. harper and the tories must go. they are pathetic and useless. the sooner the better.

  15. Refreshing that SOMEONE in the ottawa press is actually putting in the hours and doing actual RESEARCH.

    Bravo. Reporting on FACTs and INFORMATION. Who would have thought???

  16. Oh my gawd…..THIS is the scandalous preference to Tory ridings the Lib and medai are yipping about!

    Half , 1/2, of the stimulous is out and 11% more is in Tory ridings,
    and in Quebec, Liberal ridings only got half of the share of pork…so far!

    Perhaps you folks and the media want to wait just a wee bit longer until all the pork has been pushed, and the Auditor General tables her report next fall.
    11% just is not a scandal, no where near a scandal,
    and you're looking a little silly right now.

    • Right!. And meanwhile there are allegations this stimulus is doubling as a get Harper a majority slush fund. What are the chances we get an election before Fraser's report? ' So, sorry, we promise not to do it again. But since we do have this majority…'

    • In the over 1 million category.
      There's a lot of projects that don't cross that threshold.

  17. Thanks Nova,

    Good info. It would be interesting to hear some type of justification offered for this kind of discrepency.

  18. Journalists are doing their job – don't shoot them.
    If Harper & Co. were as open and transparent as they insist, then Kevin Page would be on this. The fact that he's not suggests they're being less than forthcoming.

  19. Follow me here guys.
    The municipalities have to report every quarter on the status of all stimulus projects. (that fact was in a link from Kevin Pages last report)
    The funds were approved by parliament in June, and I assume the end of September is the cut off for a quarterly report.

    It's the middle of October, 2 weeks is not enough time for a report to be compiled at the municiple level, reviewed, then reported to the Province, reports compiled, reviewed and reported to the feds.

    So what you have here is inaccurate, incomplete information.

    • They don't care, all they ever want is a stick to whack the government with. Truth is irrelevant.

      • RIght. Stupid citizens shouldn't be allowed to try to hold the Prime Minister to promises he made. Well.. at least not if he's a Conservative Prime Minister, right?

  20. It makes more sense that any anyalysis compares the DOLLAR VALUE of projects instead of the NUMBER of projects. And second, why were projects under one million dollars excluded ? Could it be that these two parameters–number of projects and over $1 million–were chosen so as to get a better anti-Harper result ?

    I know the anti-Harper crowd is in a hurry to get their "corruption" narrative established, but a fair-minded person would wait for the Auditor General to weigh in, analysing all the projects, after all the money has been allocated.

    • "after all the money has been allocated."

      John Baird, as well, thinks that would be fair.

      • Unfolding, as it should …. the universe.

    • Even the auditor general would not be able to fully quantify the extent of Harper's lies and corruption. I personally ran accross a blatant example of it this weekend. While dropping someone off at Union Station in Toronto I noticed that one of the main entrances on Front Street was blocked off by temporary fencing to restrict access to the site where a new entrance to the subway and go station below is being built. The fence around the site is completely covered by posters extolling the virtues of the Action Plan and claiming that the construction at Union Station is an example of this plan in action. Knowing how things work in Toronto and some of the history surrounding the station I checked with City Hall and lo and behold the contracts for said construction were awarded more than 2 years ago. The posters bought and paid for by our tax money are in effect another self serving conservative lie. Harper is screwing us and not even bothering to wear a condom.

      • I also checked into this—-the contract was awarded earlier but the funding is indeed from the Action Plan as part of an overall infrastructure improvement for the city of Toronto.

        • Can you go into more detail here, William? Just on the face of it you're saying the City of Toronto awarded a contract, then sat around for up to two years whistling for the funding. Now, I'm not saying I can't believe that of the City of Toronto, but how does stimulus funding have a retroactive component, exactly?

      • It's also worth remembering that Toronto's first request for infrastructure funds didn't comply with the guidelines, so the city has apparently been allowed to submit a second set of proposals which have succeeded.

  21. Are the two papers putting their dataset out publicly anywhere? CJ is right that there is more than one reasonable way to look at this data. For example, Gerald Kennedy's report stresses the number of projects in Ontario that have gone to Conservative ridings. But if you read through it for the dollar values, the story changes. The biggest recipient of announced ISF funding is a riding represented by the New Democrats, and only two of the five most successful Ontario ridings are represented by Conservatives.

  22. Harper is lucky that the the Conservative rank-and-file is as ethically-challenged as the elected officials are.

  23. "….. 57 per cent of the projects, with more than $1 million in federal funding nationwide, went to Conservative ridings. The party holds only 46 per cent …"

    I wonder if opposition even want msm to figure out what the numbers are. I think Libs would prefer msm carry their water on this topic and continue with the accusations without proof/data because I guarantee '57% of the projects but only 46% of seats' talk is not going to engross the nation.

  24. Ach, forgot to put significance stars on the ROC data.
    Tory: -77600000.00*
    housing: -797771.9
    pop: 615.2523***
    unemployment: -6655048
    constant: 1669178

    Interpretation of results. It is worth caution in a number of respects. The N of the regression was fairly low (it had few cases) meaning that including more might substantially alter the outcome of the study. Secondly, as noted, the Quebec data was particularly incomplete (especially Montreal). I don't think enough data is out there to adequately look at Montreal, though I think the case can be made that Montreal is getting screwed. Thirdly, IF the Tories are shafting urban Canadians and spending most of the money in small communities, this isn't going to be picked up by this kind of analysis (this is why my other approach – looking at Ontario communities, small and large is informative).

    That said, we do not have systematic evidence of the Tories spending money in Conservative-held cities more than opposition-held ones. The main determinant in both models was population. The impact of party in the ROC case was actually negative. The more Conservative the city, the less money it got. Economic variables were also fairly unimportant in the analysis. Changes in housing starts were significant and negative only in the Canada-wide model. That they didn't hold in the ROC should make us question their robustness. Similarly, unemployment was not significant in either case.

    What does this mean? The rationale for doling out money does not seem to be economic need, or partisanship (if anything partisanship is negative). I think at the end of the day, the critics have the wrong motive – patronage – in mind. This runs against everything we know about how Harper operates. Harper seeks, above all else, to win elections. Giving money to people that ALREADY vote Conservative, is a bad way to win elections. I posit, therefore, that another factor should explain this phenomena – marginal districts. If you controlled for cities with many potential Tory pickups, the pattern of spending should make a lot more sense.

    • I have little comprehension on what you have done here, though I do understand the final few paragraphs, but I think it is absolutely brilliant that you took the time to do these tests.

      It is much better than listening to journos whinge about government withholding information when what they really mean is they can't be bothered spending time going through the raw numbers and figuring things out for themselves.

  25. "Just a Small Detail.. CBC contacted the office of Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt to ask about the lobbyist who helped organize a fundraiser on her behalf on Sept. 24. Michael B. McSweeney is vice-president of the Cement Association of Canada.

    and is this now also related to the Quebec corruptions scandals going on presently as well.. after all some of of the biggest cement companies are in Montreal.. Lafarge Cement included.. and is this why the Conservative federal government does not want to get into Quebec's legal affairs too?