OTTAWA – The federal government’s $500-million stimulus fund for recreation centres, playgrounds and rinks has favoured Tories and shunned Liberal-dominated Toronto, a Liberal party analysis of spending in Ontario suggests.
Ontario ridings have received $190 million from the Recreational Infrastructure Canada Program, and the study says Conservative ridings received 34 per cent more of that money than Liberal and NDP ridings.
Toronto ridings, dominated by opposition MPs, received 60 per cent less than the average Tory riding, says the study.
The stimulus program, known as RInC, is smaller than other federal stimulus measures but is highly visible because it funds lots of small, local projects that communities crave. The money is meant to build or restore swimming pools, arenas, tennis courts, bike trails and other recreational facilities.
“It’s very politically salient,” said Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy, whose office compiled the data.
“Everybody has facilities and rec centres that need repair.”
Kennedy has spearheaded his party’s drive to demonstrate the Conservatives are using the $12 billion in stimulus money set aside in the last budget as a political slush fund. He has produced similar research for stimulus spending in New Brunswick and British Columbia.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff made similar accusations about funding to improve access for disabled people.
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, he repeated accusations that 90 per cent of that funding has gone to Tory ridings.
The Conservatives counter that the Liberals’ numbers are flawed, although Kennedy says they have not cited any errors in particular. The Tories also argue they are spending lots of money across the country, and the benefits of the spending flow throughout the economy, and don’t stay in just one riding.
In Ontario, almost all of the RInC money has been allocated, and the federal government has published a full list of approved projects, enabling the Liberals to do a complete analysis by assigning each project a riding and crunching the data.
Each riding has been given an average of $1.8 million through the fund, the research by staff in Kennedy’s office found.
But Tory ridings received an average of $2.1 million each, while opposition ridings received $1.5 million on average.
The discrepancy was also evident in the number of projects approved. On average, every riding has been given funding for 7.2 projects. But Tory ridings won 9.3 projects each, while opposition ridings won an average of 5.4 projects.
Tory MP Greg Rickford has done the most ribbon-cutting, with funding for 35 projects in his Kenora riding. In second place is Tony Clement, who is the minister responsible for administering the fund.
But Clement defended himself Wednesday, saying that since the funding is done in conjunction with provincial authorities, he would have had to hatch an unlikely conspiracy with Ontario Liberals to deliberately bias his riding.
Indeed, the Conservatives say that since almost all the stimulus funding needs provinces to match the dollars, the federal-provincial negotiations are an added guarantee that the money will be distributed fairly.
Clement told the Commons that of the money for 57 projects in Ontario worth more than $1 million, 29 non-Conservative ridings benefited.
And he said Toronto has been granted funding for hundreds of projects, many of them major.
“We are producing these projects because they mean jobs; they mean opportunity,” Clement said.
“Every part of this country must be part of the solution, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Still, Kennedy said he has found no solid correlation between the money spent and jobs created. The government is not keeping track of job creation related to stimulus, and there is no evidence that the money is being funnelled to areas with high unemployment, he said.
“This is money meant to create jobs in a fair manner, responding to a need. It’s being borrowed, it’s money we won’t have again perhaps for quite some time,” he said.
“My concern is this money is being wasted, by people with the wrong priorities, who have forgotten why they were sent to do this job.”