As it enters its final months, Canada’s Economic Action Plan is beginning to feel a little more like a $62-billion game show than a stimulus program, a little Deal Or No Deal, a little Beat The Clock.
In Ottawa, where the scheme was hatched, we last week watched our local government plot a $31-million use-it-or-lose-it shopping spree with leftover funds from the program.
City staff found $18 million or so in projects for the mad money and our councillors, most running for re-election next month, are doing their utmost to find ingratiating uses for the rest of it.
It’s not that the city doesn’t have a lengthy wish list of infrastructure repairs and improvements. It always does. Priority, however, could not be given to the most needed projects, but rather those that were “shovel ready,” and could be completed by the federal government’s March 31, 2011, deadline. Nothing matters so much as haste.
So, no down payments on light rail or new central libraries. Instead, we’re contemplating last-minute impulse buys like a new $400,000 judge’s tower for the Rideau Canoe Club. I’m sure it will be very nice.
The $401 million in stimulus pumped into this area has kept the jackhammers, detours and flagmen going all summer, with no signs of a slowdown this fall. I’m not complaining. It’s given columnists plenty of work, too.
Earlier this month, I witnessed yet another grand opening, this time the Sawmill Creek Pathway, a paved 1.2-kilometre bike trail connecting Walkley Road to Hunt Club.
It was a somewhat desolate spot, but easily found thanks to the big Action Plan sign in Conservative party colours. As the Canadian Press has reported, these signs have been a particular government preoccupation, with the prime minister receiving updates on their numbers and placement, and a portion of funding withheld until proof of proper signage was obtained.
Provincial Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli, Mayor Larry O’Brien and Coun. Maria McRae were in attendance to say some kind things about one another, but from the federal side, neither federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Chuck Strahl nor Nepean-Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre could make it to the party. Strahl did, however, send a nice note.
Perhaps this gruelling campaign of ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings across the country is beginning to take its toll on the Tories in the form of announcement fatigue. And we’ve still got more than six months to go.