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Pre-election purse string loosening

The winds of November appear to have ushered in more than just another Canadian winter. They�ve blown the door off the government vault – and that can only mean an election is nigh.

Paul Martin and his government decided several times during 2005 that it was well enough off to spend money on programs that were not outlined in the budget that was tabled on Feb. 23, 2005.

Each time – April/May, early October, the economic update on Nov. 14 and a flurry of announcements the following week – coincided with heightened speculation that the government was about to fall.

Here�s a breakdown of some of the initiatives announced:

Nov. 25, 2005:

Get a couple of cabinet ministers in the same city at the same time and you can be pretty sure that some kind of announcement is imminent. That was the case in Halifax as Geoff Regan, fisheries and oceans minister, and Scott Brison, in charge of public works and government services, were joined by a provincial cabinet minister to announce Halifax as the location for a new technical support operations centre for hi-tech firm Research in Motion. The company will hire 1,200 people for the centre. Both levels of government offered the company tax incentives to help make the case for Halifax.

But the biggest entry came later in the day, when Prime Minister Martin said Ottawa would spend more than $5 billion over the next five years on programs to improve the standard of living of Canada's aboriginal people.

The government committed $1.8 billion for education, with the money going to create school systems, train more aboriginal teachers and identify children with special needs.

Ottawa will also invest $1.6 billion in housing, including $400 million to address the desperate need for clean water in many remote communities. As well, $1.3 billion will go toward health services and $200 million for economic development.

Other announcements included:

    Chief of Defence staff General Rick Hillier (right) looks on as Defence Minister Bill Graham (centre) along with Public Works Minister Scott Brison announce that the federal government will go ahead with a plan to buy $4.6 billion worth of military transport aircraft, Nov. 22, 2005. (CP Photo/Fred Chartrand)
  • $1.8 million to help recruit, train and retain skilled workers in the trucking industry. Labour Minister Joe Fontana said the money would go to the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council to fund two projects.
  • $1.4 million to help promote a skilled workforce in the plastics industry. Fontana said the money would go to the Canadian Plastics Sector Council to pay for three projects to address skills in the plastics processing industry.
  • $80,000 from the Canadian International Development Agency to the International Family Farm Exchange Association. P.E.I. MP Wayne Easter says the grant will help "enhance Prince Edward Island teachers' and student-teachers' capacity to support global education projects and explore Canada's role in international development."
  • $33 million to maintain Canada's reconstruction efforts in Haiti. It took four cabinet ministers to make that announcement: Minister of International Cooperation Aileen Carroll, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pierre Pettigrew, Special Advisor for Haiti Denis Coderre, and Jacques Saada, minister responsible for the Francophonie.
  • Priceless: A 20-year vision "aimed at helping leaders in the aerospace, defence and space sectors identify where and how they can be globally competitive. Jean Lapierre, the transport minister and minister responsible for Quebec, made the announcement on behalf of Industry Minister David Emerson.
  • A 3.15 per cent pay raise for military judges announced by Defence Minister Bill Graham.
  • $1.9 billion for early learning and child care in Ontario. Social Development Minister Ken Dryden announced the deal, which was part of the $5 billion package outlined the February 23, 2005 federal budget. All 10 provinces and the territories have signed deals with the federal government for their piece of the economic pie.

Nov. 24, 2005:

Another day - a motion of no-confidence and yet another flurry of spending announcements. The big-ticket item this day would come from John McCallum, minister of national revenue and minister of natural resources. He announced a $1.5-billion new strategy "to help Canada's forest industry remain strong and sustainable in the face of increasing challenges."

Some of the money will help softwood lumber producers hurt by Washington's refusal to lift tariffs on Canadian lumber despite several NAFTA rulings in Canada's favour. The package is also designed to help communities hurt by the closure of pulp and mills.

Other announcements included:
  • $700 million to clear the backlog of people waiting to get into Canada. The five-year program - announced by Immigration Minister Joe Volpe - is designed to speed up the processing of more than 700,000 prospective immigrants who have to wait up to four years to have their applications dealt with. Volpe says the announcement has nothing to do with an imminent election call because landed immigrants don't vote.
  • $116 million to upgrade municipal and rural infrastructure in New Brunswick. John Godfrey, minister of state for infrastructure, outlined the five-year program during a stop in Fredericton. More money could be added to the pot, bringing total funding after 2010 to as much as $440 million.
  • $59 million to improve the Canadian Armed Forces airbase at Goose Bay, Labrador. Defence Minister Bill Graham flew in for that announcement.
  • $47 million to help Nova Scotia reduce greenhouse gas emissions by generating more electricity using natural gas.
  • $2 million to establish a National Chair on Aboriginal Economic Development at the University of Victoria. Keith Martin made the announcement on behalf of David Emerson, the industry minister. The B.C. government will kick in another million.
  • $735,527 to bring broadband internet services to 21 aboriginal, northern and rural communities in Quebec. Transport Minister Jean Lapierre made the announcement on behalf of Industry Minister David Emerson.
  • $656,062 to help children in Toronto "be ready for school and help them to be included in their neighbourhoods." Tony Ianno - minister of state (families and caregivers) - came up with the money for two organizations working in the social, non-profit sector in the inner city.
  • $720,074 to help with the operating costs of the Centre incubateur d'enterprises de la Monteregie. Jacques Saada, minister of Canada Economic Development, delivered the word to the organization, which helps entrepreneurs develop their hi-tech companies. It's the second grant to the centre in a year. The first was for approximately $400,000.
  • $550,000 to repair seven commercial fishing harbours that were damaged during an October storm on Lake Winnipeg. Reg Alcock, president of the Treasury Board, made that announcement on behalf of the federal fisheries minister.
  • Social Development Minister Ken Dryden didn't have specific numbers when he announced a "historic Agreement in Principle that further supports the development of quality learning and child care � for young children and their families in Prince Edward Island." It's part of the $5-billion package outlined in the Feb. 23, 2005, budget to enhance and expand early learning and child care. Later, he made a similar announcement for New Brunswick during a stop in Moncton.
  • $1.1 million to support skilled work in the policing sector. Belinda Stronach - minister of human resources and skills development - said the money will provide stable operating funds for the Police Sector Council, which was set up in 2004 "to explore and address emerging human resources issues in this sector."
  • $1.8 million for the Contact Centre Canada Council, an organization that helps service industries develop their customer contact centres. Stronach said the money will help "ensure we have skilled workers in two very important sectors we often take for granted until we need them to solve problems for us."
  • $78,700 to pay for a project by the Canadian Association for Prior Learning Assessment. Belinda Stronach says the project will integrate skilled immigrants and internationally trained people into the workforce.
  • $882,000 to support the development of Canada's skilled workforce in international trade. Stronach said the money will provide the Forum for International Trade Training "stable operating funds, allowing it to focus on responding to skills needs, representing the collective interests of industry partners, developing links with the education system and being results-based."
  • $140,000 for the Mining Industry Human Resource Council, to help address skills and labour shortages in the mining industry. Stronach said the grant will �help ensure the long-term success of our mining industry.�
  • $220,063 for an Employment Assistance Services project to help unemployed people in the Burk�s Falls, Ontario area. Andy Mitchell, the local MP, made the announcement on behalf of Stronach.
Stronach wasn't quite through for the day yet. She was in her home riding of Newmarket-Aurora to announce improvements in the delivery of government services to area residents. The renovated Newmarket Service Canada Centre "will provide an open engaging environment where individuals will be greeted and guided to the service they require."

Prime Minister Martin made a few announcements of his own - before stepping into the First Ministers Conference on Aboriginal Affairs. He took part in a video-conference on the strategic partnership between Canada and the European Union. The two sides signed three agreements aimed at making multilateralism more effective and increasing co-operation "in the fight against terrorism." They also reaffirmed their strong commitment to tackling climate change - three days before an international conference on climate change is due to open in Montreal.

And the government announced a deal that would bring money into its coffers. It�s transferring ownership of its fleet of grain hopper rail cars to the Farmer Rail Car Coalition. Transport Minister Jean Lapierre and Finance Minister Ralph Goodale say the transfer price will work out to about $205 million. The fleet consists of 12,000 rail cars.

Nov. 23, 2005:

The announcements came fast and furious. The big money pledge was $1.9 billion to compensate tens of thousands of survivors of abuse at native residential schools. Another $195 million would go to a truth and reconciliation commission.

The government denied the announcement was geared to a pending election call, saying the package was being negotiated for months.

Transport minister Jean Lapierre unveiled a $110-million plan to enhance security of passenger rail services and public transit systems. Initially, the focus would be on Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

It was a very busy day for Belinda Stronach, the minister of human resources and skills development. She made several commitments, including:
  • $1.3 million for three Alberta projects that will help integrate immigrants and internationally trained Canadians into the workforce. They range from developing tools for engineers to helping skilled workers in the environmental sector integrate into the labour market.
  • $125,165 for a project being carried out by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) to identify the roles Canadian universities can play in helping internationally trained workers, and determine the universities' capacity to deliver targeted foreign credential recognition programs and services to internationally trained workers both abroad and once they arrive in Canada.
  • $4 million for two projects being carried out by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. The projects aim to reduce barriers faced by immigrants looking to enter the workforce.
  • $139,000 through the Sector Council Program to support the development of Canada's skilled work force in the fish-harvesting sector. Geoff Regan, minister of fisheries and oceans, made this announcement on behalf of Stronach.
  • More than $300 million: Stronach and Chris Bentley, Ontario�s minister of training, colleges and universities, sign the Canada-Ontario Labour Market Development Agreement (LMDA) and a Canada-Ontario Labour Market Partnership Agreement (LMPA). The deals �ensure that Ontario workers have access to effective employment programs and services and that Ontario employers have the skilled workers required to sustain and enhance economic growth and prosperity for Ontarians.� Ottawa�s commitment is slated to rise from $525 million a year to $839 million a year by 2009-10.
  • $128.9 million, announced by Reg Alcock, president of the Treasury Board, as he took some of the load off Stonach. The money will be spent over five years on several labour market initiatives in Manitoba. Another $109 million was announced by Ralph Goodale for a similar project in Saskatchewan.
  • $120,000 announced by Raymond Chan, minister of state (multiculturalism), to help integrate immigrants and internationally trained Canadians into B.C.�s workforce.
  • $315, 836 announced by Transport Minister Jean Lapierre on Stronach�s behalf, to develop web-based resources to help ethnic communities and immigrants to access information and tools to help them find work.
  • $1.7 million to help internationally trained pharmacists and physiotherapists work in their professions in Canada.
Tony Valeri - government House leader and MP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek - announced a $30-million package to help troubled steelmaker Stelco with electricity co-generation projects. The company has cited high electricity costs as part of the reason for its financial difficulties.

No dollar amount - but an action plan from Stephane Dion, the environment minister. The plan - to consolidate the federal environmental assessment process - follows through on the October 2004 speech from the throne, which promised that the government would get its act together on environmental assessment.

Late in the day � after the stock markets closed � Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Finance, announced plans to reduce personal income taxes on dividends. Goodale said the move would help level the playing field between corporations and income trusts, and result in tax savings for Canadians. The next morning, the TSX 300 index responded by shooting up more than 200 points as trading opened.

Nov. 22, 2005:

The armed forces was the beneficiary of the big ticket item this day – $4.6 billion to replace the aging fleet of Hercules aircraft. Sixteen new transport planes could be on their way.

And from Belinda Stronach, came a pledge to spend $696,000 to support the �development of Canada�s skilled work force in the biotechnology sector� and $977,000 for the textile industry.

Nov. 21, 2005:

On the same day General Motors announced significant job cuts in Ontario, Industry Minister David Emerson announced $46 million to help DaimlerChrysler with automobile research and to refurbish its assembly plant in Windsor, Ont..

The big ticket announcement to kick off the week came from Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Joe Volpe – $920 million over five years to improve immigration services in Ontario. It�s part of the $1.3-billion immigration package revealed in the economic update a week earlier.

Andy Mitchell, the agriculture and agri-food minister, comes up with $755 million in emergency federal assistance for grains and oilseeds producers.

Nov. 14, 2005:

Finance Minister Ralph Goodale delivers an economic update. The mini-budget includes $30 billion in tax cuts to be phased in over five years, $2.19 billion over five years to improve student financial assistance, $265 million over five years to help Canadians with disabilities participate in the workforce and a return of the corporate tax cuts that were dropped to secure NDP support of the February budget.

Goodale acknowledged to reporters that the increasing likelihood of an election prompted the government to make the economic update a more �comprehensive document.�

Oct. 6, 2005:

As Canadians worried how they would cope with rapidly rising prices of home heating fuel, the government announced it would spend just over half a billion dollars to cushion the blow.

In January 2006, families entitled to receive the National Child Benefit would also receive a cheque for $250 to help with heating bills. Senior couples – where both receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement – would be eligible for the same relief. Single seniors would qualify for $125.

The government estimated it would be sending out 3.1 million cheques to low income families.

The measure was passed by Parliament in an energy bill on Nov. 21, 2005.

Spring spree

The spring was marked not only by raucous behaviour in the House of Commons, but by an unprecedented loosening of the purse strings by a man previously known for a more cautious fiscal approach.

Martin and his ministers travelled the country announcing day-care agreements, provincial accords and foreign aid. Media, the opposition and the public were left to sort out what was fresh and what was old news. The day-care money was already accounted for in the budget, as was the gas tax agreement for cities. Parts of the provincial deals were new, but not all.

The other parties, unable to do more than promise, followed the money train closely.

The Conservatives began keeping a running tally of the announcements, as of April 21 - the day Martin went on national television to ask that an election wait until the release of the Gomery report.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, in a speech to the House of Commons May 11, said, "in fact, over the past few weeks, since Jean Brault testified [to the Gomery commission], which I'm sure is a coincidence, and since the $4.6-billion agreement with the NDP, the government has announced $22 billion in spending initiatives."

The Liberals put the number at closer to $11 billion. But the difference isn't only in accounting methods.

The official Opposition counted every time the government talked about a spending commitment. So, when Martin announced about $23,000 for Enterprise Restigouche on April 21, and announced it again at another event the next day, the amount went into the Conservative tally twice.

The Conservatives said they were keeping track that way to show that Martin and the Liberals are trying to get political capital far greater than the value of the actual commitments being made.

The large numbers also leave the impression of the Liberals as drunken sailors, spending the booty. Conservative statements accuse Martin of "emptying the treasury." But the numbers aren't really related to how much is actually being spent. In fact, they don't dispute the Liberal total of $11 billion.

But the Conservatives insist that the multiple announcements leave the supposed recipients confused about whether more money is on its way or not.

On May 13, the Department of Finance released a breakdown of the spending that had been announced since the budget was tabled in February. The department estimated the total cost of the measures at $11.2 billion. About $9 billion was listed as new spending.

Since then, the government has also made a $300-million deal with Saskatchewan. While official numbers haven't been released, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale told a news conference that about 60 per cent of that deal would be new spending.

The Liberals have used the announcements both as carrot and stick. The carrot is obvious; the stick is the implication that an election would cut off the money. "So long as there is a Liberal government, this money will be there," Social Development Minister Ken Dryden said at an announcement on day-care funding.

But despite accusing the Liberals of trying to buy votes, Opposition Leader Harper has said that the federal-provincial deals announced in recent months will also be honoured. Those assurances followed letters from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities warning members that the funding could be threatened if the Liberals were defeated.

In fact, the Conservatives have said they will honour all signed agreements should they come to power.


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