Maybe you have a weakness for caviar. Or enjoy strolling along a rugged trail by the Atlantic Ocean or shopping at farmers' markets in British Columbia.

Maybe you wish you knew more about your Ukrainian relatives who suffered through the famine of 1932-33.

As the clock ticked toward the federal election call on Sept. 7, the federal Conservative government saw virtue in all those things, too, including them in the billions of dollars they were spreading around.

Observers have seen this all before. In fact, the Conservatives soundly criticized the Liberals for announcing billions in spending before the 2006 election.

Amid the $19.2 billion in federal government spending announcements between June 2 and Sept. 6 were high-profile announcements like $80 million for a Ford engine plant in southern Ontario, more than $500 million for expansion projects at CFB Trenton and more than $300 million to Ontario tobacco farmers to quit growing tobacco.

There was also a $45,000 loan for a sturgeon caviar producer in New Brunswick, $565,000 for expansion of the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland and $50,000 for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

Those on the receiving end welcomed the support and question what role politics played in the announcements.

Paving trucks on the way

Larry LeDuc, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, remembers an old Maritime saying: "You could tell an election was coming when you saw the paving trucks coming."

And sure enough, paving trucks will be rolling after the Conservatives' raft of announcements, which also include traditional infrastructure projects such as road widening, sewer repairs and community centre construction.

The spending list goes on — to 19 pages in fact, in very fine print, as recorded by the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, a non-profit group dedicated to advocating for lower taxes.

Other announcements included up to $2.9 million set aside to search for new markets for spinach producers and $219,000 for the B.C. Association of Farmers' Markets to develop a strategic plan.

The wide range of funding is no shock for the federation's research director, Adam Taylor.

"Handouts from the government come in all shapes and sizes," he said, noting the Liberals did exactly the same thing in the run-up to the 2006 election.

The government itself insists the flurry of funding announcements was only business as usual, and had nothing to do with the fact Prime Minister Stephen Harper was getting ready to pull the plug on Parliament.

LeDuc looks at this summer's announcements and sees a certain crassness to them, a sense they came very quickly, particularly with the number of announcements in the past month or so.

"It made them look a little … tied to the election call," he said.

Vote-buying or a welcome boost?

Determining the impact, political and otherwise, of a flurry of pre-election funding announcements — particularly those which are relatively small in scope — is an inexact science.

"Spending could become an issue, if other parties make an issue of it," said Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto.

Wiseman considered the flurry of pre-election spending announcements to be nothing new in Canadian politics.


'Definitely it's not politics,' says Cornel Ceapa, left, owner and operator of Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Inc. in Carters Point, N.B. ((Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Inc.))

"It reveals the Conservatives are following in the steps of the Liberals," he said.

But many of the projects are also relatively small in scope, and "might just be part of what the government does anyway," Wiseman said. Any impact they might have might be quite localized, where the announcement gets a report in a local paper or on the local radio station.

"Definitely it's not politics," Cornel Ceapa, owner and operator of Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Inc. in Carters Point, N.B., said of the timing of the announcement on Sept. 4 of the $45,000 loan that will help the company install a new temperature control and water quality treatment system.

"Every help is good especially for development," he said. "We sit on a treasure here in New Brunswick and we should use it."

Ceapa said the announcement "was kind of pushed by me."

The company had been working on the funding request since the end of January and had expected the process to take about two months. But some financial hurdles had to be met before the funding was announced by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

"It's really something we were waiting for for a long time," Ceapa said.

'Making progress'

The East Coast Trail Association was also waiting for quite a while for the $565,000 announced Sept. 4 that will be used for development of a 34-kilometre section of the scenic trail along the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland.

"We knew in July the money was going to come to us," said Geoff Emberley, vice-president of trail development for the association.

Emberley said it's "very hard to tell" if politics played any role in the timing of the funding announcement and noted the project had to proceed through the bureaucratic process and meet several requirements.

"We didn't go the political route at first," he said. Later, however, in the last couple of weeks before the announcement, they did get in touch with local politicians, and Emberley thinks support from local Conservative MPs Norm Doyle and Loyola Hearn helped.

Emberley said the funding is "critical" for the trail. "Without that, we wouldn't be making near the progress we're making now."

While recipients such as the trail association welcome the funding boosts, there's no guarantee they'll translate into a broader success for the Conservatives at the ballot box.

Taylor, of the taxpayers' federation, only has to point to the experience of the 2006 election, when its tracking showed the Liberals offered up spending announcements worth $24.5 billion in the three weeks prior to the vote.

And they lost.

"These types of spending sprees don't necessarily influence the electorate," Taylor said. "I think people are cynical enough about politics and politicians in general to see through this type of blatant electioneering on the eve of a campaign."