Opposition ridings receive lion's share of FedNor funding

Your small business, arena or city is more likely to receive a FedNor grant if your Northern Ontario riding is held by the NDP, an examination of all FedNor funding announced through press releases in 2013 shows.
NDP MP Charlie Angus says it is part of his job to tell his constituents about government programs, but governments generally like send their own backbench MPs out to take credit for government spending. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Your small business, arena or city is more likely to receive a FedNor grant if your Northern Ontario riding is held by the NDP, data analysis shows.

In an examination of all FedNor funding announced through press releases in 2013, nearly all NDP ridings received more funding than their Conservative counterparts.

Follow the money

A series on 2013 federal spending announcements by students from the Carleton School of Journalism.

Read more from the series and explore the data here.

In the calendar year 2013, FedNor gave out a total of $39 million, according to government press releases. (The press releases cover the vast majority of FedNor funding, which for fiscal year 2012-13 was $41.57 million.)

Of that, $27 million went to five NDP ridings (an average of $5.4 million per riding) and roughly $9 million went to three Conservative ridings (an average of $3 million per riding.)

FedNor is the federal government’s economic development agency for Northern Ontario.

Out of the nine Northern Ontario ridings, three are Conservative, five are NDP, and one is held by the Greens.

The largest amount of money for a single riding went to the NDP riding of Thunder Bay–Rainy River, which received $10 million.

The riding with the smallest total funding was Tony Clement’s riding of Parry Sound–Muskoka, with $1.9 million.

With significantly more money delivered to NDP ridings, are the Conservatives being generous or trying to buy votes for the next election?

Political considerations are a possibility, said Jonathan Malloy, a political science professor at Carleton University,

But party politics don’t play out in Northern Ontario the same way they do in the south, he said.

“In more urban areas, grants often have a fairly political tinge to them. But in those rural areas, the communities really live and die on those government grants much more,” Malloy said.

Greg Rickford, the minister responsible for FedNor, did not respond to a request for comment, but a FedNor spokesman said projects are submitted to FedNor from a broad base of proponents in the public and private sector.

"FedNor evaluates those proposals based on established and published criteria relating to economic development priorities and job creation," said Peter Williams in an email.

Taking credit or sharing information?

While many opposition MPs don’t mention government funding on their websites, Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins–James Bay, actively publicizes his riding’s FedNor grants.

His riding received the second-highest amount of FedNor funding, with more than $8 million. It also received the largest number of announcements from FedNor, with 36 in total.

In January, Angus was criticized during question period by Conservative MP Bryan Hayes (Sault Ste. Marie) for promoting funds given by the Conservative government.

Angus said he’s simply making his constituents aware of the grants so they can benefit.

“It’s an attempt by government partisans to pretend that the money that’s being invested somehow comes from their pocket or from their party,” Angus said. “[But] it comes from the government of Canada that’s paid through the taxpayers.”

“There’s this myth the government parties always like to put out that you have to vote for [them] or you don’t get a dime . . . the reality is that the federal government has obligations to all regions of the country,” Angus said.

Instances of preferential funding has happened in the past in both Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan, said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

“If you wanted to win votes in a constituency, often what you would do is go [into the riding] and say ‘look, if you don’t vote for us, you aren’t going to get any money. If you want your roads paved, you vote for us,’” Wiseman said.

But despite the criticism, Angus’s decision to align himself with funding has political advantages, without significant risk of promoting the Conservatives, Wiseman said.

“That constituency is going to stay NDP next time,” Wiseman said. “It doesn’t matter if Charlie Angus puts out a press release or not.”

Marina von Stackelberg is a 4th-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa. This story is part of a project by the Carleton School of Journalism on federal spending announcements in 2013.