British Columbia·Analysis

We looked at every B.C. government spending announcement over the past month. Here's what we found

A look at every B.C. funding announcement the government made over a one-month period reveals some interesting choices in messaging.

While the amount of money is evenly distributed throughout the province, the announcements are not

A press release was sent out after a $6,350 grant was given to the Stewardship Pemberton Society to connect One Mile Lake Nature Centre to municipal services, in a riding held by B.C. Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy. (One Mile Lake Nature Centre )

Yes, Virginia, it is election season, and every day, the releases come fast and furious from the Government Communications and Public Engagement office, which documents all official news from the B.C. government. 

$2.56 million to the District of Sparwood to improve the Middletown Crossing at Highway 3 and 43.

$637,468 for bike pathways in the Vernon and Coldstream area.

$3.3 million for a new eastbound passing lane on Highway 3 west of Fernie. 

And those were just three of the ten releases on March 13 alone.

Not every announcement the government makes on its website is about new spending: some are about events, government programs and recognizing members of the public for good deeds, among other things. 

But a significant number are about spending. With less than two months until the provincial election, it matters where those funds are going — and which decisions are more deserving of news releases than others.

Over $1 billion dollars in one-time spending

CBC News looked at all announcements of one-time spending from the provincial government between Feb. 14 and March 13.

All told, there were 107 separate funding announcements that went out during that period: 84 were for funds going to Liberal ridings, compared to just seven for NDP ridings and 16 that were for funding across the province. 

The total amount $1,040,982,091 — each one of which is detailed in this spreadsheet — the largest being $247 million for upgrades to Highway 1 near Golden. 

But of that money, about $536 million went to projects in ridings held by the B.C. Liberals, $274 million went to projects in ridings held by the NDP, and $230 million went to projects where money didn't affect any one particular riding, such as $9 million for the Rick Hansen Foundation, or $4 million in immediate funding for paramedic equipment.

So why the discrepancy in announcements? 

Grant announcements only in Liberal ridings

The answer comes from how the government chooses to publicize a variety of annual grants and funds that different organizations and local governments can apply for. 

For example, in one release on March 11, the government announced $43.5M in funding for 26 new infrastructure projects across B.C., under the Small Communities Fund. 

In one release, the government announced $860,000 for six projects in the Peace River region, including $200,000 for various initiatives in Tumbler Ridge.

They followed that with 11 separate releases about infrastructure in various parts of the province. Each one was in a riding held by the B.C. Liberals, and each one — such as $3.08 million for improving 4.8 kilometres of Pleasant Valley Road in the Vernon-Monashee town of Spallumcheen — came with detailed background information and quotes from the local MLA that can be used for local news stories

It was a similar situation with the Rural Dividend Fund or a grant program that focuses on projects for seniors: releases happened for very small grants in Liberal-held ridings (the smallest of which was $6,350 for engineered drawings to connect a nature centre to municipal services in Pemberton), but very rarely in NDP-held ones.

Government says no targeted media program exists 

Minister of Advanced Education Andrew Wilkinson, who oversees the Government Communications and Public Engagement branch, was adamant that politics don't dictate which funding announcements get separate news releases and which ones don't. 

"I'm not aware of any targeted media program in terms of which ridings are receiving grants," he said. "Media releases are structured in a way to get information out to all British Columbians."

But Dermod Travis, executive director of Integrity B.C., says the government's communication arm shouldn't be sending out so many press releases.

"Andrew Wilkinson defends these news releases on the point that the public wants to know. Well why is it that the public only seems to want to know in Liberal ridings, and not in opposition ridings? The government has a responsibility to make sure all of the public knows about all of the projects, not just their ridings," he said.

"If you want to work an advertising agency, work for an advertising agency. If you want to do government communications, it has a different tone. It requires less but better quality output in what we see." 

Note: This list doesn't include the provincial budget or multi-year commitments, but does include grants from various funds, the announcement of transportation upgrades and contracts tendered from them, and joint spending agreements between the provincial and federal government. 

With files from Richard Zussman