Quebec's $3B month: opposition says Liberal pre-election spending is a ploy to buy votes

The federal government announced more than $3 billion in spending in the province — and opposition parties say the spending was more motivated by winning votes than by good governance.

Liberals are unapologetic for spree of spending announcements in the month before the election

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a major investment for a tramway, Aug. 19 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

In Notre-Dame-de-Pontmain, a small Laurentian village with a population of roughly 800 people, a sculpture will be made to commemorate the municipality's founders. This summer, the federal government announced it will contribute $45,000 to help cover the cost. 

In Marieville, Que., population 10,000, the library will be moving out of a church basement and into a new, $900,000 building, paid for by the federal government.

And this year's edition of the Gatineau hot air balloon festival received an injection of nearly $200,000 from the federal government.

These are some of the more than 115 federal spending announcements made in Quebec between Aug. 1 and Sept. 10.

The Liberal government announced more than $3 billion in spending in the province in that time period — spending opposition parties say was more motivated by winning votes than by good governance.

It's like the Liberals would like to buy this election.- Gérard Deltell, Conservative candidate

According to Global's David Akin, who keeps a tracker of government spending, the Liberals announced $12.8 billion in spending in August alone.

"It's like the Liberals would like to buy this election," said Gérard Deltell, a Conservative candidate in Quebec City.

The practice of going on a spending spree right before an election is not unique to the Liberals; it's been done by successive governments.

"All governments have a tendency to do that, but this year, it's really very significant spending here in Quebec," said Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

"This year they spent a lot of money in Quebec, because Quebec is so important for their re-election strategy."

Deltell estimates the Trudeau Liberals spent nine times as much money in the month leading up to this year's election as the Harper government did in its dying days in 2015.

Breaking down the announcements

Between Aug. 1 and Sept. 10, the Liberals made more than 115 announcements in Quebec, totalling more than $3 billion. There is some fine print to many of the announcements: some of the money included repayable loans or funds that will be handed out over several years, and much of the money was previously announced in the spring budget.

The lion's share of spending announcements were directed to the Quebec City region, where Conservatives currently hold most seats. 

The bulk of the money was doled out in two big announcements: a $1.75-billion homelessness strategy, and $1.2 billion for a tramway in Quebec City.

There were also six dairy-related funding announcements in the province in the same time period. These announcements could be an effort to mitigate political damage done by a concession made when the government was renegotiating a trade deal between Canada and the United States.

Almost every announcement included a ribbon-cutting-style event, and many of them were in places considered to be part of potential swing ridings.

"I think that it disillusions voters even more, because there's an impression that, here we are, giving you back your money," said Green Party deputy leader Daniel Green.

He said pre-election spending is a way for a government to "hedge its bets" going into an election season.

Liberals unapologetic

In a statement, the Liberal Party did not respond to allegations that the pre-election spending was an effort to buy votes.

The statement said the government has helped the middle class by making investments across the country to help create jobs.

"This summer was a continuation of the investments we have been making in communities across the country since we took office," it said.

With files from Roberto Rocha


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