Federal Tories, N.B. Liberals team up for week-long spending blitz
New school, art gallery expansion, water systems, and seniors projects among the announcements
Crisis? What crisis?
If you were following federal and provincial politicians around New Brunswick this week, you might be forgiven for thinking that governments at both levels are rolling in cash.
The Gallant Liberals, bruised after weeks of defending controversial daycare and nursing home policies, were all smiles as they touted funding, ranging from $21.6 million for a new elementary school in Saint John, to $10,000 for a community garden in Pokemouche.
And the Harper Conservatives, facing a tight re-election race later this year, were equally prolific, with what they call "investments" ranging from $1.5 million for the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, to $25,000 to train senior citizens to help promote the historic McAdam train station.
In some ways, the wave of announcements were similar: both governments are hoping to boost their popularity, and both took advantage of breaks — from the House of Commons in Ottawa and the legislature in Fredericton — to make the rounds.
But they're also different: the federal government is projecting a small surplus this year, while the province is distributing money even as it struggles with how to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in spending.
Politicians at both levels defend the blitz of announcements and photo-ops.
And while Ashfield's Tory allies at the provincial level have denounced the Liberal blitz as a shameless bid to influence public opinion polls, Liberal minister Donald Arseneault says he and his colleagues are just doing what Ashfield is doing: informing the public.
Even small announcements worth ten or fifteen thousand dollars "are just as important" as the large ones, he says.
"They should be celebrated and they should be pointed out by government to give them the visibility and the attention they actually deserve."
Put aside differences
Often, the two governments put aside their bickering to work together to spend even more money.
Gallant's Liberals have criticized Ottawa for reforms to Employment Insurance and health care transfer payments, while Harper's Tory MPs in New Brunswick have occasionally taken shots at Gallant's provincial budget.
But they do seem to agree on one thing: how to spent taxpayers' money.
This week, Gallant and federal cabinet minister Rob Moore announced that Ottawa and the province had agreed to jointly spend $118 million over two years under a new Small Communities Fund.
And Arseneault shared a stage with federal minister Bernard Valcourt to announce $889,000 for water system upgrades in Dalhousie.
"Although we may be from different political parties," Arseneault said, "we all have the same objective. We have our region and our province at heart.
"If we can move things forward, we'll do that. We'll put our differences aside for the betterment of the community."
Arseneault also says there's no contradiction in several of the provincial announcements taking place at the same time his colleague Victor Boudreau was holding consultations on how to cut spending.
"Although we are trying to find efficiencies in the system, it doesn't mean all the programs are abolished."
A partial list of government announcements in New Brunswick in the last week:
- Woodstock High School sprinkler system, $1.1 million.
- New Saint John elementary school, $21.6 million over three years.
- Rogersville school upgrades, $8 million over three years.
- Four announcements of 27 Environmental Trust Fund projects totalling $794,500.
- École Champlain in Moncton, a sod-turning and reannouncement of $24.5 million in work over the next two years.
- Riverview High School upgrades, $3.82 million this year and $1.45 million next year.
- Official openings of the new Moncton High School and École des Pionniers in Quispamsis, both of which were funded by the previous Progressive Conservative government's budgets.
- Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, $1.5 million.
- Three seniors projects in the St. Stephen area totalling $29,000.
- Nine seniors projects in the Fredericton area totalling $250,000.
- Kingswood Park loan of $500,000 to help fund expansion.
- General announcement of Small Communities Fund worth $118 million in New Brunswick over 10 years.
- Grand Falls water system: $1.4 million from each government.
- Dalhousie water system: $886,729 shared by both governments.
- St. Stephen water system: $2.8 million shared by both governments.
- Moncton city buses: $1.82 million from the province with "consideration" of up to $2.7 million by Ottawa.