How Carleton journalism students followed the money

Last fall, students from Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication started digging through federal spending announcements from the beginning of the year. The result is Follow the Money, a project that looks at how federal money is spent and publicized across the country.
Christopher Waddell is director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University in Ottawa. (Carleton.ca)
Follow the Money project is a joint effort between Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication and the CBC.

Last fall, the school's business and financial journalism class started digging through federal government spending announcements from Jan. 1, 2013.

By going through MP and departmental websites and news releases, the 21 students followed the money trail through to the end of the year. The goal was to get a sense of how much money flowed into Canada’s 308 ridings over a one-year period and to see how regions, ridings and departments compared.

Follow the money

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

Read more from the series and explore the data here.

The class focused on money given in grants and contributions by the federal government but did not include contracts awarded by the federal government, loans, repayable contributions to projects and businesses or funds distributed from special accounts.

While the project sounds straight forward, it was complicated by inconsistencies in what is publicly announced and by whom. They include the following challenges faced by the students:

  • Almost half the 308 Members of Parliament had nothing on their individual web sites about government spending announcements in their ridings. This was true for virtually all opposition MPs but also for many on the government side.
  • The great majority of spending announcements are in ridings held by members of the governing Conservative party.
  • Opposition MPs appear to have made a collective decision not to include spending announcements by the government of Canada in their ridings on their web sites.
  • There is also considerable variation in what is announced in news releases on departmental websites. There appears to be no standard practice across government about what gets announced and how it is done.

As a result, the team realizes that despite assembling information on more than 2,700 announcements in 2013, this cannot tell the whole story.

The class used the public information it discovered to assemble a database of money and project information. Throughout the process, interesting stories and trends emerged. Some of these stories appear on these pages. The CBC team developed the students’ database into the interactive map and graphics.

We welcome your own stories, feedback and ideas about federal spending (or lack thereof) in your region. Read our stories or view the graphics and data and send us your comments below.

Christopher Waddell is director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, where he holds the Carty Chair in Business and Financial Journalism, and is a former bureau chief of CBC Television's Parliamentary Bureau.