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Fans watch a hockey game played on the Olympic size ice rink in the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex, a recipient of federal stimulus spending, in Waterloo Ont. (J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail)
Fans watch a hockey game played on the Olympic size ice rink in the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex, a recipient of federal stimulus spending, in Waterloo Ont. (J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail)

Stimulus program favours Tory ridings Add to ...

A high-profile Harper government stimulus fund that builds hockey rinks and other voter-friendly infrastructure projects has funnelled about 38 per cent more cash, on average, to Conservative ridings than to those held by the opposition in the election battleground province of Ontario.

A detailed analysis by The Globe and Mail of more than 750 projects funded by Ottawa's Recreational Infrastructure Canada (RInC) program showed that Tory ridings received an average of $2.1-million, compared to $1.5-million on average for opposition constituencies. RInC funds the building or renovation of recreation infrastructure, from rinks and recreation centres to playgrounds and pools.

By comparison, if each of Ontario's 106 ridings received an equal share of RInC spending to date, all constituencies would have received $1.7-million. Instead, Conservative ridings are getting, on average, more than $579,000 in additional funding compared to Liberal or NDP seats.

The findings bolster a growing impression that the Tory government is using economic stimulus dollars to reward those who voted Conservative. Earlier this month, for instance, a Halifax newspaper found that federal stimulus infrastructure spending in Nova Scotia was strongly skewed in favour of Conservative ridings.



In effect, Mr. Harper is saying that some children who need recreation facilities are worth less than others. Liberal infrastructure critic Gerard Kennedy


The $500-million Recreational Infrastructure Canada (RInC) fund is part of a $47-billion, two-year effort by the federal government to prop up the economy after the sharpest downturn in decades. It was undertaken in concert with governments worldwide to combat a global recession and has led to the biggest spending spree in a generation.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper disputed the notion that Tory ridings are being favoured but said the record is a testimony to the efforts of his MPs in tapping stimulus cash for their voters.

"Conservative MPs have been working very hard, obviously, in many cases securing projects for their ridings," Mr. Harper said. "I would encourage the other parties to work equally hard."

Liberal infrastructure critic Gerard Kennedy, whose party released a study of the Ontario RInC fund Wednesday with similar findings, charged that a partisan bias is clearly at work.

Mr. Kennedy said it's up to the government to ensure stimulus cash is distributed more evenly.

"In effect, Mr. Harper is saying that some children who need recreation facilities are worth less than others, that some unemployed Canadians who need jobs are worth less than others, simply if they live in the majority of ridings that did not elect a member of his party," Mr. Kennedy said. "It's utterly unacceptable."

The list of RInC projects was obtained from Industry Canada's website and a government spokeswoman said on October 17 that this represented the up-to-date tally of Ontario disbursements.

The five ridings that received the most cash

Amount of funding

Riding

Party

MP

Margin of victory

$6,755,843

Kenora

Conservative

Greg Rickford

2,051 votes

$4,771,716

Kitchener-Waterloo

Conservative

Peter Braid

17 votes

$4,726,789

Oxford

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie

14,744 votes

$4,057,833

Ottawa Centre

NDP

Paul Dewar

5,141 votes

$4-million

Essex

Conservative

Jeffrey Watson

5,635 votes



Industry Minister Tony Clement, who is responsible for the Ontario RInC program, doesn't deny that Tory ridings do well. "We have a lot of Conservative ridings in Ontario, more than we had in the previous Parliament," he said in an interview. "So it should come as no surprise that they do well out of this infrastructure plan. They have a lot of needs."

But Mr. Clement said the RInC projects aren't selected by the Harper government alone. They're joint efforts with Ontario's Liberal government, a partnership that he said should dispel the sense there's a bias toward Conservative ridings at work.

"This was not Tony Clement sitting in a room somewhere deciding where to put this money," he said.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said that the infrastructure program was structured to invite abuse by the governing party.

"They've gone back to the old Chrétien-style of infrastructure programs where you make endless announcements with your pictures [of]Members of Parliament and your party colours all over the place instead of actually getting the work done."

But Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said if a riding's voting record mattered, the Liberal Party's stronghold of Toronto would have gone empty-handed.

"If we had done that there would have been no projects in the city of Toronto," Mr. Flaherty said.

Toronto has received about $29-million under RInC Ontario disbursements so far.

The Globe and Mail's analysis to date shows that NDP ridings are getting more than their fare share of RInC cash while Liberal constituencies are comparatively under-funded. If all ridings were apportioned equally, each would get $1.7-million under RInC funding to date. But the Liberals on average are receiving $1.4-million and the NDP $1.8-million.

Mr. Clement said one reason the Tory ridings are receiving significant RInC cash is that many are rural and have more disparate and varied demands.

With reports from Tara Perkins and Stephanie Chambers in Toronto and John Ibbitson in Ottawa

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