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Infrastructure funds benefit federal Liberal ridings most

Government defends spending, saying bulk of money used for public transit and Liberals hold most urban seats

Liberal ridings are receiving a disproportionate share of federal infrastructure money, according to a Globe and Mail analysis, but the government says this is primarily because they are spending billions on public transit and the Liberals hold the most urban seats.

Infrastructure Canada recently posted a detailed interactive map showing where the first $14.4-billion in federal funds have been spread across the country since the Liberal government was elected in 2015.

The map features nearly 6,000 markers showing the approximate location of federally funded infrastructure projects.

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The map does not include riding boundaries, but The Globe conducted an analysis of how those projects are distributed across federal ridings.

While the Liberals currently hold 54 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons, the map shows Liberal ridings have benefited from 64 per cent of the infrastructure cash announced to date. In contrast, Conservative ridings have received 21 per cent of the federal funds, even though the party holds 29 per cent of the seats.

Ridings held by the NDP received 11.9 per cent of the federal funding, which is just below the 13-per-cent share that could be expected based on the percentage of ridings held by the party.


The infrastructure funding gap

By mapping federal contributions to the ridings

projects are located in, we get a rough idea of

how much each party is benefiting from the

government’s infrastructure spending program.

If contributions were evenly distributed, based

on ridings held, the totals are quite different.

Bloc Québécois

0

$43-million

$427-million

1

NDP

$1.7-billion

$1.9-billion

2

Conservative

3

$3.1-billion

4

$4.1-billion

5

6

7

Liberal

“Expected” amount

$7.8-billion

8

$9-billion

Actual amount

$9.2-billion

The infrastructure funding gap

By mapping federal contributions to the ridings

projects are located in, we get a rough idea of

how much each party is benefiting from the

government’s infrastructure spending program.

If contributions were evenly distributed, based

on ridings held, the totals are quite different.

Bloc Québécois

0

$43-million

$427-million

1

NDP

$1.7-billion

$1.9-billion

2

Conservative

3

$3.1-billion

4

$4.1-billion

5

6

7

Liberal

“Expected” amount

$7.8-billion

8

$9-billion

Actual amount

$9.2-billion

The infrastructure funding gap

By mapping federal contributions to the ridings projects are located in, we get a rough

idea of how much each party is benefiting from the government’s infrastructure

spending program. If contributions were evenly distributed, based on ridings held,

the totals are quite different.

$7.8-billion

$9.2-billion

Liberal

“Expected”

amount

Actual

amount

$3.1-billion

$4.1-billion

Conservative

$1.7-billion

$1.9-billion

NDP

$43-million

$427-million

Bloc Québécois

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

$9-billion

The infrastructure funding gap

By mapping federal contributions to the ridings projects are located in, we get a rough idea of

how much each party is benefiting from the government’s infrastructure spending program.

If contributions were evenly distributed, based on ridings held, the totals are quite different.

$7.8-billion

$9.2-billion

Liberal

“Expected”

amount

Actual

amount

$3.1-billion

$4.1-billion

Conservative

$1.7-billion

$1.9-billion

NDP

$43-million

$427-million

Bloc Québécois

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

$9-billion

The infrastructure funding gap

By mapping federal contributions to the ridings projects are located in, we get a rough idea of

how much each party is benefiting from the government’s infrastructure spending program.

If contributions were evenly distributed, based on ridings held, the totals are quite different.

$7.8-billion

$9.2-billion

Liberal

“Expected”

amount

Actual

amount

$3.1-billion

$4.1-billion

Conservative

$1.7-billion

$1.9-billion

NDP

$43-million

$427-million

Bloc Québécois

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

$9-billion


The analysis provides a general sense of infrastructure spending trends, but the way the government presents the data creates challenges in reaching firm conclusions. The map attributes all projects to a single location, even though larger projects such as public transit systems or waste-water treatment upgrades will inevitably benefit more ridings than just the one where the marker is located.

For that reason, Liberal officials strongly dispute any conclusion that suggests the government is favouring Liberal ridings.

"At no point in the review process – either at the ministerial or minister's office level – does a project get assessed based on which party holds the seat in which the project resides," said Kate Monfette, a spokesperson for federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi.

Ms. Monfette noted that public-transit projects – which are the largest component of federal infrastructure spending – will inevitably benefit Liberal ridings. "By its nature, public transit requires density, which means the majority of public-transit investments will take place within cities, where we find a significant number of Liberal seats," she said.

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Ms. Monfette said projects are selected by municipalities and the provinces and Ottawa's role is simply to ensure they meet the criteria. She said the minister has never rejected a project that was deemed to have met federal guidelines. "We are proud of the investments we have made to date and that these were made on nothing other than merit and need as dictated by those partners," she said.

Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who continues to monitor federal spending as president and chief executive officer of the University of Ottawa's Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, said there is a long history of governments using infrastructure spending for political gain and that such activity should be closely monitored.

Mr. Page said Ottawa has not set out a clear and objective ranking of Canada's most pressing infrastructure needs, which then leads to questions over how certain projects are selected over others.

"Absolutely, there's politics all over this in how projects get selected," he said, speaking generally of how governments promote their infrastructure spending. "If we really want to open this up a little bit more and we want to depoliticize some of the decisions, we need to do the hard work of needs assessments."

The analysis of the government's data provides a strong contrast when it comes to ridings represented by a cabinet minister. Those ridings are shown to have received $86.8-million, on average, in federal infrastructure funding. Ridings held by backbench Liberal MPs have received $50.7-million on average, while opposition-held ridings have received an average of $35.1-million in federal funds.

At that more detailed level, the findings are particularly affected by the fact that some large citywide projects are listed on the map as being located in a minister's riding.

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Another way to examine the numbers is by adjusting federal spending for population, since Liberals hold some of the most populous ridings in Canada, as Ms. Monfette noted. Combined, Liberal ridings received $565 a person, while ridings held by all other parties received $330 a person. An imbalance remains even when all public transit funding of more than $100-million is removed in an effort to address the distorting effects of large projects that benefit more than one riding.

In that scenario, Liberal ridings received $399 per capita while opposition-held ridings received $292.

Removing public transit spending above $100-million also shows the Liberals received 59 per cent of federal funding while holding 54 per cent of seats.

To date, most of the projects that dot the government's map are relatively small. Examples include $25,000 toward upgrades of the Sheringham Point Lighthouse on Vancouver Island and $200,000 to upgrade a reserved bus lane at the University of Sherbrooke.

When the Conservatives were in office, The Globe found similar trends in which ridings held by the governing party benefited from more infrastructure money than would be expected by party standings in the House.

The $14.4-billion in spending is spread across five categories. Public transit is the largest, representing $5.6-billion of that amount, while rural and Northern communities is the smallest, at $58.6-million. The other categories are trade and transportation, green and social infrastructure.

"The Liberal infrastructure agenda has always discriminated against suburban and rural Canadians and this data suggests that that bias continues," Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said. "All taxpayers contribute to these programs and therefore all of them should have equal benefit from them, even if they don't vote Liberal."

Infrastructure announcements under the Liberal government come from long-running programs that were already in place when the party took office in 2015, as well as from new spending under what the government called its first phase of infrastructure spending, worth $11.9-billion over five years.

Mr. Sohi, the Infrastructure Minister, is currently in negotiations with the provinces and territories to strike bilateral deals outlining the rules for a promised second phase of spending – worth $33-billion – over the next decade.

The second phase will primarily focus on large public-transit and green infrastructure projects. Separate federal funding has also been announced under the umbrella of social infrastructure for projects such as social housing.

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