Yesterday I gave a speech on my recent study on how having multiple levels of government involved in the same program areas erodes accountability. Unfortunately, federal involvement in provincial and municipal areas has become so routine that no one bats an eyelash when a Mayor attends a ribbon cutting with a federal and provincial cabinet minister. While there are reasonable arguments for some form of transfers from the federal government to lower levels of government (I argue that the GST and fuel taxes are good examples), having federal politicians jetting around the country handing out cheques is wasteful, and prone to politicization.
While Canadians understand that this is happening, I don’t think many people appreciate just how routine it has become. I pointed out, for instance, that a Winnipeg MP was recently in Calgary announcing funding for the Calgary Opera Association. Though this could tenuously fit under the mission of the Heritage department, the MP in question does not even hold that portfolio. The associated travel costs aren’t even the problem. What is troubling is how routine it has become to turn every spending announcement into a photo op. The banality of these opportunistic moves has allowed federal politicians to sprinkle money around the country at every opportunity with scarcely a cynical sneer from the media.
As a thought experiment, I recommended that audience members each choose a cabinet minister, and take note every time they make a spending announcement. Try this for a few months, and I have little doubt that you’ll stumble on some bizarre examples of the federal government intervening in local and provincial issues. If you find any particularly amusing examples, please don’t hesitate to send them my way (firstname.lastname@example.org).