In our ongoing series we explore the fine art of bribing taxpayers with taxpayer dollars:
An investment of $195,000 from Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) will assist the Prairie Oat Growers Association (POGA) in delivering a three-part exporting initiative. The largest component will bring together equine industry experts to raise awareness of western Canadian oats amongst the U.S. equine feed industry through oat research projects.
I ask again: How would the federal government know how to diversify the western economy? Why should it even try? Diversification is a nice sounding word. The kind of word that mutual fund salesmen and politicians like to throw around. But you can't have a modern economy without specialization. Some individuals specialize in certain tasks. This also applies to cities, provinces and regions. The western economy skews toward resource extraction and agriculture because that's what makes economic sense. The very notion of government led diversification presumes that governments know what an economy should look like.
Leaving aside the impracticalities of such an approach there is its creepy authoritarian aspect.
Nor is the Prairie Oat Growers Association selling its soul at a high price. For a federal government that spends about $275 billion dollars a year, a mere $195,000 is a rounding error's rounding error. But these are small investments with potentially big political returns. Such grants are small enough to be doled out liberally, but just big enough for the recipients to be missed if ever taken away. Along with the wastefulness of such expenditures they create dependency. How eager will the Prairie Oat Growers Association be to criticize the government of the day, regardless of party, when it knows its bottom line depends on smiling and nodding?
Now replicate this process thousands of times across this country. Today it's the oat growers, tomorrow it's the Portuguese Morris Dancers, the day after it might be the Bolt Fasteners Fraternity of Greater Hamilton. Civil society steadily co-opted by Leviathan armed with a checkbook. Even if these funds don't wind up being used to manipulate certain groups to adhere to a politician's agenda, they weaken civil society nonetheless. If you're running one of these small associations the more federal money you receive the less you need to care about what your members think. All organizations orient themselves toward the source of their funding.
What goes for civil society goes for local government as well. Here is your federal government in action, this time in Alberta:
Residents of Fort Saskatchewan are enjoying safer and improved streets, thanks to funding from the federal and provincial governments.
Approximately 55,000 square metres of new asphalt have been laid at eight different sites across the city. As well, concrete curbs and gutters were repaired that will help avoid potential flooding and ensure proper storm water drainage.
The City of Fort Saskatchewan received a total of $1,848,386 for its Local Road Rehabilitation Program; $1,165,836 from the federal Gas Tax Fund and $682,550 from a provincial Basic Municipal Transportation Grant.
The sums again are quite small. Alberta is the richest province in Confederation. Fort Saskatchewan, which is located in the middle of Alberta's industrial heartland, had a population of 19,051 in the 2011 Census. Its economy is sustained by several large industries including Dow Chemical, Sherritt International, Agrium and Shell Canada. Could not the town council have coughed up $1.1 million for some basic improvements to the roadworks and gutters? Why do taxpayers in Toronto have to pay for concrete curbs in greater Edmonton? Or vice versa?
The logic behind the co-option of civil society by federal funds applies just as well to municipalities. If local politicians find that it is easier to lobby Ottawa for money, rather than govern well, why try to govern well? Why try to keep reasonable property tax rates or sensible local ordinances? Why care what local voters say or think when their support can be bought with federal largess? Such micro pork, which is hardly an invention of the current Harper government, subverts responsible government.
Pork barrel politics is more than a waste of money, it's a threat to our liberal democracy.