Your tax dollars at work:
In the fall of 2012, the District of Mission undertook an integrated planning initiative for its Downtown which resulted in the Mission City Downtown Action Plan. The Plan, which was made possible through $150,000 provided under the federal Gas Tax Fund, provides policies and a list of priority actions organized as discrete capital projects intended to improve the public spaces. In addition, the plan provides practical tools and incentive opportunities intended to support existing businesses and attract future downtown investment.
For those not in the know, Mission, British Columbia is about 65 km east of downtown Vancouver. It has 34,000 residents as of the 2006 Census. It took me some time with Google Maps to find the "downtown" that was being Action Planned by the Feds. It looks like many a downtown in many a small town that I've driven through here in Southern Ontario. The major banks are represented. There's a menwear store, convenience stores, real estate office etc...
I'm not exactly sure where you'd need to spend $150,000.
The roads look well enough maintained. The area does not look at all shabby. Not posh either. Quite respectable. Stephen Leacock could wander about and not feel too out of place. There's a large complex of strip malls nearby, with lots of parking, that is probably the longest term threat to the survival of the downtown. What practical tools the federal government can provide in the administration of a small town is a bit mysterious.
Recalling the British North America Act, or Constitution Act 1867 for any Trudeaupians in the audience, downtown re-development was not envisioned as a federal responsibility at Quebec or Charlottetown. How could it be? Even in our advanced welfare state society the constitutional remit of Ottawa is not quite so elastic as to include installing flower pots in small town commercial strips. The duty of the federal government is to defend the country, regulate a few key economic sectors like banking and insurance, and slosh money around between the regions (i.e. equalization, health and social transfer).
The obvious criticism is that this is vote buying pure and simple. The riding is held by Tory MP Randy Camp. Despite having captured the seat by nearly 20 points in 2011, it appears the Tory High Command feels that a little pork goes along way, especially in small town B.C. A 150k in downtown Toronto is pocket change for the Canadian Masters of the Universe who power glide down Bay Street. To capture Torontonians attention you need to pledge billions in infrastructure spending. Anything short of an elevated superhighway, or gigantic subway extension, and the denizens of the Imperial Capital will give a yawn between their latte sips.
Such pork barrelling is obnoxious but hardly new. Whatever promises the Tories made they are playing the Old Game as well as the Liberals did in Papa Jean's day. It is a sad fact of political life that a certain section of the electorate cannot be persuaded to the polls, they must be bribed. It has always been such. But the tools of modern government are far more extensive than they were in John A or Sir Wilfrid's day. When Leviathan panders today, it has the potential to undermine the federal system.
These little commented upon bits of pork barrelling are subversive to the federal system. Power and accountability should be as close to the people as possible. The guy responsible for taking care of the roads and trash should be someone whose office I can walk into and yell at. Not that I'd necessarily want to yell at a low level public servant, but I want to be able to yell and be heard. When the hum drum stuff of daily life is controlled by some anonymous paper pusher in a security enclosed, climate controlled building in Ottawa, or even one of the provincial capitals, we become that little bit less free.
A local politician has to worry about main street, because otherwise he's out of a job. The approver of this $150,000 bit of federal largess probably has only the vaguest clue where Mission, British Columbia is. He doesn't have to care. He's not accountable to the people of Mission, he's accountable to a supervisor, who's accountable to a manager, who's accountable to a director, who's accountable to some executive who, after many more layers, is finally accountable to a cabinet minister.
That minister cannot know all the thousand and one details that comprise the daily work of his department. He cannot, as a practical matter, truly hold his department to account. This means that the department functions as a force unto itself. This is the abnegation of self government. From time to time the great beast can be prodded here and there for partisan purposes, but essentially it is unaccountable.
This is how self-government erodes. In small and unnoticed ways for ostensibly worthy causes. While everyone else is worried about NSA surveillance, small town governments, once bastions of a free society, become steadily co-opted by the federal establishment. Whether Big Brother is listening may not matter very much if he's already doing everything else.