John Ivison: Harper government may revive direct business subsidies in effort to win Quebec, Atlantic votes
By John Ivison, National Post, December 19, 2012
“Our government’s top priorities are economic growth, job creation and long-term prosperity,” said Conservative MP Greg Kerr, as he announced the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will fork out $114,000 for a skateboard park in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
The MP from West Nova did not state the obvious — that the government’s real top priority is to get re-elected in a region where its Employment Insurance reforms have proven unpopular.
The funding announcement at the beginning of last month ushered in a Yuletide spending spree in which ACOA sprinkled $2.8-million like fairy dust across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in 17 separate “community infrastructure” improvement releases. Soon, there will be hardly a hockey rink in the region that isn’t renovated or a recreational hall roof that needs to be re-shingled....
The real concern is that the direct spending will be done by regional development agencies like ACOA, which have proven themselves to be little more than slush-funds for politicians of all stripes. “I really thought we had got out of the business of trying to pick winners a long time ago,” said one senior industry source. “This will just create jobs for bureaucrats.”
The Conservatives are aware that the training issue is at the heart of its competitiveness agenda. The Prime Minister is said to have asked federal government departments to review their funding contribution to provincial training programs, so a broad re-think of the whole training issue is pending.
But if the rumblings from deep within the bureaucracy are proven correct, the response may be less than strategic — resulting in the same quasi-political organizations that dole out money for skateboard parks simply being placed in charge of millions of new training dollars.
There is always hanging over every government in a "democracy" the spectre of an election. And with that comes the inevitable "how to" question for politicians.
In the U.S. earmarks have plagued so many worthwhile bills that went before the Congress for votes in both houses, that "the bridge to nowhere" has come to be the epitaph for those "bribes" for votes back home.
I once lived in a provincial riding in which, just before election day, the then Progressive Conservative government/party would rumble out a few work crews to "improve" the road between our small town and the next largest city nearest, demonstrating its "attentiveness" to the needs of our riding. The process was repeated for the better part of a half century during which the people in that riding put conservative candidates back into Queen's Park. How easily "bought" is the voter, it would seem.
And such cynicism is not missing in Ottawa, where the current government is perpetually campaigning, using some $50 millions of public funds to keep those "Action Canada" ads running on various television networks, and now more millions in "pork" in an overt, blatant and shameless tactic to win another majority government, through some community "baubles" similar to the gazebos that Tony Clement sprinked like "fairy dust" around the Muskoka-Parry Sound riding just prior to the G8-G-20 Conferences of a few years ago.
Only this time, it seems the public dollars are directed to Quebec and the Maritimes, both regions from which Harper's government will need increases in votes next time the election writ is issued.
Now, the training "bauble" is being dangled in front of corporate executives, as an incentive for gathering votes, and, completely incidentally, perhaps shove a few employees into training programs they would not otherwise have access to.
And, we all know that the training "sector" is filled with small and medium-sized organizations doling out "classical conditioning" "tailored" for each client, in which the tailoring amounts to putting a new cover with the client's name on it on the front of recycled Pavlovian dog tricks and today, perhaps with a DVD bearing the client's name.
So much of what passes for training is a sham, and the government and the purchasers and the providers all know it is a sham. But they all have a stake in the action, mostly for public relations purposes.
One training/consulting company out of the Ottawa Valley pushes a formula from Waco Texas onto unsuspecting government clients in Ottawa and beyond, as a way of "oursourcing" their hiring requirements. The tests that come from Waco are so decpetive that anyone answering "honestly" is immediately rejected as "too" something or other. It reminds me of the "angle" that everyone has in the movie A White Christmas, with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, centred on the entertainment business, in which a couple of aspiring female singers write a letter to Crosby and Kaye, making it look as if it came from their brother, a former colleague of the men in the military during the war. One of the sisters wrote the letter, in another shameless act of ambition, seeking an audition with the two male performers.
The "angle" of the current government is to blatantly use public money in a vote-generating scheme, planting some "training expertise" on the foreheads of a few workers, to meet the angle of the companies to demonstrate how committed they are to their workers (only the training would only be available with public money, because the companies are not really interested in spending their own money on it.
And, with every angle, there is always a sucker. Only, in this case the "sucker" is the sleepy and somewhat detached (for sanity purposes) tax payer/voter who will exclaim to visitors to their town, now spiffied-up with both baubles and new training programs, just how wonderful is the federal government (it hopes) come 2015, and the next federal election.