This being awards season, my nomination for book of the year is a perennial personal favourite: the Canadian Subsidy Directory 2013. As the front-cover puts it: “More than 3,000 programs listed, including: descriptions, telephones, addresses [sic] and hyperlinks.”
The plot structure isn’t as convoluted as in many of our more postmodern novels — the presentation is alphabetical. But the wealth of detail is worthy of Tolstoy and the insight the book provides into the kaleidoscopic passions of modern government is unforgettable — even if it doesn’t include data for Quebec. (There’s a separate volume for what’s likely the country’s most subsidizing province.) The simple cumulation of mind-numbing minutiae builds to a thundering implication for the Canadian experience: Anyone who believes our governments need to be bigger had better spend an hour or two scrolling through these pages.
In fairness, not all of the 3,051 subsidies, grants and loans listed are from government. Who knew there was a Canadian Parking Foundation? Well, there is, and in 2010 it gave $10,000 to a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania to study “the effects of site parking on home values in New York City.”
In fact, the CPF’s research program gives two grants annually for research leading to “the solution of problems in parking.”
Edmund Burke believed that to love the “little platoon we belong to in society” was “the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.” Who knew this first link could be a love of parking?
But the great bulk of subsidies in the Canadian Subsidy Directory are not offered by the little platoons but by the leviathan, government, itself, all the way from A to, well, not quite Z but Y. From “Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada” all the way to “Yukon Technology Innovation Centre Fund.”
The attractive “Invest Yukon” web page that the Yukon Technology Innovation Centre Fund links to tells investors that Yukon offers “a wide range of programs and incentives.” Recall that Yukon’s population is a little over 36,000.
Innovation is also big outside Yukon. In fact, the word appears 162 times in the Canadian Subsidy Directory. That doesn’t mean there are 162 separate innovation programs. “Innovation” can be used more than once in describing a separate program. Suppose it’s used on average three times per description.
That means there are more than 50 different programs across the country encouraging innovation — in addition to the piles of profits most businesspeople realize successful innovation can lead to. The next time any minister anywhere proposes a new program for innovation, someone should ask why the existing 50-plus programs aren’t enough.
Another big word in the subsidies directory, in fact maybe the biggest of all, is “film,” which appears a whopping 393 times. There’s the National Film Board of Canada (including an Aboriginal Filmmaking Program). There’s Telefilm Canada, the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, the New Brunswick Film and Video Tax Credit, Manitoba Film & Sound, the Alberta Film Commission, British Columbia Film, Sask Film, and, inevitably, Yukon Film and Sound Commission.
(Yukon’s 36,000 people have their own film and sound commission, plus at least four separate programs: Yukon Film Development Fund, Yukon Film Locations Incentive Program, Yukon Film Production Fund and Yukon Filmmakers Fund.)
It seems to me a couple of other subsidies are missing from this otherwise exhaustive compilation. One is the Average Taxpayer Subsidy, which should be awarded annually to average taxpayers who go about their business from year to year without asking for any grants or special favours from any level of government. There are so few such people, evidently, that it won’t cost governments very much.
The other missing subsidy is a free copy of the Canadian Subsidy Directory 2013 for every legislator and journalist in the country. Maybe if they all knew how much is going on already they wouldn’t be quite so quick to ask for more.
You can get your own online access (for $69.95, alas) at grantscanada.org.
William Watson teaches economics at McGill University.
© Copyright 2013