On eve of election, goodies piling up on the Island

Government ministers hand out millions for everything from fish to overpasses

Cheques and funding commitments were flying around the Island again this week, as federal ministers kept up a torrid spending pace ahead of the Oct. 21 election.

Government ministers handed out about $34 million worth of funding commitments in the region on Monday for everything from enhancing salmon habitat to building overpasses — part of nearly $160 million dedicated to projects around B.C.

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On the Island this week, federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced $16 million for the Keating Cross Road overpass and $2.2 million for four fish habitat and recovery programs, while Ottawa sent the first of two $140-million Gas Tax Fund cheques to communities around the province, including $15.8 million in Greater Victoria.

Freshly pressed federal ministers behind mobile podiums have become a regular sight across the country over the last few weeks, with the government making a point of drawing attention to its spending commitments — most made in earlier budgets — to housing, Indigenous communities, infrastructure and the environment before the writ is dropped for this fall’s election.

According to Global News, which has been tracking federal spending, the federal Liberals made 330 spending announcements totalling $2.85 billion across the country between Aug. 19 and Aug. 25. The week before that, there were 595 spending commitments announced worth a total of $4.9 billion.

In comparison, Global News noted Stephen Harper’s Conservative government made 604 spending announcements worth $1.4 billion in the full month before the 2015 federal election.

University of Victoria political scientist Jamie Lawson said chequebook politics is built into Canada’s DNA and should not come as a surprise, with an election expected to be called in the first two weeks of September.

“It does help a government, or at least they perceive it does, to soften sentiments toward them by creating these announcements near election time,” said Lawson, adding, however: “It is peculiar in our setting, because so many of the seats are not viable.”

The fact that the Liberals have peppered the region with funding announcements even though they are expected to struggle for votes on Vancouver Island has Lawson wondering if they’re playing a longer game than just winning seats in the fall.

He said the goal might be to at least keep some Island voters from voting Green.

There are currently just two sitting Green MPs, leader Elizabeth May of the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding and Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly, making the Island fertile Green territory.

“The Liberals may not want a strengthened Green presence in parliament if they are looking at [the possibility of] a minority government,” he said, noting the federal Liberals would then be facing a difficult balancing act — forced to appease the resource sectors of the economy while addressing urban and suburban concerns about the environment.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who was in Victoria in July to announce ocean protection and environmental remediation spending commitments, said the visits are opportunities to point out what the government has done in B.C., which might not have made headlines when first announced.

“We have to make sure people are aware of everything we’re doing,” he said in an interview. “The knowledge of the situations is not getting communicated as much as we would like.

“I think in time the facts will be accepted — that we are doing things. We are not just talking, but we are acting.”

Jean-Yves Duclos, the federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, who was in Victoria two weeks ago to announce $75 million in funding for affordable housing, echoed those sentiments.

He also suggested Victoria and the West Coast are open to the Liberal message, which he stressed was about the future and the health and welfare of families and children.

“I believe the Liberal message of the future and how to build it is well heard and appreciated in B.C.,” he said, adding this province tends to be a leader when it comes to environmental, social and economic issues.

Lawson said the number of funding announcements might also stem from a desire to create a “feel-good atmosphere” to distract from problems such as the SNC Lavalin affair or the “intense hostility” the Liberals face in resource-reliant areas of Canada over things such as the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and carbon taxes.

Lawson also suggested the unusual volume of announcements, many of them in big cities, might be part of a strategy to shore up or gain seats in places such as Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.

“Big-city support for the Liberals does exist and so they may try and compensate for areas in the country where they are just going to get creamed,” he said.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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