Any politician can attest there is no project too small to qualify for public funding, disbursed with party colours or a local representative’s name on a banner. The provincial NDP has perfected the art now by funnelling cash to be raised by the PST hike into community kitchens, spiritual gardens and music studios for youth.
Among the deluge of provincial government spending announcements of late have been grants from the “new” Winnipeg Community Infrastructure Program. This program is much like the Building Communities Initiative fund, except the latter is cost-shared with the City of Winnipeg. The new “infrastructure” program was created with the April budget, when the NDP announced it was hiking the PST to eight per cent, due to financial pressures on its capital priorities from the 2011 Assiniboine River flood and a 2012 flood that never materialized.
The new infrastructure spending, drawn from PST revenues, would go to “long-term,” “critical infrastructure needs” — a range of projects, including items classically known as infrastructure (municipal roads, highways) and pet provincial capital spending (hospitals, schools). That list was expanded subsequently to include projects such as daycare centres.
But the NDP has stretched the definition of infrastructure such that items no one would have called infrastructure projects now qualify. The latest round of news releases from the NDP shows the cash has gone to installing a commercial kitchen in a community centre, buying new studio equipment for a youth music program, new Red River carts, painting a mural and benches and greenery for an interfaith garden.
These non-profit organization projects are traditionally the realm of community grants from city councillors. An opportunity to plaster Winnipeg with thousands of self-congratulatory placards, they also are a fine way to ingratiate the party with hundreds of community groups and the people they serve.
The projects may all be worthy in their own right, but “critical infrastructure” they are not. Nor are they justification for a one percentage point hike to the PST, not when municipalities and a host of business groups have for years appealed to the province for a dedicated fund, derived from PST, for the multibillion-dollar deficit in roads, sewer and water pipes, highways and bridges.
The NDP is striving to defend its decision to break balanced-budget legislation to ram through a PST hike that does nothing to whittle away at the critical infrastructure deficit. Their near-daily media releases extolling the virtues of laying down sod, planting shrubs and installing basketball courts are a reminder to all Manitobans just how unnecessary was this tax increase that now bankrolls the self-serving PR agenda of the spend-thrift NDP.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 26, 2013