"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Flimsy excuses (I)

Back in August 2005, then-MHA Eddie Joyce, Bay of Islands, issued a press release which took the performance of then-Highways Minister Tom Rideout to task:
"It is time for the Minister to put politics aside and find money in the roads budget to fix the north shore road near McIver’s. Recent road work announcements are evidence that Liberal districts are being neglected while the Minister rewards districts of his political friends."
In his rebuttal, Rideout was rather proud of his record of blatantly using highways spending as a political pork-barrel:
Minister Rideout says he offers no apologies for addressing transportation issues in government districts throughout the province. "When the previous administration was in power, opposition districts were highly neglected," said the minister. "This neglect now needs to be addressed, and that is exactly the action our department is taking.

"I had an analysis completed for the last five years that the previous administration was in office. Statistics from this analysis clearly indicate that the largest percentage of the allocated funding for roads went to government districts.

"I make no apologies now for addressing areas that were neglected when the previous administration was in power."
(Quite a marked departure from the deny, deny, deny approach of The Big Guy, and his "nothing further from the truth" when confronted with the same allegations.)

So, while there were no apologies from Rideout, was he at all justified in "addressing areas that were neglected"?

Of the districts receiving PRIP funding of $100,000 or more in 2000, the last year of the Tobin government, the three highest were held by government Liberals. The fourth-highest was a PC district.

In 2001, the first year of the Grimes government, the three highest were Liberal, the fourth was PC. In 2002, the highest was Liberal, but the second-highest was PC.

Only in election year 2003 was there much sign of hyper-favouring of Liberal districts, when the seven biggest grants went to governing Liberal members' districts, while the PCs took eighth and ninth spots.

In 2004, the first year of Danny Williams-Government, at a time when the opposition Liberals still held twelve seats, the highest PRIP allocation to a Liberal district was the $367,000 in George Sweeney's Carbonear-Harbour Grace. It ranked twenty-seventh out of thirty-five districts which received $100,000 or more in funding.

The only remotely mitigating factor in the brazenosity of 2004 was that the one non-metro NDP district, Labrador West under Randy Collins, received a remarkably generous $1.3-million, placing seventh overall.

In 2005, the Labrador West play perhaps not having had its desired political payback, the district was demoted to 25th, while the highest-ranking opposition district was Gerry Reid's Twillingate and Fogo, with a little over a million, for 15th spot.

(Bay of Islands, home of that trouble-making Eddiot Joyce, who had the gall that summer not only to question Our Dear Highways Spending, but to have defeated Michael Monaghan two years prior? Goose egg. Punishment?)

The good people of the Isles of Notre Dame Bay came up 25th again the following year, once more taking top spot among opposition districts, with an even million.

And finally, in election year 2007, Yvonne Jones' Labrador district and Carbonear-Harbour Grace were the lucky winner of Most Favoured Opposition district, with $1.45-million allocated, at least notionally, to each, putting them in a tie for 21st spot among all districts. That is, twenty Tory ridings somehow managed to finish ahead.

Again considering only those districts which received $100,000 or more, the pattern of government favouritism is very clear when you consider the average total annual dollar value of PRIP grants, broken down by district and party affiliation:
The graph shows the average annual PRIP grants for government (saturated colours) and opposition (muted colours) districts in each calendar year since 2000. Up until 2004, these are actual expenditures; from 2005 on, they are notional allocations as provided in provincial government press releases.

The party affiliation of a district was considered to be whatever it was during the first four months of the year, when the budgets are being drawn up and funding announcements are being shoved out the door. That is, changes in district affiliation due to floor-crossing or by-elections don't "take effect" for this purpose until, in most cases, the following year.

Note as well that from time to time between 2000 and 2006 inclusive the opposition average was calculated including the then-NDP district of Labrador West.

During the four Tobin-Grimes years shown above, the average oppostion district got between 70% and 86% as much PRIP funding as the average government district, with the one exception of 2001, where it dipped to 45%.

During the first four Danny Williams-Government years which followed, the ratio didn't once rise above 50%. In 2005, the average opposition district received just 31% as much in PRIP funding as the average government district — and that's after districts under $100,000 are excluded. While many of the districts with small or zero PRIP grants are urban St. John's districts, now almost all PC-held, two notable rural exceptions in 2005 were Liberal-held Bay of Islands and Port de Grave. If their goose eggs, in districts which most years do have meaningful PRIP grants, were included in the averages, the ratio would fall to 25%. That is, all things being equal, a kilometre of pavement in a government district was three times as likely to get repaired than across the district boundary in an opposition one.

Only in 2008 did the ratio increase to a more reasonable 80%, and that, with only three opposition data points to crunch. (The NDP's St. John's beachhead, Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, does not get PRIP funding.)

Tom Rideout and Danny Williams-Government made no apologies for favouring government districts with pavement.

Which means that Tom Rideout and Danny Williams-Government made no apologies for behaving more egregiously and more partisan than the previous government that they not only condemned, but used as an excuse to justify their partisanship.

Is PRIP the only provincial funding program in which such a blatantly partisan pattern lurks?


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