29 July 2009

Federal Infrastructure Dollars: Should feds "monitor" how spent?

There's a conversation happening on Twitter between two people, an orangey-red Liberal and someone who likely fits best with the old Progressive Conservative label. (Gosh, I miss those PCs!) The conversation was prompted by a link to this article from The Canadian Press, tweeted by a third person, another Liberal I suspect of the purple or blue persuasion:

It's not up to his government to closely monitor how money intended for road, sewer and other projects is actually spent, suggests the federal minister in charge of infrastructure.

The federal government's main role in distributing the nearly $12 billion in cash it announced in the 2009 budget is to make sure the money gets out the door, says Transport Minister John Baird.

"It's not big government's role and Ottawa to centrally manage everything," Baird said when asked how his department is monitoring spending.

"What our job is is to provide funding, to see that it's matched and to see that things move quickly."

On this issue, I agree with Baird.

Provincial and municipal governments are elected by voters. How many voters and whether they've a true mandate to govern, given our electoral system, is a separate issue.

Regarding "stimulus" dollars for infrastructure funding, the federal government has the role of reviewing applications received from provinces and municipalities and then approving or disapproving those applications. Once applications are approved, that should be the end of the federal government's role with respect to how the money is spent.

To "monitor" the spending, as was suggested by one of the tweeters, smacks of paternalism and doesn't respect lesser governments' rights and responsibilities to govern their own jurisdictions. In other words, it fails to respect their autonomy. Further, to monitor these transferred funds suggests an assumption that without such federal 'oversight' the governments may not spend the dollars as they claimed they would. Yes, it was the federal government's insistence that it approve each and every project and that municipalities provide matching funds, but that's irrelevant to the point.

No question, a corrupt government or members within a government might spend infrastructure money contrary to that stated in its application. But then, the government in question must answer to those who put it there, the voters.

That the federal government would monitor spending by approved applicant governments not only insults all provincial and municipal governments at once, it insults voters. If any shady business happens, the latter will deal with it and more effectively than any federal intervention would. The closer people are to a government, the greater their influence on it.

Recommend this post