Tuesday, October 6, 2009

So Maybe Jack Layton Can Tell us Where the Money Went

I like to razz Jack now for his hypocrisy, but I'm not really that upset with what he did. The only person who wants to strangle him would be Stephen Harper, because he's enjoying a climb in the polls, and really wanted an election.

However, since he's painted Michael Ignatieff as the villain for presenting a non-confidence motion, which could have meant we'd have one, he can't very well dissolve Parliament now. It's kind of funny, don't you think?

What the motion did successfully, was shift the dynamics on Parliament Hill. The Liberals can now do what we pay them to do - oppose; while Layton was left with egg on his face. He's been campaigning on the notion that the Liberals have backed 79 Reform-Conservative motions, while he has turned them all down. This was supposed to make him a hero.

The timing was right for the Liberals to announce to Canadians that they no longer have confidence in this government. Next month the 'In and Out' Scandal will hit the courts, and cries are getting louder over the way the Reform-Conservatives have been doling out the infrastructure money. No one can find it, despite the fact that Harper announced that 90% of it was out the door. What door?

Do I detect another episode of Unsolved Mysteries in the making?

Stimulus trail hard to follow — or even find
The Canadian Press
October 5, 2009

OTTAWA — Canada’s stimulus-spending detectives say the federal government is being so miserly with basic information, they’re forced to take extraordinary measures to track just how billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent.

Elaine McCoy, a 63-year-old Alberta senator who used to consort with the likes of former premiers Don Getty and Ralph Klein, is a case in point.

She recently teamed up with a group of 20-something volunteer computer geeks to try to follow the money.

Together, they’re combing the Internet and swapping information with everyone they can find, in the hope of putting together a detailed picture of what the federal government is doing with its billions in stimulus funds.

Inspired by American websites such as www.stimuluswatch.org, McCoy hoped to compile government information on stimulus, slice and dice it, and allow Canadians to figure out how government money is working.

Her dream was to give Canadians easy access to the details of the stimulus funds and solicit their feedback on how well the package was working.

But the dream has hit a serious obstacle: McCoy can’t get hold of the facts.

"We started reaching out for data and it wasn’t there," McCoy, a Progressive Conservative senator, said in an interview.

"The news releases? That’s not data. That’s spin."

With the help of her volunteer team of web-savvy youngsters that has grown through word-of-mouth, she set up www.stimuluswatch.ca. They set up a platform, and figured out everything they needed to sort out and streamline huge amounts of information.

But the page meant to provide the basic data is blank.

"In order to set up the actual spreadsheet in a user-friendly format, it’s just not possible," McCoy said.

She’s frustrated. Not only are Canadians getting a foggy and incomplete picture of how the stimulus package is helping them, they are also turned off politics by the government’s reliance on advertising and ribbon-cutting to communicate policy, she said.

Young Canadians, in particular, are cynical. "That’s why they don’t go out and vote. Spin-doctoring is so old-school," she said. "They say ‘If you’re not going to give me the facts, I’m not going to play.’ "

The government counters that all the details of the stimulus package are in the public domain.

"For the senator and all Canadians, information on every announcement and every project we do is on the website," said Chris Day, spokesman for Transport Minister John Baird.

Some of the information can be sorted by city and province. It’s also plotted on a map of Canada that shows every project approved, he said.

But others have run into the same problem as McCoy.

The parliamentary budget officer, the government watchdog on fiscal affairs, is supposed to be tracking the stimulus spending and evaluating how it is affecting Canada’s recovery.

But he, too, is stumbling over a lack of information and now has his hopes pinned on the government fulfilling his request to hand over its entire stimulus database.

The Liberal party, meanwhile, is developing a database of its own. It has taken months and the work of at least 23 volunteers to map out what has happened to the $4-billion Infrastructure Stimulus Fund.

They’re producing a riding-by-riding analysis. They say their research suggests a strong political pattern to the distribution of funds.

"The numbers say, if you’re a Conservative, you stand a better chance of getting this money," said MP Gerard Kennedy, who has led the effort.

Even so, the Conservatives charge that it’s too incomplete to be reliable — a charge that the Liberals have a hard time countering because only the government has complete information.
"You can say anything you like, and there’s no way to verify it," said McCoy.

Individual MPs have great difficulty in sorting out what has happened in their own ridings. Liberal MP Wayne Easter compiled a list of 18 projects announced for his Malpeque riding in Prince Edward Island.

But on closer inspection, only five projects totalling $1.66-million were really new, he said. The other 13 projects would have happened with or without the stimulus funding.

Easter boiled over when he drove past a building in Charlottetown that had a large sign in front of it trumpeting Canada’s Action Plan — the government’s name for its stimulus package announced in last January’s budget.

Easter said he cut the ribbon for that building when he was in government in 2003.

For McCoy, the experience has pushed her in new directions. She has discovered the Open Government movement, and become a strong proponent of its goal of pushing for more accountable policy-making and more publicly available information.

She’s convinced her campaign will catch on, not just with young people, but with their parents and civil servants who are disturbed by the lack of public information.

No comments:

Post a Comment