Institutionalized Graft Part I

champlain-bridge

Let me get this straight.

Tories do not favour so-called socialist state-economic planning.

That said, we’re in the midst of a global economic depression and Canada must find ways to stimulate its own economy in order to survive. Ergo, the federal government must set an economic policy in place that allows core industries to continue operations while further providing stimulus to at-risk industries.

As it so happens, the Tories have decided to place an emphasis on infrastructure and resource development, two sectors of the economy that have been adversely affected in the past by negative global economic trends in the housing and resource markets. With regards to the former, it has allowed Canada’s construction industry to continue working pretty much without interruption throughout the last three years. True to their promise, the Tories have invested considerable amounts of money into rebuilding the highway system as well, further building new bridges and providing additional revenue for choice public transit projects.

You’ve doubtless seen the signs declaring the Canada Economic Action Plan, on the sides of roads, at schools and various public buildings, and if you happen to live in Montréal, then you know full well the extent to which the Tories are investing in infrastructure repair. It’s exceptional strategic thinking, as the motivation lies clearly in supporting the federalist premiership of Jean Charest more than it does convincing the Québecois to vote Tory, which is unlikely to happen.

Now all this said and done, when it comes to infrastructure projects, the fed needs to demonstrate a degree of local awareness and maximize the political implications of their spending. An example would be the funding for a new hockey rink in Québec City (estimated to cost a $400 million and of NHL caliber), which demonstrates the Prime Minister’s interest in potentially winning back the Québec City region in time for the next federal election.

With regards to the new Champlain Bridge, it’s another means to an end. What’s better than a broken bridge to cultivate a populist following for all the wrong reasons? What breaks my head is how a supposedly Conservative government can justify attacking state economic planning during an economic recession and then turn around and overspend on stimulus projects.

It’s almost as if they’ve let their PR gurus get the best of them and have become stuck in semantic arguments they don’t know how to win. And it is in this predicament that we currently find ourselves.

By playing this game the Tories can blur the line between economic stimulus and nepotism, between sustainable economic planning and good old-fashioned graft. And in the end the politicians and pundits play word games while financial mismanagement becomes the norm. In turn, the politicians, rather than fighting to keep government expenses at reasonable, manageably low levels, instead try to secure as much tax revenue for their individual ridings.

A former West Island MNA and a group of apparent public transit enthusiasts are seeking $1 billion from the provincial and federal governments to replace the St-Anne’s/Hudson line. This is more than twice the cost of a longer train line that would need to be built from scratch on the eastern side of the island. How can this be?

What sickens me is that these figures are taken for granted, or perhaps the voting base thinks that this is an investment of a billion dollars into their community. It isn’t, but it could easily be spun to look that way. Is it any wonder we can’t afford to pay strategic development? The interests of the voter-base are so narrowly focused the politicians can easily exploit it for their gain, all they have to infer is that someone else is getting an unfairly large amount, and in turn you deserve more. What a pathetically myopic people we must be.

Our society has stopped considering the simple solution, the ingenuity and innovation that cuts costs dramatically and allows for our technological evolution. An example; the new West Island commuter train is being marketed as an ecological replacement for the existing service. New routing and switching software, in addition to the closing of some loops and extensions of existing branch lines, would allow all train traffic on and off island to use a massively expanded network more efficiently. One has been pegged at a billion-dollars, while the other would cost a mere fraction of that amount, perhaps less than a quarter of that figure, and is infinitely malleable. The cost of the Champlain Bridge replacement has been pegged at $5 billion and will be financed through a toll, meaning it will cost the taxpayer nothing.

Is that right?

I don’t think so.

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