The Harper Index

Patronage and employment programs

Although Conservatives restore some funding due to "blowback", politics remains embedded in Canada summer jobs program and heritage festivals fund.

In opposition, Harper attacked patronage.May 25: Politics and government employment programs can combine to produce opportunities for patronage.

In opposition, the Harper Conservatives relentlessly attacked the Liberals over the accountability of slush funds like the sponsorship scandal, "Shawinigate", and the so called "billion-dollar boondoggle" in which ineffective accounting practices at HRDC allegedly left millions of dollars unaccounted for, although subsequent accounting reports revealed unaccountable losses of only about $85,000.

This week's move by the Harper Conservatives to restore at least part of the funding they cut from the Canada summer jobs program again highlights questions of patronage and accountability for their government. Summer student programs have been criticized in the past as patronage opportunities, with the approval of MPs required for organizations to get their students. It was said that this process was being used by government MPs, who can keep organizations in line by threatening their funding.

Conservatives said they would change this, and made superficial changes to the program. Under the Liberals, the program provided funding for businesses with up to 500 employees; the Conservatives have changed the program so only businesses with up to 50 workers can apply. This allows the Conservative to say "this isn't about funding Wal-Mart," while the program remains politically controlled.

This week's events highlighted concerns. Initially, the government said no to dozens of student applicants who had been successful in the past and to others as well. Then, this week, in the face of nationwide protest, Service Canada reversed itself, saying all non-profit groups who received summer student funding last year will receive it again this year. Somehow the government has found a "second wave" of money although it declined to disclose the grant amounts or the number of successful and unsuccessful applicants. This raises questions like: why would the second wave of funding for the summer jobs program would be larger than the first? and how, in a de-politicized program, could a minister suddenly give out so much more money just to relieve political pressure? Opposition members say Conservative MPs have a list of grantees and they are using it politically.

Conservative favouritism has been apparent in government appointments since the election of the Harper minority. Patronage concerns emerged in April with the emergence of a leaked memo to Conservative MPs from Heritage Minister Bev Oda, asking them for recommendations of organizations to receive money from an unpublicized $30 million fund. Since then, all MPs have been invited to submit recommendations for the fund, which remains without any actual program or approved funding. This week the government disclosed it would not likely have funding for summer events, contrary to the public commitments of Oda, who has not been available for media interviews.

"Cleaning up government begins at the top," Harper said before the federal election campaign in November 2005. The sponsorship scandal "happened because of a culture of entitlement in the Liberal Party. And it happened because that party allowed the veils of secrecy to close around its actions."

Recent moves indicate that traditions like slush funds and patronage die hard.

Harper Conservative vs. Public Values Frame
  "New" / More slush funds, patronage
  Accountable / Political

Links and sources
  Accountability concern contrasts with past campaigns for corporate political influence, Harper Index, May 16, 2007
  Josh Visser, Tories reverse course, will fund more summer jobs, The Chronicle Herald, May 25,2007
  SooToday.com Staff, Tories reverse themselves on summer jobs, Tony says, SooToday.com, May 23, 2007
  Andrew Mayeda, Oda accused of giving Tory MPs head start on project funding, CanWest News Service, April, 26, 2007
  Oda's call to trough is out of step Montreal Gazette, CanWest News Service, April 27, 2007

Posted: May 25, 2007

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