In Brief: AIMS acting President Charles Cirtwill says the federal government’s recent announcement of $634-million for infrastructure in Nova Scotia may be a repeat of previous promises, but it presents a particular dilemma for tax-payers. He says it will be difficult for tax-payers to hold anyone accountable because much of the spending is a transfer of funds between governments.  

Many might have expected the Conservatives’ political rivals to accuse them of repackaging old news in their infrastructure announcement yesterday. But the same criticism from the right-wing Atlantic Institute for Market Studies comes as more of a surprise.

AIMS is an avid supporter of infrastructure funding. But acting AIMS president Charles Cirtwill was underwhelmed by the $634-million funding announcement by the province and the federal government.

“The $25 million (annual) base fund, that’s been announced at least three times that I can recall. The gas-tax transfer to municipalities, that’s been announced twice before,” said Cirtwill.

Who’s to blame?

He’s encouraged that the government is investing in infrastructure, but also has concerns about accountability. He said with money changing hands between levels of government, such as with the gas-tax transfer to municipalities, it will be hard to hold officials to account.

“If you’re a taxpayer who, by the way, ultimately is paying that $235 million (gas-tax fund), you have no idea who to hold to task if that money gets frittered away,” said Cirtwill.

“If you really wanted to put 200-and-some-odd million dollars back in the hands of municipalities, well, reduce your personal income tax by that amount and allow the municipalities to tax directly.”

The Canadian Union of Public Employees also expressed concern that the Tories were trying to make it look like they were spending more money than they actually are.

Programs rolled together

“They took a number of different programs and threw them together into (the announcement today),” said CUPE economist Toby Sanger. “The reason why they say this is historic and unprecedented is because they’ve made the commitment out for seven and eight years, where previously they’ve only done a few years.”

Sanger crunched the numbers and said by his calculations, the government’s national funding for infrastructure only goes up by 1.1 per cent after 2009-10.

He said there was a ramping up of spending in the next two years, but that was already in the books from the previous federal Liberal government under Paul Martin.

“The reason why (funding) increases so much in ’09-10 is because of the gas tax fund (to the municipalities), and that was a commitment in the 2005 budget under the previous government,” said Sanger.