MASSE IN THE NEWS: INFRASTRUCTURE - G8 funding spread far beyond host town

Thursday, November 19, 2009

G8 funding spread far beyond host town

Elgin Schneider is not expecting motorcades ferrying leaders of the world's Group of Eight nations to drive through his tiny village of Sundridge, population 900, when they convene in Ontario's cottage country next June for their annual summit. But the village's long-time mayor is delighted all the same that Sundridge has secured enough money from a fund earmarked for summit preparations to replace the crumbling sidewalks along the main drag with new interlocking bricks.

"I didn't know where they got all the money, but it was there to get, so why not get it if you can," Mr. Schneider said in an interview yesterday.

He can thank Industry Minister Tony Clement for $875,000 from the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund, even though Sundridge is 60 kilometres from Huntsville, the venue for the three-day summit. Mr. Clement, the member of Parliament for Parry Sound-Muskoka, has distributed some $50-million to communities in his riding from the fund, which is doing everything from planting trees to fixing bridges and building a new hockey rink and community centre.

The money is all about showcasing Canada on the international stage during the G8 meeting, Mr. Clement said. But opposition members say the funding for communities well outside Huntsville has little to do with the summit and smacks of pork-barrel politics.

"There's no question there's been an abuse in terms of sprinkling this kind of funding in the minister's riding," Liberal Industry critic Marc Garneau said yesterday.

"It's just another example of the Conservatives trying to use international events as pet projects or a little bit of patronage," added Brian Masse, Industry critic for the NDP.

Mr. Schneider himself said it is highly unlikely that U.S. President Barack Obama will venture from Huntsville to visit his village. "I doubt if Obama will come up here."

It's just as unlikely that the G8 leaders or members of their entourage will visit Gravenhurst, about 50 kilometres south of Huntsville. The town received $1.2-million to beautify its main street with new pedestrian benches, light fixtures, recycling containers and bicycle racks.

North Bay, just outside Mr. Clement's riding and a 1.5-hour drive from Huntsville, received $5-million from the fund to help repave the runway for its airport. The single biggest chunk of funding - $16.7-million - went to Huntsville for the creation of a G8 centre, which later will be converted into a satellite campus of the University of Waterloo.

With the federal government making plans to move the Group of 20 summit to the Toronto area, the question now becomes whether that city will also receive special infrastructure funding.

Toronto deputy mayor Joe Pantalone said yesterday that such funding "would be only appropriate and fair." But he said the city has not heard what the federal government has in mind for a venue in Toronto or the region.

"The reality is the federal government has to make the decision," he said, adding, "If asked, we will serve."

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday that infrastructure issues will be announced once a decision is made on a location.