As noted in previous articles on 250 News, the Harper Conservative government promised $1 billion in funding for the BC Interior to address the devastation of the pine beetle epidemic but, according to its own budget figures, only delivered $200 million before the funding was suspended in 2009 (and folded into a country-wide “Community Adjustment Fund”).
However, this has not stopped the Harper government from continuing to claim on the Conservative Party national website that it has provided the $1 billion in pine beetle funding after all. For example, on the portion of the party website devoted to Dick Harris, Conservative MP for the riding of Cariboo-Prince George, the claim is made that “as a leading spokesman for the Mountain Pine Beetle issue, Dick’s experience and determination secured a $1 billion commitment of support from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to mitigate the damage caused by the pine beetle infestation in BC” (1).
The website further goes on to say that “this fund was encompassed in the 2009 Economic Action Plan that resulted in the riding of Cariboo-Prince George being the recipient of the largest amount of federal funding ever delivered to the Central Cariboo-Region by a sitting member of parliament.”
There is some tricky and misleading language here. Just what does “this fund was encompassed in the 2009 Economic Action Plan” mean? In fact, no actual figures about the pine beetle fund are given in the 2009 Plan. However, when the 2012 edition of the Plan is read, you find, lo and behold, buried deep inside its hundreds of pages, the notation that only $200 million has been allocated to pine beetle mitigation, not $1 billion. In other words, “encompassed” means shrunk to just 20% of the original promise. Yet, on the Party website today in 2015, the opposite impression is given.
Instead of admitting that $800 million was slashed from the original $1 billion promise, we also get the unsubstantiated claim that the Cariboo-Prince George riding got the largest amount of federal funding ever. Interesting word play to gloss over a glaring negative.
Such misinformation is an insult to all the people in the BC Interior who are being hit hard by the pine beetle devastation through the destruction of vast tracts of prime forest, decimation of the timber supply, mill closures, production cutbacks, economic development slowdown, environmental impacts, and so on.
It is especially an insult to all the city and village councils, as well as beetle coalition members (many of whom are volunteers) who were given the false impression back in 2006 that the region and its communities would be receiving $100 million a year for ten years ($1 billion in total) from the federal government to grapple with this devastating natural disaster.
It is even more galling that the Conservative Party continues with this charade on its website in the lead-up to the Fall 2015 federal election.
But this is not the first time something similar has happened. For example, it was recently revealed that although the Harper government has repeatedly boasted about how much “the budget for veterans care has gone up under their watch,” in fact $1.13 billion of the funding was never spent but instead was allocated to other uses, in spite of the fact that many veterans were being denied benefits and services.
Such shenanigans should serve as a caution to Canadians, especially now in the lead up to the federal election, when the Harper government is travelling the country like Johnny Appleseed, handing out infrastructure grants of one kind or another.
But based on the experience so far, why should we believe such promises will actually materialize after the election? Will these regional grants end up being dramatically slashed, shrunk or disappeared into other programs as happened to the pine beetle funding? And will we discover more shell games being played, once again, on rural regions like ours?