Politics - Federal

Stimscam Makes Adscam Look Like Chump Change

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 17, 2009

In 2004, after 11 years of continuous majority government, the Liberal Party of Canada were bumped unceremoniously down to a minority government under new Prime Minister Paul Martin. Two years later, Martin lost even his minority to the recently-united Conservative Party of Canada under leader Stephen Harper.

The deal-breaker for voters was the burgeoning Sponsorship Scandal (dubbed "Adscam" by some wag), in which the Liberals had funneled millions of dollars over eight years through the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) into a grab-bag of Liberal-friendly firms, under the auspices of a program to promote federalism in Quebec.

The story broke when federal Auditor General Sheila Fraser released the infamous report in February 2004 finding that some $100 million of the $250 million total budget for the Sponsorship Program had been handed out to companies with ties to the Liberal Party with little or nothing to show for it.

Prime Minister Martin acted quickly to shut down the program and launch a public inquiry led by Justice John Gomery, but the damage was done. The party was in disarray, Martin used the event to purge the Liberals of Chretien loyalists (the two camps had waged a long internal power struggle during the time that Chretien was Prime Minister and Martin was Finance Minister), and the opposition parties hammered the Liberals relentlessly on ethics and accountability.

The program was justified on the grounds of a crisis (the threat of Quebec secession), allocated through the party executive without parliamentary oversight, and executed with rank partisanship.

A New Era of Accountability

The Conservatives ran an aggressive campaign in 2006 with a clear platform of ethics and accountability, promising to introduce new legislation that would prevent such abuses from happening again.

It was enough to win a minority government, and the Conservatives enjoyed considerable latitude despite their minority because the Liberals were in no position to topple the government and campaign.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives did little to improve accountability - their legislation actually reduced the openness and accountability of many government affairs - while dramatically ratcheting down on the flow of information, concentrating power even more tightly in the PMO, and executing a coordinated program to obfuscate, stall and block parliamentary oversight - including a secret handbook to render parliamentary committees dysfunctional.

The Federal Accountability Act the government passed was considerably watered down from the robust legislation they proposed while in opposition. Justice Gomery complained that the Act omitted most of his recommendations.

This pattern of secrecy and throttled accountability applied across the board. Among its many abuses, the government replaced the national science advisor with a council of corporate executives; shut down a public Access to Information database; cut food inspectors and pushed quality control onto food manufacturers, which contributed to the deadly listeriosis outbreak of 2008; appealed court orders to repatriate Canadian citizens being held illegally in other countries; diverted public funds for scientific research into nuclear and oilsands technologies; and actually managed to outdo the Liberals in failing to do anything substantial in response to climate change.

The extent to which the Conservatives have become everything they claimed to oppose has reached the point of absurdity - except that they're still mostly getting a free pass among Canadians.

Roll Out the Pork Barrel

The newest outrage is the discovery that the $61 billion in federal economic stimulus money - much of which the Conservatives are doling out through a special slush fund - has also fallen prey to the party's relentless partisanship.

It's bad enough that the stimulus money won't do much to stimulate the economy. It's worse that they have exploited public spending for partisan gain by handing out big novelty cheques emblazoned with the Conservative Party logo. Worse still, they have managed, in a few short years, to replace big annual surpluses into a significant structural deficit that will soon provide the excuse to make deep cuts in program spending.

But what's worst about the stimulus program is that the Conservatives seem to have continued their longstanding strategy of vote-buying by funneling money disproportionately into Conservative-friendly ridings.

The Conservatives insist that the money is being spent fairly, but they are so secretive about their process - they're too busy giving out money to break their spending down by riding - that we have to take their word for it.

(So far, the government's policy of information starvation seems to be working. Apparently Canadians are not too troubled about being bribed with our own money.)

Conservatives Have Become What They Opposed

Does this story sound familiar? The Conservative stimulus program has been justified on the grounds of a crisis (the global recession), allocated through the party executive without parliamentary oversight, and executed with rank partisanship.

The Conservatives truly have become everything they set out to oppose and to fix in government. The main difference between Adscam and Stimscam is the scale. The Liberals misspent $100 million over an eight-year period, amounting to $12.5 million a year, or $0.42 per Canadian per year.

The stimulus pork-barreling is three orders of magnitude larger. The total cost is $61 billion over two years. If we take a conservative estimate of the partisan spending - say, 20 percent of the total - that's $12.2 billion over a two-year period, amounting to $6.1 billion a year or about $185 per Canadian per year.

Liberal and Conservative Spending Scandals
Scandal Total Years Cost/Year People Cost/Year/Person
Adscam $100,000,000.00 8 $12,500,000.00 30,000,000 $0.42
Stimscam $12,200,000,000.00 2 $6,100,000,000.00 33,000,000 $184.85

Will Stephen Harper and company ever be held to account for this ethical scandal? Auditor General Sheila Fraser's recent reports on the government refute the claim that the Conservatives are doing a better job on accountability than their predecessors; but so far the message hasn't sunk in with Canadians.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Really? (registered) | Posted November 17, 2009 at 12:58:22

I can't help but notice the UP UP UP ARROW 'Economic Stimulus; Stimulating YOU' signs everywhere!

Signs being printed and posted outside a Public Building for a single Door Knob Replacement? http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/10/1...

I can only imagine that Sign cost more than the actual Door Knob?

Maybe the Conservatives are funeling Stimulus Funds to Sign Companies that are Conservative-friendly?

Oh well.. all that matters is that the Money is NOT being spent trying to keep a Country Together (AdScam), but rather at trying to divide the even Country more!

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 17, 2009 at 13:12:15

Liberals and Conservatives both have and are trading democracy for corporate rule


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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted November 17, 2009 at 16:18:07

Surely part of the problem is that there's no viable alternative so why get worked up about it?

Politics is a lot easier when you can just vote for someone else to fix the problem. Right now all politicians are the problem!

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By JonC (registered) | Posted November 17, 2009 at 18:53:12

I don't think it's the politicians so much as the parties. Municipal politics isn't great, but at least the councillors will represent the ward's best interest (or it'll be a short career). Once parties get involved, the parties best interests come first (look at what happens to MPs that go against Harper's votes).

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By J Morse (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2009 at 19:49:22

Democracy is a myth. The only thing that affects what governing parties do is their image in the media. The media message is the new vote.

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By alrathbone (registered) | Posted November 18, 2009 at 01:05:39

The conservatives have done what they've done because it was what the opposition demanded for not replacing them.

Say what you want about the distribution (and I think the numbers have been rather equivocal as to whether there was preference, especially given many of the circumstances that have been discussed to death elsewhere), but if you want to attack the efficiency the conservatives simply offered a scaled down version of what the opposition demanded.

The idea that this is some sort of "money in the pockets" scam is a bit ludicrous however.

Almost all the money is going into infrastructure of some sort as compared the the Adscam money, which disappeared into thin air with nothing at all to show for it.

I do have some concerns on the accountability issue however, and worry it will never be addressed, because every party knows they will screw up, and no one wants to have it come out. While all the opposition parties will make a big stink now, the moment they are in power they will return to doing nothing about it. In fact if they wanted to move forward on this file they could force through their own accountability legislation via a private member's bill.

Mark my words the next government we have will be even dirtier than what we have now, and the government after that even more so. It will take bravery, and the cooperation of all involved to make any progress on, and it will require the media to back off with the "gotcha" every time there is the possibility to misconstrue any piece of information as a scandal ie. (waffergate, probably the most pointless scandal in history), because no MP will want to undergo complete scrutiny if the media will destroy their career over the possible appearance of a one in a hundred chance of scandal.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2009 at 09:45:32

I always felt that Paul Martin's open approach to launching the Sponsorship scandal investigation was a large part of what doomed the Libs. By airing the dirty laudry openly the party was damaged immensely. It's no wonder parties try to keep the lid on these things if the consequences for being open and honest are so dire.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted November 18, 2009 at 12:24:29

J Morse>> "The Media is the New Vote"

Good Example, Toronto not getting their Transit Funding, and John Baird suggesting "Toronto should f* off!"

Once that 'scandal' hit the media, the Cons didn't have any problem over-looking the couple errors in their application form.

alrathbone >> "as compared the the Adscam money, which disappeared into thin air with nothing at all to show for it."

I believe the intention was to keep the Country together. We're still together... isn't that 'something'? Harper's real scam is pitting region vs region and turning the country against itself!

Harper Failed hardcore on Stimulus; All we're getting is road repairs & door knobs!

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By alrathbone (registered) | Posted November 18, 2009 at 15:25:24

"I believe the intention was to keep the Country together. We're still together... isn't that 'something'? Harper's real scam is pitting region vs region and turning the country against itself! "

More like City of Toronto vs. Canada, or even more specifically the current government of the City of Toronto vs. Canada.

The Conservatives tend to be the ones who try and balance regional interests vs. the national interest (hence why, since Diefenbaker, they have had more support from soft nationalists in Quebec, AND why they are popular in the west).

The Liberals were key masters of the "pit region against region", and I think most people can see that outside of Toronto, Montreal and Atlantic Canada, their support is rather dismal and their few MPs from these areas (ie. Rural Ontario, the West and the North) survive on personal popularity (ie. Keith Martin, Ralph Goodale, Larry Bagnell etc.)

In a country such as Canada, I will always expect some sort of divide, but while the NDP and CPC attempt to address it (albeit in different ways) the LPC has for a long time sought to exploit it ie. Screw the West and Take the West.

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By Chris Angel (registered) | Posted November 20, 2009 at 12:33:19

Thanks Al Rathbone, instead of writing I get to say "Yeah, what he said". Ryan I don't know how you can equate "stimscam" with Adscam. When hasn't there been pork barrelling by the elected party in this country? Yes the practise needs to stop but comparing it to Adscam is just not going to fly with anyone except those who are already committed to a political bias. That, or it is outright disingenuous. Speaking of bias, By Really seems to imply that Adscam served its purpose because after all the country is together. Thankfully the public saw that a great deal of it (AS DID THE COURTS) was illegal. Much of what wasn't illegal was blue ribbon pork barrelling which broadened the taint to the Liberals. Service rendered to the Canadian people was fairly incidental. Then there was the self serving back scratching between Liberal friends who hire friends and relatives of Liberals who did not actually produce anything. That kind of activity is less than a half step from theft and most people would see it as such. Adscam gave Canadians a glimpse into this ethical void and they were mostly sickened by what they saw. The dollar amounts of both these ventures may be vastly different but the ethical scale is totally different. If I am wrong and I am positive I am not, then we can look forward to a groundswell of outrage across the country and the demise of an easily toppled minority government. Bribing us with our money Ryan, I totally agree that is what any level of government does when it promises any spending. There is a strong bias to almost any political article in any Canadian newspaper, if you strive to avoid bias yourself you may wish to question the agenda of such articles. It seems that you seek to both minimize Adscam and at the same time use that same brush to create a "stimscam" of far greater magnitude but with no real substance. I have voted for every political party in Canada some more than once. I try though to reduce my biases because I think it is the right thing to do. If this is your intention too, I think you are missing the mark with this article.

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By Chris Angel (registered) | Posted November 20, 2009 at 14:54:21

I won't try and rebut all your points Ryan a few are valid many are just talking points I would expect from someone with a left or liberal bias. My point is you correctly refer to the disparity between funds allocated to Conservative vs ridings held by other parties as "Pork Barrelling". While many people (myself included)find this practise objectionable it is not illegal. There is no evidence to suggest that funds have been diverted to either party coffers or to party members. This is what brought down the Liberals. That and the suspiciously unaccountable funds that went to Liberal friendly firms. 100 million out of 250 million is a huge amount. I am not an apologist for the conservatives or the lies they told to get elected. Speaking of lies how about hat foul little jerk from Shawinigan, the one that lied and promised when elected to eliminate the GST. Remember that lying little douche? How about our current premier the one who promised no new taxes then brought in the biggest tax hike in Ontario history in the form of a health tax. Is it OK for a liberal to be a lying sack? Liberal, Conservative or NDP they all lie and obfuscate and will continue to do so until they can be held accountable for lying. You have enough legitimate grievances with the federal Conservatives why undermine your credibility with this crap comparing "Adscam" a national disgrace the Liberals STILL have not recovered from to pork barrelling by the Conservatives. Only the choir will be singing that tune.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted November 20, 2009 at 18:32:03

It's little things like appointing a "liason to the federal government" when there is already a representative (NDP, so they don't count apparently). This was in Skeena-Bulkley Valley in BC.

It's things like claiming that the failed coalition was a coup instead of acknowledging that it was parliamentary process.

It's things like appointing a whole slew of senators (while the government was prorogued!) after spending years decrying

The conservatives obviously have no respect whatsoever for the Canadian system of government. Issuing cheques from the Canadian government with Conservative graphics on it is just par for the course.

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By Relaxgeorge (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2015 at 06:28:55

The greater spending followed the 2008 world financial crisis./recession!
Canadian opposition demanded Conservatives spend billions$$$ to stimulate the economy! Harper listened!
Canada did well while other developed nations screwed up!

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