This story originally appeared on the London Free Press.
The backdrop: An addiction treatment centre in London.
The cheque drop: Nearly $24 million.
The shoe-drop? Not a penny for London, at least not yet.
Amid a blizzard of almost-daily pre-election government spending announcements, the federal Conservatives stood accused Wednesday of taking political cynicism to new heights by rolling out yet another funding announcement in London, but one with no immediate payoff on home turf.
With the election call for the Oct. 19 vote just weeks away, if not days if Prime Minister Stephen Harper decides to pull the plug early, the Tories — in both London and Vancouver — separately announced nearly $24 million in funding for the provinces and territories to help treat drug addictions.
Left to stick-handle the file in London, on behalf of Health Minister Rona Ambrose, was London North Centre MP Susan Truppe, who two days earlier joined London’s two other Tory MPs to announce $10 million in upgrades to London’s historic Wolseley Barracks military site and its naval station.
But what made Wednesday’s spending announcement — the eighth in London in little over a month — stand out, was that no bucks are stopping here — not unless or until Ontario sends some of the cash to London.
“The money is actually not coming to London — it’s just that we’re doing the announcement here for Ontario,” Truppe told The London Free Press at Addiction Services of Thames Valley.
The federal money is to be distributed over two years.
But even with Tory ministers and MPs fanning out to spread cash, as they did Wednesday in at least a half-dozen Ontario cities, the idea that one place could be reduced to a prop for money bound for the entire country, but not immediately where it was announced, was too much for some critics to swallow.
“I find this insulting in terms of the people in this community,” said cross-town New Democrat MP Irene Mathyssen. “How on Earth can you expect any sense of respect for this kind of tactic?”
The lone non-Conservative in the four-riding London area, Mathyssen said that to her Wednesday’s move smacks of Tory desperation.
“They are worried about their seats in this area,” she said. “Why would you come to London, Ontario, to announce something that London will not benefit from?”
Truppe, for her part, insisted the announcement isn’t about the next election.
“I wish the media was covering (such events) in the last four years, because then they would see the announcements I’ve done on a regular basis,” said Truppe, who doubles as parliamentary secretary for the status of women.
“It’s not an election issue announcement and London may get some funding . . . but that’s for the provinces to decide,” she said.
But one political scientist read it differently, saying that making the same funding announcement in two cities — that may not receive money — is targeted electioneering by the MPs doing the talking.
“They found MPs that they wanted to boost their profiles,” said Western University’s Laura Stephenson.
“People will say, ‘Oh, look, my MP is doing things, that’s really great,’ and it may boost up support that way.”
Vancouver and London are areas likely to be hotly contested in the election, added Stephenson.
The parties are trying to gather as much support as possible, using all the tools they can, she said.
“And when it comes to the Conservatives, they are in power which means they have the spoils of office that they are able to use,” she said. “Legitimately, they can say, ‘Look we were going to do this (funding announcement) anyways, it just so happens that we’ve timed it in a way that also helps us out.’”
Nelson Wiseman, another political scientist, said the Conservative cheque campaign is “the most concerted and organized” effort he’s seen to dole out government largesse.
“But all governments do it,” said the University of Toronto professor. “I don’t really see how Londoners are being bribed, if it’s not going to Londoners.”
The Conservatives hold nine of the wider London region’s 10 seats, with three MPs retiring when the election is called.
“I think they are worried in this area, they want to be the government and they have to hold the seats,” said Mathyssen.
“So you throw the taxpayer money at the taxpayer and I think the taxpayer is going to be very angry.”
With files by Free Press reporter Dan Brown
OTHER RECENT CONSERVATIVE FUNDING ANNOUNCEMENTS
In the London area:
July 27: $10 million, for upgrades to Wolseley Barracks and HMCS Prevost in London.
July 15: $709,000 to help women escape the sex trade.
July 15: Almost $22,000 for seniors and $9,000 for three students.
July 9: $1 million loan to a London metal finishing company.
June 25: Up to $305 million, to improve rural high-speed Internet service in Canada.
June 19: $370,000, for employment services for St. Thomas-area youth.
June 19: $45,000, to improve access London’s sensitive Coves district.