Wednesday 21 October 2009

Canada's Economic Action Plan and the Pork Barrel

The National Post reports that Conservative districts received 57% of allocated projects but hold only 46% of the seats.

That by itself isn't evidence of distortion.

If, for example, infrastructure money is best spent on fixing the atrocious Trans-Canada highway, and if that highway passes mostly through rural areas, and the Conservatives hold most rural districts, then we'd expect Conservative districts to receive more money. What we really need is a measure showing the predicted level of spending in each district given its underlying characteristics (other than partisanship), then look to see how partisanship distorts those funding decisions.

What would be some first cut measures? Unemployment for starters. We might expect that higher unemployment districts would be first in line for spending. Second, municipal government fiscal capacity. If these are mostly projects where the province and the municipality has to pick up part shares of the cost, then if the province or the municipality is less likely to be able to pick up their part shares, and if those districts tend to be NDP or Liberal, then again we'd see the current correlation between party and spending. You could easily then say that there's partisan bias in the project design: that the criteria were established to benefit Conservative districts; but, that's somewhat different from subverting the funding rules to benefit Conservative districts.

Finally, I'm curious about the patterns of spending within Tory districts. Did it mostly go to safe seats or marginal seats? Cabinet or backbenches? If it's like Liberal spending under HRDC's job creation grants program, I'd expect distortion to favour Cabinet members in marginal districts especially.

The numbers don't look good, but we need a bit more work.

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