UPDATED: Aieee! Elections kill stimulus spending! (Or, as it turns out, not.)

So, remember how ITQ was wondering about the oft-repeated talking point that voting down the estimates would bring the stimulus cash rollout to a screaming halt? Canadian Press was on the job, y’all:

OTTAWA – More than 90 per cent of the economic stimulus planned for this fiscal year will continue to flow whether or not opposition parties defeat the federal government and force an election on Friday.

And that fact blows a big hole in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s best argument for avoiding a summer vote.

“I think it’s largely bogus,” says Allan Maslove, public policy and administration expert at Carleton University.
Out of $22.7 billion in infrastructure and other stimulus measures announced in the January budget, Treasury Board officials confirm that parliamentary approval has already been received for $21.1 billion.

“Governments don’t shut down (during an election), they continue to spend money. So all of those programs that were approved can go forward.”

The story goes on to note that some money would be held back — $1.6 billion, to be precise-ish — and PMO obligingly provided the following list of projects that would be affected:

-$100 million for the Canadian Television Fund.

-$15 million in support of magazines and community newspapers.

-Almost $20 million in barges, science vessels, lifeboats and small boats for the fisheries department.

-$1.3 million for aboriginal housing.

-$70 million in aboriginal skills training and employment programs.

-$95 million for school construction in aboriginal communities.

-$10 million for the Canada Summer Jobs program.

-$19.8 million for the Marquee Tourism Events program.

-$7.9 million for the community adjustment fund.

-$6.2 million for the Canada Business Network.

Of course, that list comes from the very same PMO that has been pushing the line that, at the very moment that the estimates bill is defeated in the House,  hundreds of armed bureaucratic SWAT teams would instantly descend on every stimulus-funded hockey rink currently under construction, seizing shovels from the hands of the work crews and wrapping the entire site  in bright yellow UNNECESSARY ELECTION CRIME SCENE tape. Which means that it’s probably worth finding out exactly when the money was slated to be spent, and what percentage it makes up of the entire budget for the listed programs.

For instance, take the Canada Summer Jobs program, which, from the information provided by PMO, appears to be in danger of losing $10 million if the estimates are voted down.  But according to Service Canada – the agncy that actually manages the program – in the last budget,  the government provided “an additional $10 million a year in 2009 and 2010 for Canada Summer Jobs”  — emphasis added. Which means that the $10 million listed above would most likely be for next year’s program since this year’s portion has already been authorized, and – what’s more – has probably mostly been doled out to the employers and job agencies that do the actual spending, what with it being nearly summer and all. The remaining $10 million, which was to be spent next year, could simply be reallocated to the program in the  2010 budget.

Now, while ITQ will admit that she hasn’t checked every single item above, she picked a couple more at random – the  $6.2 million earmarked for the Canada Business Network, and $100 million for the Canadian Television Fund — and what do you know? In both cases, the amounts listed by PMO as a potential victim of a summer election were, once again, to be spent next year, not this year. Which means that, like the $10 million for CSJ, that money could also be included in the next budget — heck, it could even be increased, if the government responsible for putting together that budget is feeling generous.

All of which goes to show that it’s a good idea to check the fine print before regurgitating talking points verbatim, particularly since this particular claim – that a summer election would result in billions of dollars of stimulus spending being frozen – is one that Conservatives seem especially fond of trotting out when it lambastes the opposition parties for even considering voting against the estimates.

Really, so far, it’s been that, and the classic ‘Canadians don’t want an election’ that seem to make up the bulk of the government’s ostensibly impartial argument against going to the polls, so if we’re really going to have a debate over whether or not to hit the hustings in July, let’s at least stick to facts.

UPDATE: I couldn’t resist checking one more — honestly, I’d have gone through the full list before posting, but I have a dog to walk and an parliamentary crisis to watch, so it might take me a bit of time to get through it — and it turns out that the $19.8 million for the Marquee Tourism Events program – otherwise known as the Don’t Call It “Sponsorship” program — represents just 20% of the $100 million budget, which is – like the other entries – booked over two years. The deadline to apply for funding for this year was May 8, 2009, which makes it highly unlikely that the $19.8 million that would be “lost” if the estimates aren’t passed was ever intended to be spent on this summer’s festival and fair circuit. Plus, once again —  if a future government wants to bump up the $80 million that has already been authorized, it could do so in the 2010 budget.

UPDATED AGAIN: Commenter AnOnlineReader asks whether we can find out how much money is actually “out the door”. Well, that’s trickier than you might think — or actually not; I suspect most of us find ourselves lost when attempting to navigate government spending plans — but, thanks to last week’s budget report card, we know that, out of the $3 billion special short-term fund, approximately $1.855 billion had been allocated to various programs, as of May 31, 2009.

The rest of the money has to divvied out before June 30, 2009, or it will lapse, which means that the government has roughly $1.1 billion left to spend. The total price tag for the above list of initiatives that, according to PMO, are at risk comes to $345 million.

You’ll also note that several of the listed items also show up in the Vote 35 allocation list: $30 million for festivals, $4 million for Canada Summer Jobs and $1 million for the Canada Business Network. CanWest’s David Akin has a really, really great explanation of the whole Vote 35/$3 billion fund here.

But – and yes, there’s always a but – it’s difficult to confirm whether or not the cheques are actually in the mail. We can look at announcements, of course, but as far as whether or not the money has been received, that would require a level of forensic accounting skill far beyond ITQ’s capacity. We can, however, say with some assurance that, given its own numbers, there appears to be nothing that prevents the government from allocating a third of the remaining short-term funding to the above listed items, while still having $600 million or so left to spend before the end of the month.  Problem solved, crisis averted. Now, what was the PM saying about the big bad opposition threatening to put the kibosh on the stimulus package?

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.