First published: April 12, 2007
With a provincial election looming on the horizon, the Liberal government is throwing money around like a drunken sailor as it tries to drum up votes. Northumberland MPP Lou Rinaldi is making sure nobody forgets all the good things he and his buddies at Queen’s Park have done as he tours the municipal councils listing off his “good news” report card. It is all part of a slick campaign to generate publicity and gain favour in the minds of undecided voters and solidify his partisan supporters. (This is what you get when there is a fixed election day — lots of orchestrated events.)
For the most part, nobody would really complain. We are all glad to get money for our hospital and health clinics. And, we celebrate money for new water treatment plants and upgrades. Even the less publicized items like $48,000 for a Cobourg police officer or $19,000 for a choir and the Cobourg Concert Band are appreciated.
But, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s announcement last week to give $1.35 million for a new fountain and ice rink for the waterfront park in Cobourg is the type of disgusting pandering that makes citizens in Northumberland County angry.
McGuinty’s speech was even condescending. Reminding us about how new technologies pull us part, he says the fountain and skating rink will promote good health because people will be able to walk around the parkette in the summer and use the ice rink for exercise in the winter. Suddenly, fountains are part of the health agenda. That is a bit of a stretch.
Now before anybody gets too wound up, there is nothing wrong with putting a beautiful fountain in the park. And, the idea of a skating rink is okay, despite the fact that no one at town hall as said how much it costs to maintain the structure. With the warm winters, it may be really hard to keep an outdoor surface. And, will it be supervised for safety, like the beach? What about vandalism? This could quickly become a large line item in a municipal budget already hacked back and barely under control.
The entire announcement is reminiscent of the senior’s centre. You remember this one from the fall, when council jumped ahead on an ill-considered project without giving any details to the public, any debate or consultation prior to the announcement. It really makes one think how these incumbents on council work. Did they not learn from experience that it is a good idea to seek public input? Already a letter to the editor last week rightly points out the need for an additional arena for local hockey. Certainly, it would be a more useful way to spend recreation money rather than a pleasure rink in a park.
The location also screams of pandering to the town’s elite. With all the condominiums along the waterfront, this space does not feel like a public place anymore. In fact, it is the opposite. To walk along the harbour or through the parkette, the buildings loom large and one feels like they are trespassing more than enjoying public space. There are many parks and places, where the sense of public space is much greater and people would be happy to go, if this was a priority. Again, public consultation might be a good idea before the decision.
Both the province and town council blew this one. These types of projects are perfect fodder for local service clubs. The Rotary Club of Cobourg generously supports the waterfront. Other clubs charitably provide wonderful things, like the Lion’s gazebo in Victoria Park. Northumberland County is lucky to have great organizations like these and more. The fountain should be built, but only with the service clubs’ full support and no tax dollars.
Still, there is a larger point here. Since December, the provincial government handed out a laundry list of grants. Northumberland Hills Hospital got $800,000 for an MRI unit. Port Hope got $3.2 million for a local water treatment plant. Cobourg got $1.26 million for its water treatment plant. G.E. Plastics received $700,000 to support the creation of a Centre for Manufacturing Excellence. The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board got a 17.1 per cent increase in its allocation this year worth $325 million. Community Living and other social services got $577,000. Best Start money for day care came in at $1.5 million.
And, that is not the complete list. Certainly, the purpose of a provincial government is to collect taxes and redistribute the money back in the way that is most useful and important to the communities. Heaven forbid, if local taxpayers were forced to pay for these projects and programs out of property taxes. And, there is a long tradition of politicians buying votes just before an election. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is doing the exact same thing now at the federal level and Northumberland MP Rick Norlock is racing around crowing about his government’s achieves the same as Rinaldi.
What is distasteful about all of this is the blatant nature of this handout. When municipal politicians like Port Hope Mayor Linda Thompson are crying for sustainable funding or when others like Councillor Miriam Mutton are looking for money for planning or Councillor Stan Frost wants help with court security costs, then a fountain is really useless. When farmers are struggling to survive and doctors are lacking for thousands of residents in the region, an ice rink is way down on the list.
When McGuinty jokingly asks: “Who can say ‘no’ to Lou Rinaldi?”
“County taxpayers” seems like a good answer.