The sickly sweet taste of subsidies

By the time you read this I hope to be sitting on my subsidized dock drinking subsidized beer and waiting to pour subsidized maple syrup on my subsidized pancakes. Not because Labour Day lets me pick my employer's pocket by posing as a worker or I was somehow granted preferential access to the trough. What prompts this shimmering vision of subsidies dancing across the wavetops on a sunny afternoon is those dang press releases that keep pouring in about how everything in Canada is subsidized.

You think I got into the beer early and exaggerate? Banish that unsubsidized thought. I've been collecting these communiqués all summer and know whereof I speak. Yes, at some point I have to give them up. It's an unhealthy, obsessive habit that's interfering with what passes for my social relationships. But meanwhile let me grab your sleeve in the sickly but tenacious grip of the failing zealot and force you back into a subsidized Muskoka chair to hear my latest thoughts on the subject.

First of all, subsidized maple syrup is not some fantasy based on licensed premises. It's cold (or hot) reality in Canada, in both official languages. Back on July 14 the ideological libertarians in the Tory caucus boasted of shoveling 36 grand at the Association des francophones de Nanaimo for their 11th Maple Sugar Festival/11ième Festival du Sucre d'Érable. But if you don't live in B.C don't worry; on Aug. 16 the government told me the Minister of Veterans' Affairs would be in St-Norbert d'Athabaska to announce that he was lost ... no sorry, to troll for votes ... I mean give money... uh, make that "announce investments that will benefit maple syrup producers." And we all know Quebecers can't make maple syrup without state assistance.

As for the beer, on Aug. 11 I was told that no less august a personage than the Minister of Foreign Affairs was headed for Ile-du-Grand-Calumet, Que., "to announce an investment in support of Quebec's Hops industry." (And, apparently, promote the gratuitous Capitalization of Nouns while he was at it.) Not spending. An investment. Except the Money just goes out and never comes back.

I find it hard to determine whether our political class has, at this point, anything left resembling beliefs about the usefulness or sustainability of all this spending. But clearly they expect the majority of voters to accept that nothing worthwhile can happen without state support in Canada, that we need government funding for every imaginable vaguely worthwhile activity to free us from anxiety and want so we can sit on our subsidized botties wondering where on Earth all these oversized tax bills came from.

Possibly my dock, or at least its wooden bits. On July 28, the government boasted of hurling a billion dollars at 24 pulp and paper mills because, the Tory MP who just happened to represent the New Brunswick riding getting the latest boodle droned, "Projects like these are an example of how our Government's targeted investments are helping transform Canada's forest sector." On July 30 two cabinet ministers ganged up to announce they were about to "make an announcement in support of forest sector companies planning innovative projects" which, an Aug. 3 follow-up said, put taxpayers on the hook for another $100 million. (Funnily enough, Stockwell Day launched the same program on the same day in Vancouver with a separate press release, which at least tries to buy votes economically.) There was also $20.4 million from the feds and Quebec for the world's first nanocrystalline cellulose plant in Windsor, PQ, on July 16, the same day the Federation of B.C. Woodlot Associations bagged $421,000 courtesy of, gosh, the local MP on behalf of the agriculture minister.

On July 30 a senator was bragging of giving $2 million to a hardwood plant in New Brunswick. And on July 7 ... (Enough with the trees - ed.) Not so, I reply. Why, just this Wednesday Michael Ignatieff berated the PM for not giving loan guarantees to the forest industry in Quebec. But OK, let's consider other plants.

Having an organic salad this weekend? Subsidized. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Sept. 1.) Buying flowers for that special someone? Subsidized. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Aug. 31).

What if you just want to get to the cottage and sit down? Well, tire makers are getting booty, along with wharves and boat ramps and ships and "traditional fishing boats, custom pleasure craft, and commercial workboats" (ACOA, Aug. 4) and even a Flying Boat Festival -- Legacy Fund (Canadian Heritage, Aug. 11) and they gave the car companies a big whack of money in 2009 so no matter how you get there tax dollars cushion your ride.

I think I need that beer now. Then I'll try to convince the PM my dock is a wharf needing a further investment to help stimulate my economy and his re-election. Cheers.

[First published in The Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson