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In Newfoundland, we're always shovel-ready


Old TV show-style scene, take one. (Two older men wearing lumberjack-style jackets, footwear sometimes described as "unemployment boots" and are talking as they lean on their spades. They're spreading something that could be dirt, or maybe not.) "Some-ting about that new budget, eh Jarge?" "Sure 'tis, Nish, b'y. Was dat 'bout gov'mint havin' sometin' they call "shovel-ready?"

Old TV show-style scene, take one.

(Two older men wearing lumberjack-style jackets, footwear sometimes described as "unemployment boots" and are talking as they lean on their spades. They're spreading something that could be dirt, or maybe not.)

"Some-ting about that new budget, eh Jarge?"

"Sure 'tis, Nish, b'y. Was dat 'bout gov'mint havin' sometin' they call "shovel-ready?"

"Me nerves, Jarge. What do ya t'ink we're doin? We got our shovels and we're ready."

"Ready for what, Nish?"

"Ready for da money we're goin' to make - because gov'mint's goin' to have to pay big money shoveling all that pile of crap!"

It's a stereotypical "Newfie" scene, to be sure, but when you think about one of the initiatives announced by the federal government - "shovel-ready" - it perpetuates a nasty stereotype of its own.

The phrase refers to Ottawa's announcement of $12 billion for infrastructure funding. Part of that funding will include "shovel-ready" ready projects that will supposedly create jobs quickly.

"Back in my day, Jarge, we used to call 'em 'make-work projects', remember? If Aunt Nellie thought that Uncle Walt needed a wharf or sometin' to tie 'is dory on, why 'den she'd call that lovely Jarge Baker, our Member of Parliament at the time, and he'd just git dat money, all $100,000 of it and put dat wharf right 'ere in Snits Harbour! Too bad 'e didn't put a road in 'ere."

(Camera focuses on one of the men.)

"I AM Jarge Baker, Nish."

There was a time when politicians would hand over money for make-work projects, many of them including infrastructure like government wharves in communities that either no longer exist or are a shadow of the formerly vibrant towns, villages and outports they used to be.

Mr. Baker and many others used to secure funds for that, and as a result make-work projects in this province (and likely in others) became as common as cappuccino machines today in many gas stations.

But as any Italian can tell you, the hot drink at the gas stations is no more a cappuccino than "shovel-ready" is a package that will create jobs and give municipalities the infrastructure they need. In fact, they add to the culture of dependency that so many small rural Canadian communities are struggling to eradicate themselves from.

It shows the rest of Canada how little the Harper government knows about the country's municipalities. Under this program, Ottawa provides one-third of the cost, a province another third, the municipality the rest. Say you're Bishop's Falls and you need a new sewer system at $10 million a pop. Do you have $3.3 million to pick up your share of the pie? Don't think so. And there are a lot of Bishop's Falls across Canada wondering where the money will come from.

What municipalities need - major centres excluded - is more funding on a permanent basis. Smaller towns don't have enough of a tax base to get all the money they need for infrastructure; provinces sometimes can't afford to pay for their slice of the pie either.

As it stands now, the concept of "shovel-ready" only helps to create a culture of dependency - and some pretty smelly cow pies!

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