What Damage Could He Do?

Originally posted from August 30, 2008

Yesterday, as the Senate stymied the Rhinoceros Omnibus bill, we all breathed a sigh of relief (at least, I think we all did. I am encountering a disturbing number of people out there who think this whole mess is funny; can’t they take government seriously for once?). With the Senate keeping the Salmi government under a tight leash, what damage could they possibly do?

All right, who said that out loud? Slap yourself please: here’s your answer.

The government has the power to act through its ministries, within the established budget (as the Harper government fell on the 2008 budget, the fiscal statement Harper passed in Fall 2007 applies). So, basically, they have this pot of money to spend through the various ministries, and while major new policies would probably require a House of Commons vote that could be delayed indefinitely by the Senate, they can stillspend it on various small “pilot projects”, as mandated by the ministries’ budgets.

So, today, we learned that the Salmi government was going to spend on the following:

  • $2,500 to install a rubberized sidewalk in front of Winnie’s, a famous Montreal bar named after Sir Winston Churchill, as a safety measure to prevent inebriated people from hurting themselves falling down, as a pilot-project that could eventually cover all sidewalks across Canada.
  • $10,000 to repaint Bloor Street in Toronto to turn it into the world’s longest bowling lane.
  • $25,000 to the City of Winnipeg to begin paving Manitoba, thus turning it into the world’s largest parking lot.
  • $50,000 to an established institute for quantum physics here in Waterloo to study if the law of gravity can be repealed (the folks took the money and are now organizing a international public symposium on the quantum mechanics of gravity, so I guess that money is at least being put to good use).
  • $75,000 to engineering schools across Canada to study if installing larger rear wheels on cars saves energy by allowing them to constantly drive downhill.
  • $100,000 to renovate an old school in Vancouver to, among other things, raise the ceiling, thus providing higher education.
  • $1,000,000 (and that’s mother million) toward an art project to install gigantic metal shoelaces up the Ontario-Quebec land border (I guess the Ottawa River is out of luck) to discourage Quebec separation.

This and other projects bring the total to about $5,000,000 spent on some rather bizarre projects.

I’m not sure whether to be happy or sad to see the various parties receiving these funds taking their lemons and making lemonade. For instance, those bowling lanes on Bloor Street look suspiciously like bike lanes, and I know City of Toronto residents have been calling for bike lanes on that major crosstown arterial for years (and, may I say, Miller is quite a good shot with the bowling ball), and the engineering schools have taken their $75,000 and the program and turned it into a competition open to high school students, encouraging many (especially young women) into the field of engineering.

And I can’t help but notice that the contributions to Winnipeg and Vancouver are going to properties that are in need of renovation (Winnipeg is fixing potholes), so money is being spent wisely, even though the presentation makes me just stop and stare. I’m forced to wonder if there is method to Salmi’s madness and, if so, is that better, or worse? Does the fact that he seems to know what he’s doing give us permission to laugh or cry? Yes, stuff gets done, and I know that Chucker and I both appreciate the investment in our ageing municipal infrastructure, but there’s a decorum that should be followed, here.

I again repeat what I said yesterday: perception is nine-tenths of reality, and how is our reality if the rest of the world looks down at us and laughs? It’s a fine line between laughing with us, and laughing at us, but I suspect it translates into the loss of a lot of international investment.

And the national shoelaces joke? Nothing excuses that.

So, what else could the Salmi government end up doing? Perhaps I shouldn’t say that out loud.

(Update, 10:00 p.m.): By the way, I should note that the first piece of Rhino legislation finally passed both the House and the Senate. A resolution to ban lousy Canadian winters passed unanimously in both chambers, although there was some debate about if that included bitterly-cold but sunny Prairie winter days. In an amendment, they were retained for their sheer beauty.

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