Sub­si­dize me

With more than 3,000 listed in Canada, one won­ders why we don’t give money to peo­ple who don’t re­quire any other hand­outs, writes WIL­LIAM WAT­SON. There can’t be many.

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Wil­liam Wat­son teaches eco­nom­ics at Mcgill Univer­sity.

Are more than 3,000 dif­fer­ent hand­outs enough? Wil­liam Wat­son,

This be­ing awards sea­son, my nom­i­na­tion for best book of the year is a peren­nial per­sonal favourite: The Cana­dian Sub­sidy Di­rec­tory 2013 (the year changes, well, yearly, you un­der­stand). As the front­cover puts it: “More than 3,000 pro­grams listed, In­clud­ing: de­scrip­tions, tele­phones, adresses (sic) and hy­per­links.”

The plot struc­ture isn’t as con­vo­luted as in many of our more post­mod­ern nov­els: the pre­sen­ta­tion is al­pha­bet­i­cal. But the wealth of de­tail is wor­thy of Tol­stoy and the in­sight the book pro­vides into the kalei­do­scopic pas­sions of mod­ern government is un­for­get­table — even if it doesn’t in­clude data for Que­bec. (There’s a sep­a­rate vol­ume for what’s likely the coun­try’s most sub­si­diz­ing province.) The sim­ple cu­mu­la­tion of mind-numb­ing minu­tiae builds to a thun­der­ing im­pli­ca­tion for the Cana­dian ex­pe­ri­ence: any­one who be­lieves our gov­ern­ments need to be big­ger had bet­ter spend an hour or two scrolling through th­ese pages.

In fair­ness, not all of the 3,051 sub­si­dies, grants and loans listed are from government. Who knew there was a Cana­dian Park­ing Foun­da­tion? Well, there is, and in 2010 it gave $10,000 to a re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia to study “the ef­fects of site park­ing on home val­ues in New York City.” In fact, the CPF’s re­search pro­gram gives two grants an­nu­ally for re­search lead­ing to “the so­lu­tion of prob­lems in park­ing.” Ed­mund Burke be­lieved that to love the “lit­tle pla­toon we be­long to in so­ci­ety” was “the first link in the se­ries by which we pro­ceed to­wards a love to our coun­try, and to mankind.” Who knew this first link could be a love of park­ing, but then again why not? More power to them, th­ese lit­tle pla­toons that make up civil so­ci­ety. It’s their money. May they spend it how­ever they please.

But the great bulk of sub­si­dies in the Cana­dian Sub­sidy Di­rec­tory are not of­fered by the lit­tle pla­toons but by the le­viathan, government, it­self, all the way from A to, well, not quite Z but Y. From “Abo­rig­i­nal Af­fairs and North­ern Devel­op­ment Canada” all the way to “Yukon Tech­nol­ogy In­no­va­tion Cen­tre Fund.” AANDC, by the way, is good for 31 sep­a­rate en­tries, from “So­cial Pro­grams,” “Trans­fer Pay­ments” and “Tribal Coun­cil Fund­ing” to the “North­ern Con­tam­i­nants Pro­gram,” the “Food Mail Pro­gram” (which pro­vides re­duced postage for food mailed north), and the “First Na­tions and Inuit Sum­mer Work Ex­pe­ri­ence Pro­gram,” to name six of the 31. Given the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, Par­lia­ment will not be idle but will de­vise sev­eral more.

The very at­trac­tive “In­vest Yukon” web­page that the Yukon Tech­nol­ogy In­no­va­tion Cen­tre Fund links to tells in­vestors that Yukon of­fers “a wide range of pro­grams and in­cen­tives.” Re­call that Yukon’s pop­u­la­tion is a lit­tle over 36,000. On­tario boasts at least 26 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties big­ger than Yukon. I sup­pose they all of­fer a wide range of pro­grams and in­cen­tives, too.

In­no­va­tion is also big out­side Yukon. In fact, the word ap­pears 162 times in the Cana­dian Sub­sidy Di­rec­tory. That doesn’t mean there are 162 sep­a­rate in­no­va­tion pro­grams. “In­no­va­tion” can be used more than once in de­scrib­ing a sep­a­rate pro­gram. Sup­pose it’s used on av­er­age three times per de­scrip­tion. That means there are more than 50 dif­fer­ent pro­grams across the coun­try en­cour­ag­ing in­no­va­tion — in ad­di­tion to the piles of prof­its most busi­ness peo­ple re­al­ize suc­cess­ful in­no­va­tion can lead to. The next time any min­is­ter any­where pro­poses a new pro­gram for in­no­va­tion, some­one should ask why the ex­ist­ing 50-plus pro­grams aren’t enough. (I sup­pose a clever min­is­ter will say the prob­lem is a lack of in­no­va­tion in in­no­va­tion sub­si­dies, which the new one will rem­edy.)

An­other big word in the sub­si­dies di­rec­tory, in fact maybe the big­gest of all, is “film,” which ap­pears a whop­ping 393 times. There’s the Na­tional Film Board of Canada (in­clud­ing an Abo­rig­i­nal Film­mak­ing Pro­gram). There’s Tele­film Canada, the Nova Sco­tia Film Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, the New Brunswick Film and Video Tax Credit, Man­i­toba Film & Sound, the Al­berta Film Com­mis­sion, Bri­tish Columbia Film, Sask Film, and, in­evitably, Yukon Film and Sound Com­mis­sion. (Thirty-six thou­sand peo­ple have their own film and sound com­mis­sion, plus at least four sep­a­rate pro­grams: Yukon Film Devel­op­ment Fund, Yukon Film Lo­ca­tions In­cen­tive Pro­gram, Yukon Film Pro­duc­tion Fund and Yukon Film­mak­ers Fund.) If you’re won­der­ing, the New­found­land and Labrador Film Devel­op­ment Fund does ex­ist though for some rea­son it isn’t listed. Same with the On­tario Film Com­mis­sion, whose own web page ad­ver­tises a sheaf of sub­si­dies. Maybe the au­thors of the Sub­sidy Di­rec­tory fig­ured 468 pages of sub­si­dies was enough for any­body.

Maybe so. But it seems to me a cou­ple of other sub­si­dies are miss­ing from this oth­er­wise ex­haus­tive com­pi­la­tion. One is the Av­er­age Tax­payer Sub­sidy, which should be awarded an­nu­ally to av­er­age tax­pay­ers who go about their busi­ness from year to year with­out ask­ing for any grants or spe­cial favours from any level of government. There are so few such peo­ple, ev­i­dently, that it won’t cost gov­ern­ments very much.

The other miss­ing sub­sidy is a free copy of The Cana­dian Sub­sidy Di­rec­tory 2013 for ev­ery leg­is­la­tor and jour­nal­ist in the coun­try. Maybe if they all knew how much is go­ing on al­ready they wouldn’t be quite so quick to ask for more.

You can get your own on­line ac­cess (for $69.95 alas) at www.


Any­one who be­lieves our gov­ern­ments need to be big­ger had bet­ter spend an hour or two scrolling through the pages of the Cana­dian Sub­sidy Di­rec­tory, writes Wil­liam Wat­son.

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