The Ministerial handout: The scorecard on who in Harper's cabinet handed out how much

Denis Lebel hands out the cash
Minister Denis Lebel (left) is one of the pros in Stephen Harper’s cabinet when it comes to handing out federal cash. Here, the mayor of Saint-Edmond-les-Plaines, QC, Rodrigue Cantin gives Lebel a hug earlier this year after taxpayers across Canada chipped in $272,000 to help fix up the community centre in Cantin’s community. See bottom of this post for more info. (PHOTO COURTOISIE/LE POINT)

One of the most important jobs for any minister is handing out tax dollars. The federal government collects more than $245 billion dollars a year in taxes and fees paid by individuals and businesses and, more often than not, spends more than it collects. Some of that spending is unavoidable — think Old Age Security benefits or transfer payments to the province for health care and social services — but a good chunk every year is quite discretionary. And when there’s a political spending choice to be made, you can bet a government minister wants his or her name associated with this decision.

As I’ve written here before, I try to track as many press releases as I can detailing spending announcements through my “OttawaSpends” project and, so far, up until Monday’s cabinet shuffle, that project has tracked more than 3,500 press releases issued by various ministers in which those various ministers announced spending decisions totalling nearly $27 billion. Many ask: Is this new money? Old money? To which I answer: That’s not the issue. All the money is voted on by Parliament through the budget process. What these announcements are is a government trying to earn political capital with your money. So it doesn’t matter to me if they make the same announcement every day for seven days a in a row. The point, for these purposes, is that a minister (and usually an MP) have put their name on a press release seven days in a row trying to take credit for spending your money.

Now, in many cases, the specific spending announcement would be something that would be tough to argue is a bad idea. Here for example, is former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announcing that Ottawa is giving Manitoba $50 million to help victims of flooding. And then there’s the spending announcements that can make you chuckle, like Minister Denis Lebel’s ongoing program to make sure every snowmobile club in Quebec has a new grooming machine, courtesy of taxpayers across Canada.

Now, how accurate is this data? Pretty accurate but I’m certain there are spending announcements I’ve missed. Not all spending announcements are released to the Parliamentary Press Gallery, distributed by various wire services, or published at various government of Canada Web sites. There is no one-stop shop you can go to for federal government spending announcements. That said, I’m pretty sure I’m getting upwards of 90% of them (maybe even 95%) so even if the exact numbers may be a little under-reported, I’m pretty confident the broad trend is accurate.

So, with that context and, as a new group of ministers gets set to start handing out the cheques, here is the scorecard so far from the last general election until Monday’s big cabinet shuffle. Ministers are listed alphabetically. Then the next number is the total number of press releases I could track in which they are the minister handing out some cash. For the last number, I simply add up cash that each press release committed to be spent.


Minister Spending Announcements Total $
Ablonczy 7 $49,820,000
Aglukkaq 91 $528,980,972
Ambrose 46 $1,171,376,881
Ashfield 34 $1,001,177,773
Baird 9 $96,000,000
Bernier 1 $20,000,000
Blaney 71 $186,134,602
Clement 172 $63,489,422
Duncan (J) 55 $1,182,441,640
Fantino 16 $198,830,160
Fast 3 $12,650,000
Findlay 6 $642,000,000
Finley 555 $1,375,619,928
Flaherty 12 $571,050,000
Fletcher 7 $60,411,313
Goodyear 237 $3,949,529,136
Gosal 5 $7,470,000
Kenney 17 $720,200,000
Kent 49 $2,516,968,623
Lebel 681 $5,059,230,425
MacKay 76 $1,466,768,621
Moore (J) 95 $141,521,048
Nicholson 21 $12,721,297
Oda 22 $772,090,000
Oliver 57 $2,382,852,903
Paradis 20 $465,882,523
Ritz 170 $763,740,235
Shea 104 $53,519,030
Toews 23 $305,601,442
Valcourt 376 $736,779,348
Wong 12 $51,313,910
Yelich 458 $223,651,641
Grand Total 3,508 $26,789,822,872

And now, here’s the same table, ranked from “most cash handed out” to “least cash handed out.” Minister Lebel is the kingpin here because his departments — Transport, Infrastructure and Communities plus the Quebec regional development agency — are grant-dispensing machines. The Transport Minister, for example, is responsible for the Gas Tax Transfer so every time a municipality fixes up a road or something — as the Village of Minburn, Alberta did this month — Lebel gets his name on a press release and more dollars added to his total.  Goodyear is second because he’s the guy who gets to take credit for money disbursed by the National Research Council, grants councils like SSHERC as well as the regional economic development agency for southern Ontario.  I’ve included the old portfolios each minister before Monday’s shuffle.


Minister Spending Announcements Total $
Lebel (Transport/Canada Economic Development for Quebe Regions) 681 $5,059,230,425
Goodyear (Minister of State – Science and Technology) 237 $3,949,529,136
Kent (Environment) 49 $2,516,968,623
Oliver (Natural Resources) 57 $2,382,852,903
MacKay (Defence) 76 $1,466,768,621
Finley (HRSDC) 555 $1,375,619,928
Duncan (J) (Aboriginal Affairs) 55 $1,182,441,640
Ambrose (Public Works/Status of Women) 46 $1,171,376,881
Ashfield (Fisheries) 34 $1,001,177,773
Oda (International Co-operation) 22 $772,090,000
Ritz (Agriculture) 170 $763,740,235
Valcourt (ACOA/DND/Aboroginal Affairs) 376 $736,779,348
Kenney (Immigration) 17 $720,200,000
Findlay (DND) 6 $642,000,000
Flaherty (Finance) 12 $571,050,000
Aglukkaq (Health) 91 $528,980,972
Paradis (Industry) 20 $465,882,523
Toews (Public Safety) 23 $305,601,442
Yelich (Western Economic Diversification) 458 $223,651,641
Fantino (DND/International Co-operation) 16 $198,830,160
Blaney (Veterans Affairs) 71 $186,134,602
Moore (J) – Heritage 95 $141,521,048
Baird – Foreign Affairs 9 $96,000,000
Clement – Treasury Board/FEDNOR 172 $63,489,422
Fletcher – Transport 7 $60,411,313
Shea – ACOA 104 $53,519,030
Wong – HRSDC (Seniors) 12 $51,313,910
Ablonczy – DFAIT 7 $49,820,000
Bernier – Industry Canada (Small Biz) 1 $20,000,000
Nicholson – Justice 21 $12,721,297
Fast – Intl Trade 3 $12,650,000
Gosal – Min of State (Sport) 5 $7,470,000
Grand Total 3,508 $26,789,822,872

My OttawaSpends project also tries to attach specific spending amounts to specific ridings. In some case, like the $50 million for flood relief announced by Toews, that cannot be done as the money will be spent across a region or over several ridings. But those snowmobile handouts of the Gas Tax Transfer? That’s definitely money going to a specific, identifiable riding.

So this time, we rank ministers according to how much federal cash for which they were the responsible minister ended up getting spent in their riding. Jim Flaherty tops the list with just one announcement. As Minister of Finance, he’s in charge of what’s known as the P3 Fund — Public-Private Partnerships — and on Sept. 20, 2012, Flaherty’s name was on a press release announcing a federal contribution of nearly $95 million to build a GO Transit Maintenance Facility in his riding of Whitby, ON.  (The P3 Canada Fund, incidentally, got $1.25 billion in the 2103 budget) Next was Leona Aglukkaq who, as Health Minister, saw nearly $30 million in spending Health Canada committed to in her riding which encompasses the whole territory of Nunavut. The ministers responsible for regional economic development agencies — Aglukkaq (CANNOR), Lebel (CEDQR), Yelich (WEDC), Clement (FEDNOR),  Goodyear (FEDDEV) and Shea (ACOA) — also signed off on the funding for a significant number of projects in their own ridings though no one did it quite like Minister Lebel. Of some note: Minister Lebel, after Monday’s shuffle, is still in charge of regional economic development agency for Quebec, Aglukkaq still holds the purse strings at CANNOR  and Goodyear is still in charge at FEDDEV. Oh, and Flaherty is still the kind of the P3 Fund.


Minister Spending Announcements Total $
Flaherty 1 $94,800,000
Aglukkaq 18 $29,072,790
Lebel 24 $9,427,468
Gohal 1 $6,800,000
Yelich 19 $5,746,900
Clement 15 $3,826,025
Goodyear 4 $3,802,500
Paradis 2 $2,931,000
Finley 3 $1,279,660
Shea 5 $768,541
Moore (J) 1 $500,785

Good luck to all new and shuffled ministers as they begin their work today of of sorting out the next 3,500 cheques to hand out! And remember, follow @OttawaSpends on Twitter where I’ll try to keep you posted with real-time spending announcement summaries!

Press release for the photo at the top of this post: Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund – Municipality of Saint-Edmond-les-Plaines receives funding from Government of Canada

3 thoughts on “The Ministerial handout: The scorecard on who in Harper's cabinet handed out how much”

  1. David,
    Thanks for a very insightful column and all the hard work behind it. I have a couple of comments/questions:
    1. Are you saying that if an MP announces the same $1m project 5 times, that will show up as $5m in the tables above, even though only $1m gets spent?
    2. In the para before the last table I think you meant to write that:
    a. Min Aglukkaq retains CANNOR, not ACOA; and
    b. Min Flaherty is still kinG of P3.

  2. @Jason
    Thanks for your comment, Jason.
    To 1.; Yes — If the same project gets announced more than once, that total will show up more than once here. Good example: Minister Goodyear might announced (again, for example) $100 million for research projects at universities across the country. But then, on the same day, the local MP might announce that $1 million of that is coming to his or her local university. In my database, both announcements would be logged: Goodyear for putting his name on $100 million handout and again for the $1 million to the local MP. That would add up to $101 million but the point, again, of this database is politicians taking credit for spending for our money. So Goodyear, in this example, would be taking credit for spending $101 million when, in fact, only $100 million would have been spent.

  3. Nice to see some bi-partisan reporting on sun media for a change instead of the typical political party hacks.

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