01 September 2009

Big poll goose but less money for forestry than claimed

Throughout 2008 and 2009, the provincial government claimed it created a forest sector diversification program in 2008 worth $14 million, but there’s no sign in publicly available documents that the money was actually budgeted and spent until 2009.

And the amounts mentioned in different government documents, including the 2009 budget, show there was less money involved than the $14 million referred to constantly.

A news release issued in April 2008 referred to a total of $14 million in diversification funds.  That included $11 million  “to establish a diversification program that will provide for infrastructure required by industry to produce new forest products and gain access to new markets.” Another $500,000 was supposed to go to promoting the wood pellet industry.

A November 2008 news release on the wood pellet promotion also refers to $14 million and a name;  Forest Industry Diversification Program

A description on the federal government’s website claims a $14 million program was created in 2008.

But Budget 2008 Highlights don’t mention the diversification project at all.  instead there’s a reference to 

“Allocating $10 million in provincial funding to add to the $4 million in federal funding under the Community Development Trust for forest industry initiatives.”

And there’s  no such program or amount anywhere in the 2008 budget for the department responsible for the forest industry that covers the federal and provincial cash totalling $14 million or anything close to it.

That didn’t become become plain until early 2009 and the new provincial budget.

FIDP2009 The 2009 Estimates (right)show that the government didn’t spend a nickel on the program before the end of March 2009. The “revised” column is blank.

Instead, the provincial government carried over the federal cash received but not spent in 2008 and added to it the rest of the original federal contribution for a total of $4.0 million in cash from Ottawa.

What’s more, the provincial government didn’t add either $10 million or $11 million of its own money in 2009 as it had suggested in previous news releases.   Nor did it add a second year’s provincial contribution to the first to make a program worth upwards of $25 million.

Instead, the provincial government included the extra federal cash and reduced the provincial cash to a produce a program in 2009 that had less money than earlier news releases claimed.

The tomfoolery didn’t stop there.

The 2009 budget highlight document uses a while new set of numbers that don’t match any of the others and which certainly don’t match the figures included in the 2009 budget.

Here’s what it said:

Further investment of $6 million in the Forestry Industry Diversification Fund to assist the industry in identifying new products and markets. This is in addition to the $8.5 million carried forward from 2008.

There was no new investment, of course, as the budget documents clearly show.

As it is, two sawmills gobbled up 83% of the interest-free money in the form of  loans that don’t have to be repaid for 15 years and as grants that never have to be repaid.  One received a total of $10 million while a second scarfed down $2.25 million in free government cash.  The same cash was announced several times over the course of a week during August polling season 2009.

The other money appears to have gone the wood pellet program and to hiring a marketing consultant for a project that supposedly cost – you guessed it - $14 million.