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Feds keep announcing KIP funding.

May 27, 2009

This week has seen a flurry of funding announcements from the federal government’s prominent Knowledge Infrastructure Plan (KIP). The KIP is the $2-billion centrepiece of the government’s $5.1-billion investment in “research”, and is designed to renew infrastructure at “universities (including affiliated research hospitals), colleges, CEGEPs, publicly funded polytechnic schools and institutes of technology across Canada”.

The last week has seen funding announcements for Manitoba ($159-million), Yukon ($4-million), Newfoundland and Labrador ($55-million), and Ontario ($1.5-billion). The Ontario announcement, understandably given the size of the investment, generated widespread interest, as a first round of announcements identified 28 projects that would receive funding. These figures, mind you, are rather more complicated than the news items might suggest, insofar as they represent the total investment by both federal and provincial governments and outside sources.

Interestingly, analysis of the press releases shows that, like in poor science, it isn’t so much the data that matters, but how you present it. The press releases all follow more or less the same structure; the Newfoundland and Labrador announcement is representative. It first names a number of politicians who “make the announcement” and thus stand to benefit from any associated glory: 

The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, on behalf of the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology), and the Honourable Darin King, Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of Education, along with Senator Fabian Manning and the Honourable Trevor Taylor, Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of Transportation and Works, today announced investments in four projects at post-secondary institutions in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Then, when the reader presumably is curious and ready for the details, the release is interrupted with a government advertisement:

As part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Government of Canada introduced the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, a two-year $2-billion economic stimulus measure to support infrastructure enhancement at Canadian post-secondary institutions, including universities and community colleges. Today’s announcement celebrates the projects that qualify under the program in Newfoundland and Labrador.

So we haven’t been told what NL’s share will be, but we do know that there is $2-billion to be had in total, a very impressive number. Before we find out what NL’s share will be, we also have to hear from the federal representative: 

“Our government’s investment provides significant short-term economic stimulus in local communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, while at the same time strengthening Canada’s long-term capacity for research and innovation,” said Minister MacKay…

We’re now several paragraphs into an announcement of NL funding, but it’s all been about the federal government’s $2.1-billion and “Canada’s capacity for research and innovation”. Finally, buried in the fourth paragraph, exactly midway through the announcement, are the details:

The federal-provincial investment today totals more than $55 million over two years, including $24 million in federal funding and $31 million in provincial funding. Overall, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is investing $800 million in infrastructure this year as part of a $4-billion, multi-year infrastructure strategy, which is anticipated to create or sustain approximately 5400 person-years of employment this year.

So the feds are investing $24-million in Newfoundland, and the province is investing $31-million. The news release then provides a quote from a Newfoundland politician: 

“The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador recognizes and supports the important role our post-secondary institutions play in furthering the economic growth and innovation of the province,” said Minister King…

And the news release finishes with two more paragraphs trumpeting the benefits of, first, the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, and second, Canada’s Economic Action Plan (CEAP).

Here’s my beef: The $24-million federal investment in Newfoundland is buried in the middle of the article, and is overwhelmed by the other figures. The KIP $2-billion is mentioned twice – at both the beginning and end of the article, also mentioned are the $12-billion for the CEAP, $55-million total investment in NL, etc. I guess this is a way to get as much mileage as possible from your investment – much more exciting than simply writing: “Federal government contributes $24-million (43%) to spending on Newfoundland infrastructure”. The press release isn’t dishonest, but it is disingenuous.

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