The strangest thing has happened in Canadian politics: the federal government is actually taking money from its own pocket and giving it to a lower level of government.
This is practically unprecedented after a decade of "downloading" by federal and provincial politicians. All through the 1990s - and into the new millennium in B.C. - governments have tamed their deficits as much as possible on the backs of the next level of government. Ottawa (under a certain Finance Minister who is now responsible for the windfall) cut transfer payments to the provinces more than any federal program as it balanced its books, and Victoria has done the same in recent years, letting school districts and health authorities - and municipalities - make the tough calls on which buildings to close and which services to cut.
Now Ottawa, embarrassingly flush with budget surpluses, has started to shovel money back to the governments it took from. The provinces are suddenly finding $2 billion in health care funding available, and now municipal governments are the recipients of a $5-billion rebate on the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
This is no drop in the bucket. Even for small municipalities, it's a major chunk of money - $400,000 for the District of Squamish this year.
The question that comes to mind, naturally, is "how do we spend this?"
It wouldn't take very long, even for that impressive an amount. It works out to about two per cent of the District's total budget for 2003 - in other words, about a week's worth of money.
An infrastructure project? It's a start, but nothing major. That money and $9,600,000 more will get you a new sewage treatment plant, for example.
A tax break for property owners who are swooning at their bloated assessments and wondering how hard it'll hit them? Perhaps.
But we'd like to hope our lawmakers don't follow the example of their provincial counterparts with the recent health windfall and simply suck up the dollars into general revenue without so much as a by-your-leave. Even if the money is simply restored funds the feds should have handed over long ago, it doesn't do the good it should that way.
Squamish has many challenges ahead of it in infrastructure. The recent call for more money for arterial roads to link neighbourhoods and reduce locals' reliance on Hwy. 99 is just one example of the type of project that this federal money is designed for.
The temptation to throw that $400,000 into general revenue will be strong. But wouldn't that just be downloading in reverse?