By TONY SEED
THE DECISION of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) to hang up its golf-funding clubs seems to be, at first glance, a hole in one for taxpayers.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, ACOA officials took to the links – figuratively – to hand out $12 million in grants and loans to 56 regional golf projects. Most of the money was federal loans with no matching provincial funds.
At the provincial level, however, the federal funding was backed up by infrastructure and extensive marketing programmes of the departments of tourism; under the pretext of “economic development,” these departments actively campaigned in the USA (in the main) to supply a steady stream of well-heeled clientele for key golf courses and the nearby corporate resorts, many of which are geographically and financially inaccessible to the majority of Nova Scotians.
This spending directly stimulates real estate speculation and forces the prices of land and construction upwards. This spending consolidates the trend of the rich getter richer and of Nova Scotia being “developed” as an “ocean playground” without a productive base aside from tourism, militarization, and transportation from its ports to central Canada and the USA.
The program may have provided some pretty fantastic golf courses throughout the region, but it was a form of government funding to private capital that many taxpayers and sports people found highly inappropriate, outrageous and unacceptable.
Especially so in recent years as Ottawa cut support for health care and education as well as amateur sport and recreation under the pretext of trimming the federal deficit.
Those funds were then used to pay the rich, from the banks to the greens. The ACOA program illustrates what funding was possible. Without public money and guarantees for a certain return and security of investments, the lush golf courses would not exist and the profits of the corporations involved and the promotion of themselves and their “celebrities” through the medium of golf tournaments as the centre of economic, social, cultural and sporting life would not materialize.
The spending of the state on venues dominated by the financial oligarchy such as lush golf courses reflects the capital-centred character of the Canadian state. In contrast, the spending of a human-centred state would concentrate first on its social responsibilities to increase spending on social programs, public services and the socialized economy on which all Canadians depend. This would also include sport and recreation for all, not just an aristocratic elite.
“ACOA has seen that the private sector’s new golf course development can proceed without (our) assistance,” said Alex Smith, the agency’s communications director. In other words, this sector is now monopolized, the profits guaranteed, and the rich satiated.
Too bad it took the federal agency so long to recognize what taxpayers had long concluded – that ACOA should have stayed off the courses in the first place.