Carla Qualtrough, minister of sport and persons with disabilities, talks with U13 Vernon United soccer players Nadia Nelson (left), Georgia Wenger and Mia Hyer at the VantageOne Soccer Centre. (Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Recycled rhetoric

Like all levels of government, Ottawa is on the recycling bandwagon, encouraging Canadians to make use of old things.

“To be really effective, we have to incorporate the three Rs – reduce, reuse, and recycle – into our daily routine,” states the Environment Canada website.

And from what we saw in Vernon recently, the feds are taking their message clearly to heart.

Last Wednesday, Carla Qualtrough, minister of sport and persons with disabilities, stood before an adoring crowd at the VantageOne Soccer Centre where she announced grants for four community projects.

Among them was a whopping $471,500 to develop the Okanagan Rail Trail between Coldstream and Vernon.

Applause reverberated through the clubhouse, and rail trail advocates were beaming from ear to ear.

But for some in the crowd, including the media, Qualtrough’s announcement smacked of deja vu because, in fact, there was nothing new here.

The $471,500 had already captured valley headlines back in March.

“I want to congratulate all those who are working so hard to bring this legacy project to fruition,” said Stephen Fuhr, the Liberal MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, in a press release at that time.

“The Okanagan Rail Trail will connect our communities, allow us to explore the heritage and beauty of the Okanagan and provide an outstanding recreational and tourist destination for many generations to come.”

The cash was budgeted long ago by the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative as part of its fundraising efforts.

“The communities along the trail are grateful to Community Futures and Western Development’s Canada 150 program for supporting the development of the trail. By working together, we will finish the trail,” said Brad Clements, ORTI spokesperson, in a government release in March.

So with the $471,500 already being revealed five months ago, one has to wonder why it was on official stationary again?

The likely reason is that a cabinet minister wasn’t available back in the spring to visit the Okanagan with the good news, but if that’s so critical, why was the region’s lone Liberal MP allowed to spill the beans on behalf of his government back then?

Of course others will speculate that politicians love the cameras and any attempt to show the government in action will be fully embraced. In this case last Wednesday, four media outlets, including The Morning Star, helped spread the word again about the rail trail.

None of this may seem like a huge deal given the major economic and social issues facing our country, but what repeat announcements do is foster public cynicism about government and elected officials. Taxpayers’ money was spent to brag about something that is old news — albeit three new projects also received cash.

For many residents, they will also wonder if federal officials have any original ideas or if they are just dusting off previous actions?

And these recycled announcements are likely something the then-Liberal opposition used to give the Stephen Harper administration grief over.

In the end, no significant harm was done last week and obviously the support for the rail trail is appreciated as the route along Kalamalka and Wood lakes will not only benefit locals but become a major international tourist draw.

But hopefully the next time the Liberals are thinking about recycling, they will toss the rehashed script into the blue box instead of sending it out.

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