Last night the CBC evening news gave Peter Ladner and Jordan Bateman equal time to put their side of the plebiscite debate. Not as a confrontation, thank goodness but as a pair of “one on one” interviews with Andrew Chang. The clip discussed in this link did not actually get broadcast. I think Peter Ladner’s criticism is fair: Bateman sticks to the same speaking points all the time, and those are designed to make people angry. The technique has been a favourite of right wingers for a long time – and was actually analysed rather well in “The American President”
“You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. ”
Jordan Bateman has been trying to make people angry about the salary paid to Ian Jarvis – and about the Main Street Poodle. He says that these are examples of waste. And he keeps repeating that, even though the argument has been pretty much debunked. Translink has indeed made some grievous errors – but Bateman never refers to the waste of the Golden Ears Bridge, because he has been an advocate of many more bridges across the Fraser. He is probably made uncomfortable too by the fact that the toll revenues on that bridge do not pay for its ‘mortgage’. The way the P3 is structured, a private company is taking money from Translink that ought to have been available for transit. But our provincial government does not permit revenue risk to be transferred to the private sector. That is one of the few benefits of P3s, as far as I am concerned. It would also obviously draw attention to the grotesque waste of the Port Mann Bridge. Which far exceeds the cost of a poodle on a pole in every city centre!
Equally he never talks about the reorganisation of HandyDART, which cut service and increased cost for the benefit of a US based contractor. This again is a much bigger issue than some tv screens on SkyTrain not working. Yes the compass card is not yet working properly – but Jordan would not dream of pointing the finger at Cubic. Or Kevin Falcon.
In my experience the social media discussion has been dragged down by his supporters. He complains about fake accounts on Twitter. I would have thought he would have been aware of the BC Ferries misstep there just recently. Twitter can be a very nasty place indeed. So can facebook and the comments area of blogs and mainstream media sites. The No campaign has been very active to make sure that any comment made in favour of the Yes side gets bombarded fast and hard.
One of the favourite techniques actually speaks to the different styles of the campaigns. The mainstream media has criticised the Yes campaign for being geeky: concentrating on facts and figures, and making complex arguments showing how transit is related to other issues like access to employment, affordability of living in this region and so on. They have been recommending the sort of emotional appeal that works for the No side. So when a fact or figure is cited by a No tweet or post and attracts a reply which refers to the context a favourite ploy is to call that “opinion”. After all, every one is entitled to an opinion, even if it is wrong. So then the next step is to try and drag out the exchange and demand data and sources. I originally thought this was a variation of the old doorstep debate technique to hold up the canvasser and waste their time. But actually it is nastier than that. The initial responses are polite and appear concerned with debate, but gradually decline in tone, as other commenters pile on. On twitter, more names and hashtags get added to replies to use up more of the 140 characters. And beware of any discussion that has the bcpoli hash tag. Now that gets really down and dirty.
Jordan is not just the main spokesperson for the No side, he has actually been the campaign. One or two rogue elephant Mayors would like to share that limelight but Jordan has been adept and able to keep the spot for himself. He can hardly complain now when people start looking at his track record, and wondering where his pay cheque comes from. As usual the best thing to do in politics is always to follow the money. Who benefits most from a No vote? Note that in this region nearly every politician has wanted to acknowledge the truth that we need more transit. In reality, there is not that much choice. We know that motordom has failed to deliver on its promises, but our Premier seems not to have noticed or care. She has the chutzpah to promote a carbon tax and LNG at the same time. Left to her own devices she can readily find the tax payer funds to pay for more roads and bridges and the private sector profits and higher financing costs of P3s too. Motordom and big oil pay for right wing think tanks, and the Koch brothers have been funding anti-transit campaigns in the states for years. Since the CTF is not a charity, it does not have to reveal its funders, so it doesn’t. So there is no visible money trail. But the techniques and arguments have been translated holus bolus.
Of course people feel that their finances are stretched. Personal incomes for most people have been static, while those for the wealthiest have grown very rapidly. Income taxes have been cut – because that is what the wealthy demand. But it has not produced the economic growth that was promised – and what has flowed has failed to trickle down. Instead of a progressive income tax, all sorts of fees and charges have been increased instead. MSP is the most egregious example, but add BC Hydro rates, ICBC payments, bridge tolls, transit fares, BC Ferry fares and even the decline in gas prices quickly gets swallowed up. People genuinely do not feel there is room for more sales tax. The HST must have been on Christy’s mind when she made her promise to put any new transit funding mechanism to a regional referendum. And yes of course people dislike the way Translink was insulated from even indirect democratic control.
The reason that the No campaign has scored well is that it was nimble enough to get its shots in first. The trouble they are in now is that they are on the defensive. The coalition which took so long to pull together and get moving is indeed proving effective. As it must. Of course Bateman whines about using taxpayers’ money to fund the campaign. But increasing transit capacity – and adding bike lanes and more HandyDART service and even the selected road expansions – are all critical to municipal success in building the sort of place that will continue to grow, and remain livable. Greenhouse gas reduction over the motordom alternative does not get mentioned very much simply because most of those genuinely uncommitted are weary of of the very similar broader “debate” prolonged by the climate deniers’ refusal to admit they are wrong. Just as the people who became so rude and abusive over Point Grey Road traffic calming – or any protected bike lane anywhere – ever admit they have been proved wrong every time as well.
The Mayors did not pick this battle. It has been three years of asking for sustainable funding for future transit expansion, during which time Christy Clark has hid behind the need for yet another audit – none of which showed profligacy – and then her increasingly dubious playing with the referendum. Which was initially binding, and based on a clear question, but is now non binding and the question neatly made more fuzzy. Just how much more wiggle room does she need? Enough I think to dismiss any Yes result. She has a Plan B. Of course she does. She intends to stay Premier, and then pass on the baton to a chosen heir. So LRT if necessary for Surrey but not necessarily transit for anyone else, unless there is a short term political advantage in a swing constituency. BC politics as usual, in fact.
The No vote will not change anything, and it saddens me that so many people who have been allies on the generally progressive side continue to believe that this is another HST campaign. It isn’t, and Christy’s careful distancing herself from promoting the sales tax increase should be clear enough indication of that.
Jordan should not complain about “vicious” when so many of his supporters have so eagerly embraced that, where it suits them. Jordan cannot complain about personal since he has been front and centre from the start. Ian Jarvis was picked as CEO for Translink when it proved hard to attract good candidates from elsewhere. The speed of the departure of Tom Prendergast did not go unnoticed among the quite small field of potential replacements. He had also been very effective as a CFO – a job he had formerly held at GVRD. I thought the action of the Board in dismissing him, and realising too late that they still had a contract to fulfill, would have been inept for a politically oriented board. But for one that was supposed to be the best the business community could summon it is unforgivable. Ask Ian how he feels about personal attacks, Jordan.
Jordan is also disingenuous when he says that the Yes campaign has ignored his plans and proposals. They haven’t, of course. There is just not much to argue about. You cannot find enough money within Translink to fund growth. And indeed it was the policy of penny wise pound foolish that caused that huge SkyTrain disruption. Translink had decided not to buy a software upgrade, that would have removed the need to restart every train manually. Since the need had not arisen before, it was not thought necessary, and the pressure to cut costs was intense. The municipal governments are not going to use development cost charges or increases in property tax revenues that flow from rising house prices, because that money is already spoken for. To pay the wages of firefighters and police officers, for one thing. To patch the roads and prop up the bridges for another. To cope with the constant downloading from senior levels of government.
Vancouver Insider tweeted “You don’t have to like Translink, mayors, or sales taxes to know that better transit is much better for all of us. All else is noise. ”
But the noise will continue. NO will be mainly Bateman – but also a lot of people who think that taxes make them worse off. And who do not want to argue about facts and figures. It is a feeling – and a feeling they have in common with many others. Quote from The Goodbye Girl “I’m angry. I don’t want to lose it.”