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There’s nothing clean about the Site C dam

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There is something wrong in BC. There is a provincial general election coming up (May 2017) and the premier seems to be determined to secure her legacy by building mega-projects of dubious or even negative value before she gets kicked out of office. Hopefully, the new government in Ottawa will do something to restrain this effort to change the face of BC before more damage is done.

 

Copied from Amnesty International

Open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
Canadian organizations condemn Peace River hydroelectric mega-project for human rights violations

Dear Prime Minister,

Our organizations are profoundly concerned that construction of the Site C dam is being pushed ahead despite the conclusion of a joint federal-provincial environmental assessment that it would severely and permanently undermine Indigenous peoples’ use of the land; harm rare plants and other biodiversity; make fishing unsafe for at least a generation; and submerge burial grounds and other crucial cultural and historical sites.

The Site C dam is not just another resource development project. It is one of the largest such projects currently underway in Canada. For First Nations such as West Moberly and Prophet River, which continue to challenge the project in court, flooding the Peace Valley would take away one of the last remaining places where they can still practice their cultures and traditions. In other words, it would violate fundamental rights protected by Treaty 8, the Canadian Constitution, and international human rights law.

When the federal and provincial governments approved the project, they claimed that the severe harm that would be caused by Site C was ‘justified’ by the energy and the jobs it will produce. We strongly disagree.

Ignoring the rights of Indigenous peoples can never be justified. Furthermore, in this day and age there are far less damaging and less costly methods that could be used to meet British Columbia’s energy needs – many of which would create more jobs than Site C.

Last month, Canada played a crucial role in achieving an historic global accord on climate change. The Paris Agreement calls on governments to increase the use of renewable energy but also reaffirmed the obligation of all governments to acknowledge and respect human rights, including the rights of Indigenous peoples.

In other words, energy projects that violate human rights are not clean or green.

Prime Minister, we urge you and your Cabinet to put the principles you championed in Paris into practice in Canada. We urge that construction of the Site C dam be halted immediately, that all permits be rescinded, and that the previous government’s approval of this project be re-examined. It is crucial that the federal and provincial governments work collaboratively with the Indigenous peoples of the region to reach common agreement on a long-term plan to protect Indigenous land use in the Peace Valley.

The people of Treaty 8 have said no to Site C. Any government that is truly committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, to respecting human rights, and to promoting truly clean energy must listen.

Signed,

Alliance 4 Democracy
The Anglican Eco-Justice Unit, Diocese of New Westminster
Amnesty International Canada
Blue Planet Project
BC Women’s Institute
Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion – BROKE
Canadian Federation of Students
Canadian Friends Service Committee
Council of Canadians
Christian Peacemakers Team, Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Project
Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) Vancouver
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)
CPAWS-BC
David Suzuki Foundation
Earthroots
Ecojustice
Greenpeace Canada
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Patagonia
Peace Valley Environment Association
Peace Valley Landowner Association
RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs)
Skeena Wild Conservation Trust
Sierra Club BC
West Coast Environmental Law
Wilderness Committee
Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2016 at 8:34 am

Posted in energy, Environment, politics

Tagged with

How to fix Translink’s broken governance

with 12 comments

The need for this article, right now, is almost purely academic. The ruling BC Liberals seem immune to widespread obloquy over not one but a series of scandals any one of which might have brought other kinds of government down. Yes Translink is a problem for those of us living in the region  – and that is, numerically at least, the majority of the BC population. But that is not the way politics works here, and Christy Clark seems able to serve out the rest of her term. And anyway there are plenty of other issues where she is at odds with most of the people who live here, but can survive at least until the next election.

The reason I decided to start writing was a piece in BC Business entitled  “How TransLink might fix its broken business model” which is nearly a month old now but its author, Frances Bula chose to tweet it again to-day, which caught my  attention. Basically the article looks at the turn around in Atlanta, and speculates about a similar approach here.

My comment is under the article, and this post is designed to enlarge upon it. Quoting myself

The problem in Vancouver is not management. It is governance. The present model is unaccountable and unrepresentative. It was imposed by a provincial government that has clearly demonstrated that it has absolutely no interest in seeing it work.

The province has always had a policy that transit is different to other types of public service, and needs a unique approach. It interferes continually but, at the same time, refuses to fund transit properly while spending far too much on road expansion. A referendum is required for any new funding mechanism, but is never required for any highway project – or indeed any other type of provincial spending/funding decisions.

And Jordan Bateman will always be only too happy to torpedo any proposals that might actually work to improve the situation as that would rob this one trick pony of his audience.

A new CEO is not going to be able to change the governance. Only the province has the ability to do that. This government never admits to any of its mistakes. Only a change in Victoria as complete as the one just seen in Ottawa is going to make any difference.

So one day there will be a different provincial government that decides that it is time to reform Translink. Here is what they will need to think about:

The current arrangement has been cobbled together to suit the BC Liberals of the day. It makes no sense now to continue with it, and the easiest point to start might be to unpick what they did by simply repealing their legislation, and go back to the former GVTA. Except that was not exactly popular either, and for very good reason. In its first iteration it was a new body run by some but, not all, of the Mayors with some acknowledgement of the varying sizes of the municipalities. This method of indirect representation is similar to that of Metro Vancouver, responsible for waste disposal and water delivery, regional parks and planning, but there all the Mayors get a seat at the table but with weighted votes.

Translink was supposed to have been a transportation agency – with responsibility for some bridges and the Major Road Network (MRN), but this was really only provincial downloading of responsibilities that would have happened anyway. One of the worst decisions, in terms of its financial impact on Translink, was to replace the Albion Ferry with the tolled Golden Ears Bridge, which has created a huge drain on the agency’s revenues as traffic has never come up to expectations, and revenue risk was not transferred to the P3 – which pretty much vitiates the reason for using that method of funding. Apart from that the MRN seems to have worked well except for one long running argument over a bridge between New Westminster and Coquitlam. On the other hand the ill conceived North Fraser Perimeter Road was soundly defeated and has yet to re-emerge. Though it almost certainly will if the Ministry engineers get their way – as they usually do in the Long Run.

I have long argued that indirect elections are a recipe for discontent. Mayors are not elected on regional issues, and tend to adopt a stance that is defensive of their turf before any regional consideration. But no matter how much you might dislike what your Mayor says over regional issues, they are not the deciding factor come election day. We need representative and responsible government and you do not get that by holding infrequent, contentious non binding plebiscites.

The governing body has to be an advocate of better transit, because this region has historically been underserved for most of its existence, and is the only feasible way for a region of this size to function effectively. Transit is not only vital to the economy, it is also essential to tackle our most pressing environmental and social issues – and those include affordable housing. Where you chose to live determines how much you travel and the concept of affordability has to include costs of housing AND transportation if it is to be meaningful.

And while the province will never make any concessions over the needs of longer distance travel and transport, nor will the federal government in terms of ports and airports. Both levels of government have effectively abandoned their responsibilities with respect to housing but that is not sustainable and will inevitably have to change. And while technological changes may well have some dramatic impacts on how we use the transportation system they are unlikely to reduce demand for movement of people and goods overall.

It is also obvious that you should not plan just for transport as though it was not intimately enmeshed with land use. Sadly, we continue to behave as though the two subjects were unrelated – even if we give the idea of integration at least lip service if not substantive commitment. By and large, when new transit lines are planned it would be much better to get them up and running before the people arrive, if you do not want them to get used to driving everywhere first, which is what has been happening.

So, given that Metro Vancouver seems to work acceptably, why would you not just put Translink under its command? I think that is a temptingly straightforward solution but not one that satisfies the need to improve accountability. Much better I think to reform both at the same time and hold direct elections for regional government – with a Mayor for Metro. This is the solution that was adopted in London. Mrs Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council, but then balked at privatising and deregulating London Transport. It was the proverbial dog’s breakfast and did not last for long after she was deposed. The Greater London Authority and its directly elected Mayor now runs Transport for London – and some related issues that have been downloaded including taxis (which used to be run by the Home Office). Much of the transit service is contracted out, but there is a single integrated fare system, and some of the local train services have been transferred from the national rail system to the Overground.

The huge issue that I have not so far dealt with is the need for much more investment in transit as well as increasing need for revenue support – if only because the use of gas tax revenues has been a victim of the system’s very success at getting people out of their cars. Property tax is not going to be accepted, and the province needs to become much more responsive to the needs of people to get around without a car. This applies as much outside Vancouver as within it. It is absolutely baffling why the province refuses to set up a transit service along Highway 16 (“The Highway of Tears“) between Prince George, Terrace and Prince Rupert. That has to be part of the solution to terrible loss of life due to aboriginal women being forced to hitchhike as the only way to get to essential services. Victoria’s need for rail based transit could not be more obvious, nor so long obviously ignored. Restoring trains on the E&N is only a start.

So yes there is going to have to be more provincial money for transit, and the roads budget is the place to start. We simply cannot afford more freeways and gigantic bridges. We also need to raise money fairly and equitably. Income tax and corporation tax are the obvious places to start, and the odious fees and charges levied without reference to ability to pay have to be abolished. So much less reliance on BC Hydro, ICBC as revenue sources, no more MSP and a thoroughgoing reform of BC Ferries to make it once again a public service and not a pretend corporation. The wealthy can readily afford to pay more tax. There has to be an end to all the corporate welfare, especially subsidies and outright give-aways of natural resources. There will still need to be fossil fuels, but levying reasonable royalties (cf Norway) has to be central to public finance. Carbon tax has worked, to some extent, but the “revenue neutral” mantra has to be abandoned.  We have to switch away to renewable energy sources at a much faster rate, and a lot of carbon is going to have to stay in the ground. At the same time, we have to recognize that far too many people are currently living a hand to mouth existence, and cannot absorb more levies fees and tax increases. We have to be more socially responsible, but this also will often mean better ways of doing things. It is cheaper to house people than it is to cope with the costs of homelessness. The war on drugs is unwinnable, but recreational substance use can be a useful source of revenue – and self medication.

The idea that we can reform Translink by tinkering with its PR and “business model” (whatever that means) is delusional. And like any interdependent ecosystem, we cannot just pull on one or two strings and expect the web to stay intact.  But we can also readily identify where the current policies have not worked and cannot be made to work better just by getting tougher. Most of the knee jerk right wing responses are ill informed and unsupported by any credible data. Better policies are in place elsewhere and we can find better examples than the one we have been so blindly following. And none of this is a stand alone issue. It is long past time for some joined up thinking.

AFTERWORD

From the Globe and Mail Friday November 20

One change Mr. Fassbender said he’s not going to consider at all is another reorganization of how TransLink is governed. When the agency was first created, 12 mayors sat on a board that directed TransLink. The province changed that in 2007 to have the board composed of non-political appointees.

Mr. Fassbender emphasized that everyone needs to stay focused on what’s really important, not squabbles over how much TransLink’s CEO is paid or what the governance of TransLink looks like. “It’s important that we keep our eye on the goal – an integrated, working transportation system.”

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 18, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Rachel Notley’s Speech to Investors

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Like many people sick of conservatism, I was greatly encouraged by the recent change in the government of Alberta. The victory there of the NDP after so many years of right wing domination seemed like a breath of fresh air.

The disappointment I am currently experiencing is visceral. Premier Rachel Notley spoke to the Stampede Investor Forum on Tuesday “her first major (private) speech to an industry crowd, two months after her New Democrats won.”

…it’s the oil sands that have really emerged as our international showpiece.

For more than half a century, Albertans have been coming up with unconventional solutions for an unconventional resource so we can extract, handle and ship it responsibly, to the very best of our abilities.

This attitude of pushing the limits of what’s possible influences every aspect of the oil sands, from research and development to environmental management to the service and support fields.

It’s a tremendous asset which has transformed Alberta into one of the world’s leading oil producers.

And I’m here today to emphasize that the province has a government determined to defend this advantage, by being constructive at home, and by building relationships around the world.

…Alberta will continue to be a healthy place for private investment under our government.

This definitely applies to energy.

Expanding existing oil sands projects, establishing new ones and pioneering advanced technologies — all this requires spending on a large scale.
Under our leadership, Alberta’s abundant oil and gas reserves will remain wide open to investment.

MacLeans has “the premier’s prepared text at the forum cosponsored by her government, Calgary Economic Development and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry’s main megaphone.”

I have been regularly berated by NDP supporters who claim that the Green Party is “splitting the progressive vote”. I will now quote this speech to anyone who dares to claim that the NDP and the Green Party share the same values.

Humanity is rapidly approaching  an existential crisis. If we are to have some impact on the increase in greenhouse gas emissions we have seen in recent years, then it is essential that fossil fuel consumption starts to decrease. It is not enough that some renewable energy sources have been increasing. These sources have to replace fossil fuels, not supplement them. We have to reduce our carbon footprint. In Canada that means the tar sands – one of the dirtiest forms of energy – must be left in the ground. We simply cannot follow a path that sees exports of diluted bitumen as a way to make short term profits at the expense of a habitable planet. We cannot plan to increase exports of coal or LNG either. Which, by the way is nothing like the clean fuel that Christy Clark likes to pretend (see: Methane Emissions in Texas Fracking Region 50% Higher Than EPA Estimates)

Of course I want to see Stephen Harper unseated at the upcoming election. If the NDP is really serious about its intentions to lead the next federal government, it would be making overtures to the Liberals to create an anti Conservative electoral pact. It is simply not good enough to hope that a coalition can be formed after the election. But that seems to be their current strategy. I do not think that the Liberals can be seen as “progressive” given the way that Paul Martin ran a more conservative than the conservatives economic strategy. And Trudeau Junior does not seem to me to be nearly as committed as his father – to anything at all! But he sure would like to be elected. And will say anything at all to make that possible.

And to those that still think that somehow the economy trumps the environment I can only say that they are just not paying attention. Renewable energy is showing itself to be a significantly better investment in terms of local employment – even if you disregard the huge environmental benefits. You also need to be blind to the current impacts of less than 2C of warming that we are currently experiencing. If you think long hot summers with droughts and forest fires are bad now,  I feel certain that what we are seeing now will seem mild in comparison to what is coming. The loss of the bees and the salmon seems to be getting some attention too. About time.

Notley again

“the energy sector needs stability to keep Albertans employed and to innovate as it confronts climate change.”

Which seems as usual to be pinning her hopes on the elusive carbon capture and storage which has always been  just around the corner – and always will be. At least Alberta is also a leader in wind energy – the Calgary LRT already runs exclusively on wind power. They will probably be beating us in solar panels and geothermal too, given the miniscule attempts being made in BC and our foolish commitments to Site C and run of the river.

Calgary Transit C Train

Pincher Creek

Afterword: and the BC NDP is no better.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 11.24.27 AM

The LNG in question would be produced from fracking. Fugitive methane from fracking makes it worse from the GHG perspective than coal. BC LNG is unlikely to be cost competitive for the export markets it is aimed at: the Chinese, for example, have already signed a deal for Russian gas at a price BC could never match let alone beat. But if the BC NDP wants to claim it cares about the environment it cannot at the same time support more fracking for gas here.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 10, 2015 at 11:35 am

It wasn’t supposed to pass

with 16 comments

CMBC ETB 2171 on #16 Arbutus @ West Blvd & 57th

The word “blog” is a contraction of “web log”: a record of a “journey” across the web and the sites visited. The announcement of the results of the plebiscite on transportation investment funding produced the very rapid response we have come to expect on twitter and the instant analysis. Of course a lot of organisations were involved and most had their pre prepared press releases ready. Many claimed to have correctly predicted the outcome in advance. I had declined to appear on Global TV since I did not have such a position ready. But on reflection it became clear to me that the reason the question was made non-binding by Christy Clark was that she did not want to have to abide by an answer she did not like. And the glee that was evident on the face of Todd Stone when talking to the press pretty much confirmed that.

Of course I was not the only person to think that. Gary Mason of the Globe lists the reasons why “The referendum was an unmitigated disaster from the start.” Todd Stone doesn’t think it was a disaster – he thinks there should be more of them. But only for transit of course, not major road projects, or healthcare or education. Crawford Killian in the Tyee was far ahead of the Globe writing that the referendum was designed to fail back in February.

Much of the “analysis” was simply opinion based on preferred anecdotes. But there is some actual data based on surveys conducted by Insights West and Angus Reid. They come to similar conclusions about why people voted No. Of course since Jordan Bateman got busy far before the Yes side was even organised his simple message, the Translink was not to be trusted, got across. None of the subsequent analysis which showed that Translink is actually quite well managed dented that. Which is what I told the Vancouver Observer. The real problem is the governance model and that was created by The BC Liberals when the previous board of elected municipal officials (mostly Mayors) took exception to the way that the province wanted to put building the Canada Line ahead of the Evergreen Line (which is still not finished). So I cannot agree with Mario Canseco’s conclusion that reforming the way Translink operates ought to be the first priority – even if both Yes and No voters agree on that. It is the way it is governed that is the problem.

Discourse Media does have some good data driven information on what the No vote means. But no recommendations on what to do to achieve that. Richard Zussman of the CBC is good on why referenda are not the way to proceed. I think that means that if the province does propose another one we should organize a resounding boycott of the proceedings. Badly run referenda are designed to produce a negative response and I do not think that the province is actually interested in a better form of communication. Why would they when they got the result they desired.

The idea that I have proposed to reform Translink’s governance – a directly elected regional board – seems to be getting  some traction. There is growing disquiet too with Metro Vancouver – which is indirectly elected and also seen as remote from electoral control. If we were actually serious about doing regional planning and transportation properly, we would follow the example of cities like London, England or Portland, Oregon. I would be very surprised indeed if that actually happened. If anything at all I expect there will be some more shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic. Maybe another name change and new livery: more communications/marketing bafflegab. No real change. It is a long time before we have another provincial election, and no matter how bad the government, if it simply ignores everything going on  – the scandals this government is surviving would have brought out the media in rage if it had been an NDP government – it might even get re-elected, despite its obvious incompetence.

So what happens now? Human Transit is, as always, very illuminating. And Peter Ladner has some penetrating analysis in Business in Vancouver.

And now (July 6) from Martyn Brown (“former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic advisor to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment in British Columbia.”)in the Georgia Straight:  The great TransLink railroad job: Why Christy Clark couldn’t be happier about the outcome of the transit referendum. Which makes for a very depressing read but is, no doubt, well informed and realistic.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 3, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with

“What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?”

with one comment

Greenpeace Shell BC

Illustration taken from GreenPeace

One of the benefits of having a blog – and one of its curses too – is that I get things in the email that other people want me to put on my blog. Or write about on my blog. This is one of those: it comes from The Nation which is a magazine whose web site operates behind a paywall. So I get a complimentary log in to see articles which they think I will direct you to. Many are worthy, and I understand why The Nation wants to stay in business and keep paying its journalists to provide content. But, as far as possible, I continue to try and find sources that are not paywalled.

Today the news is full of two things that everybody is writing about: the new Papal encyclical and the latest American shooting atrocity. The Nation has three, searing articles about that and how this church and this date were neither randomly picked. And a commencement speech by Naomi Klein to the College of the Atlantic on June 6, 2015.

Mine is not going to be your average commencement address, for the simple reason that College of the Atlantic is not your average college. I mean, what kind of college lets students vote on their commencement speaker—as if this is their day or something? What’s next? Women choosing whom they are going to marry?

So as it happens there’s a couple of things here that have resonance with me. Firstly the Atlantic has, very wisely, closed comments on the three articles about the Charleston massacre. After yesterday, I have been seriously thinking that might not be too bad of an idea here, but two comments from the Usual Suspects set me straight on that. We do have good discussions here, and one wingnut is not going to be allowed to upset that. Secondly, one of the topics that Naomi Klein addresses speaks to something I have been thinking about.

These days, I give talks about how the same economic model that superpowered multinationals to seek out cheap labor in Indonesia and China also supercharged global greenhouse-gas emissions. And, invariably, the hand goes up: “Tell me what I can do as an individual.” Or maybe “as a business owner.”

The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts.

Recently Jane Fonda visited Jericho Beach and spoke there about pipelines and coastal tankers and whatnot, and of course the commenters weighed in as usual, being snide about how Jane chose to travel here, and thus was some kind of hypocrite because that trip used fossil fuel. Just as the same cabal has chided Al Gore for his campaigning on the same topic.

Maybe the Pope is going to be different. Maybe his speech will start the moral shift that is needed in the corridors of power to finally address the issue. Of course the fact that someone inside the Vatican leaked the encyclical (not a usual turn of events) and that Jeb Bush was already out front of it seem to point in the direction that the pontiff will be going. A bit like the way the President has had to acknowledge on gun control.

But continuing the “fair use “privilege, here is how Naomi Klein sees it towards the end of her speech

….the weight of the world is not on any one person’s shoulders—not yours. Not Zoe’s. Not mine. It rests in the strength of the project of transformation that millions are already a part of.

That means we are free to follow our passions. To do the kind of work that will sustain us for the long run. It even means we can take breaks—in fact, we have a duty to take them. And to make sure our friends do too.

And, as it happens you can also watch – for free –  what Naomi Klein said on YouTube

And also here is what she has to say about the Pope’s new message

James Moore Gets a Surprise Delivery

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A link to this video arrived in my email this morning.

I am not sure that the direct confrontation achieves very much, but the speech by the former commander of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station is telling.

Marathassa

Just to nitpick a bit more, the Marathassa was not a “grain tanker” (whatever that is) and the spill was Bunker C fuel oil, not diluted bitumen which is the most likely export from the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Dilbit sinks. There is also some doubt that 80% of the spill was recovered as there could well be oil residues that sank from the fuel spill – which is why fishing in the inlet has now been banned.

The email was intended to recruit more people to attend direct action training. I am not about to take on that myself, but click here if you would like more information

Written by Stephen Rees

April 23, 2015 at 10:17 am

Posted in Environment, politics

Tagged with

Jordan Bateman calls Yes campaign ‘vicious and personal’

with 7 comments

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.”

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2015 at 8:57 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,