Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘politics

My wish for Cuba

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via Photo Challenge: Wish

Wish

The photo was taken last week in Old Havana, on the Paseo Marti at lunchtime. We had found a restaurant on the roof of the Asturias friendship association’s building: they have a barbecue up there. I had a whole grilled red snapper, my partner the largest pork brocheta I have ever seen. We felt very lucky to be away from the cold of Vancouver, in a beautiful old city. Then I looked across at the other side of the street.

There are many old buildings in Havana, which tourists love to photograph. They are highly picturesque and a few have been beautifully restored. Many more are in desperate need of repair. Look at the balcony of the window to the left of where this woman is standing. The old rusted rebar is still there, hanging loose. The concrete has fallen away. Yet there she stands – and where she is standing is going to go the same way one day.

Cuba has been subject to a lot of severe weather – many sites show the damage caused by hurricanes. These weather events are getting more severe and more frequent. Many countries are switching to renewable energy sources to try to limit the increase in the greenhouse gases that are the cause of the change in our climate. It is not just warming: it is sea level rise, storms and plagues.

In  its recent history Cuba suffered as a result of the US embargo. It had an ally in the former Soviet Union but that source of aid has gone. It used to rely heavily on Venezuela for its fuel but that country is now facing its own challenges. A Canadian company, Sherritt, has been helping in recent years to exploit the newly found oil and gas resources not too far from Havana in Matanzas, near Varadero – which is also a major area for all inclusive resorts where we also spent some time last week. We saw the huge chimney of the thermal power plant that now supplies Havana’s electricity – and it’s long plume of particulates. These add to the smoke from the open burning of sugar cane residues in the field after harvest. And the tailpipe emissions from old cars that never had catalytic converters or any emission controls and have now been mostly converted to diesel. I got through four packs of nasal tissues every day while in Havana.

What we did not see – despite the sunshine and strong winds – were any photovoltaic panels or turbines. Someone told us they were in the plan for the future but were currently considered “too expensive”. She also said that Raul Castro has announced his intention to retire next year. There is much uncertainty over what may follow.

My wish is that the people of Cuba will benefit from the long overdue improvement in relations with the United States as a result of President Obama’s decision to end the embargo. The main immediate effect of which was to end the opportunity of travel for Cubans to the US as refugees. Increasing uncertainty is unfortunately a major plank in the policy of the current occupant of the White House.

Cuba is a poor country with many people who are underemployed: well educated but unable to find a way to utilise their knowledge, skills and willingness to work hard. Every embassy and consulate I saw in Havana is heavily fortified, not because Cuba is unsafe but to deter those who might climb their fences seeking asylum.

My wish is for a better future for Cubans that is not dependent on the individual generosity of tourists, or the investment of more Canadian money in exploiting fossil fuels. A future which offers dignity for all. And safety in their homes. Not a precarious perch in a crumbling ruin. I wish I knew of a way of getting this message out to more people. I wish we could persuade our governments that waiting for chaos to break out – or even provoking it – and then offering shelter to a tiny percentage of the resulting refugees is not a tenable foreign policy option. That foreign aid is not just an easy target for spending cuts to allow tax breaks for the wealthy. That countries like Cuba are not simply a useful place to conduct torture that would be illegal at home – and is anyway ineffective.

My wish is that countries like Canada and the United States will do something to tackle the gross inequalities that now characterize our world. Symbolized by the wealthy old white guy enjoying his expensive lunch while a young woman looks out from her window a few feet away and wonders what she will do next.


Afterwords

Much later in the same day I wrote this piece my partner found an article by Michael J Totten in World Affairs entitled “The Once Great City of Havana” 3 December 2013. It is a Long Read but very thought provoking.

And then I found this via twitter: of course if the first rule of SNET is don’t talk about SNET then posting the video to youtube was flouting the first rule and probably endangering the network. I see this as a sign of hope – especially if the authorities decide to leave it alone.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 8, 2017 at 11:55 am

Fact Checking Todd Stone

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Susan Jones is a very diligent researcher, and a great source of information in matters pertaining to the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project. She circulated the following bunch of clippings to the Fraser Voices group. I thought that my readers would appreciate the following and I encourage them to spread the word.

Letter in Richmond News quotes B.C. Transportation Minister, Todd Stone, October 25, 2016

“And let me be clear – there are no plans to dredge the Fraser River.”

Richmond News: Letter: Tunnel twin more expensive, less safe says Stone

There are definitely plans to dredge 34 kilometres of the Fraser and the BC Government has been involved in the planning.  It is the $90 million Fraser River Channel Deepening Project to dredge the navigation channels from 11.5 metres to 12.8 metres.

One source of information is found on the Corporation of Delta website.

March 31, 2015          Report on:  Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum

A letter from the Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum to BC Government and specifically to Todd Stone:  (scrolled pages 4 and 5/49)

“Thank you for your letter dated February 2, 2015, providing support to the Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum (GTCF) and direction for us to work with your recommended staff.

We are pleased to provide an update on the progress of the GTCF. The Steering Committee and Working Groups have been actively engaging with municipalities, First Nations and stakeholders to identify

potential gateway-related infrastructure projects of national significance in Greater Vancouver.

The British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) is participating on the forum to understand various stakeholders’ interests and support coordinated gateway planning and infrastructure development…”

Scrolled Page 17/49  – note BC Government logo at top of page

Fraser River Channel Deepening Project

Capital Dredge of the Fraser River to 12.8 m to the 34 km mark

  • A material enhancement project to increase the depth of the Fraser navigation channel, from km 0 to 34, from its current draft of 11.5 meters (m) tidal to to 12.8 (m) tidal assist.
  • The Project will allow vessels currently calling the Fraser River to be loaded to their maximum capacity and to accommodate  increased vessel draft for new growth opportunities and market demands.  Increases the capacity of the two navigational channels.”

Potential Applicant: Fraser Surrey Docks LP* (* Private sector projects pending confirmation of public-sector partnership)

Estimated Capital Cost: $90 million

Development Status: Concept Design

Potential Beneficiaries: Port Metro Vancouver, Private Sector, Canada, Province, Metro Vancouver, municipalities

Written by Stephen Rees

October 30, 2016 at 4:21 pm

Running Campaigns, Winning Votes

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Carbon Talks organized a forum today with this title to get discussion going on how to win the upcoming Translink funding referendum with contributions from Bill Tieleman – based on his winning experience with the anti HST and anti STV campaigns in BC – and Denny Zane Executive Director of MoveLA based on winning Proposition R on the 2008 Ballot which secured a half cent sales tax to support improved transportation in Los Angeles County. It is important to note that although throughout the discussion both talk about transit improvements – which in LA went mostly to more light rail lines, it also included improvements to existing freeways, but no new ones.

I was at home watching the live webcast while eating lunch, so to make things easy for myself I have put together a storify using the carbon talks designated hashtag #bctranspo – which I have lightly edited as some of the live tweets were a bit fumbled. I have also deleted those which added nothing to reporting the talk but simply commented on the topics.

The whole thing is now on the Carbon Talks youtube channel and runs 1 hour and 24 minutes. Reading this summary might be quicker, but you will probably also miss some stuff.

Denny Zane opened by talking about the gridlock that seized LA county prior to the measure being put together. At that time LA Metro had $0 set aside for expansion projects and new capacity even though 3m more people were expected to move to the region in the next thirty years. “It was like Chicago was moving in.” There was Mayoral leadership in the campaign and there was only one place to go for money. In California every revenue source has to be passed by a referendum with a 2/3 majority. This was the “crazy legacy” of Proposition 13, which meant that most people felt that there was no hope of raising taxes for anything. MoveLA is a broad based coalition which includes business,  labour and environmental groups which proposed a half cent increase in local sales tax mostly to add rail lines to their transit network. Since the closure of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1961 there are many unused rail corridors and the overall network will reflect much of the old PER interurban system.

While they had strong political leadership it was important to hold the coalition together. They acknowledged that freeways matter – but they were not going to build any more of them. They would make sure that the existing system became safer with improved intersections, for example and also ensure a state of good repair for local boulevards. They also found that once the measure passed they could use the revenue stream to fund bond issues – and persuaded the federal government to become a ‘smart lender’. By converting the federal grants into forgiveness for interest they could fund a thirty year program in ten, achieving  faster results and lower costs. They also proposed Measure J which would have extended the program to 60 years which did not pass but did win 66.1% of the vote (not the required 66.6%) This was partly ude to a lower turnout election.  Measure R was on the same ballot as the 2008 Presidential Election which saw a win for Barack Obama. LA County is heavily Democratic.

Bill Tieleman was on the winning side of both the fight against the  Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) . He stressed the importance of having a strategy – which is focussed on the ends and is an art – that is supported by tactics – the means – which is science. He started with two simple words of advice “Stop Whining!”

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Sun Tzu The Art of War

Winning this referendum is entirely possible: 70% of transit referendums in the 2008 US general election passed, even though America is largely right wing and anti-tax. Hundreds of thousands of people in Metro Vancouver want to see better transit. They are the people who use the system every day to get to work or school. It will really help if we can get a fair question – and even government support. Both earlier campaigns had surprising cooperation  across party lines and sectional interests. “There is room for everyone on this bus.” This is an opportunity to improve transit, improve our lcoal economy and improve air quality. People need to understand the value proposition: there must be tangible results, but it is not a radical idea. It cannot be soft sold to drivers: the hard core of drivers will be opposed as will the Canadian Federation of Taxpayers.

The anti HST was constantly in the news as it has no resources for widespread advertising – unlike the government which outspent them 100 fold. They had to have earned media to explain the problem and the solution.

“However beautiful the strategy you should occasionally look at results”    Winston S Churchill

He also cited the Pirate Code for his recommendations – they are guidelines rather than rules. This region needs and deserves better public transit.

Q & A

In answer to the first question about the $4m that had been raised to support prop R, Denny Zame said that while MoveLA is a permanent institution there was a separate, specific committee formed to fight the referendum campaign. They had a few weeks in which to raise that sum.

qs:  We have not reached gridlock here and What will the question be?

A   If Translink takes the lead we have a huge problem. People are fed up with the inadequacies of the transit system – overcrowding, passups, lack of service in the suburbs etc. Our support will come from transit users who want a better system. It doesn’t have to get as bad as LA was to need improvement. LA Metro had had a period of very low public esteem and lots of trouble with the local electorate but had turned that around by being more responsive. Even so transit mode split in LA county was only 10% at peak periods- which meant support had to come from the 90%! The half cent tax showed that small increments mattered, defining each element clearly on a project by project basis. In Vancouver that means the Broadway subway must be on the ballot – but there has to be something for each part of the region as well. The case was made to drivers: transit would help

  • relieve traffic congestion
  • promote economic development and job creation
  • increase safety (there was genuine cause for concern with falling freeway bridges)
  • Increased choices for travel

There was an appeal to their self interest but also highly defined projects for each part of the region and an overall low cost ~25c a day per person

One source of funding was the Art Gallery: access to arts and culture is a big deal for the wealthy funders but with a station planned for the art gallery they got a better ROI from supporting the R campaign than their own capital budget.

Don’t go out and antagonize drivers

Municipal elections have a low turnout. The Mayors are not keen on having the question on the municipal ballot

A mail in question as with the HST referendum is possible

BT was more hopeful than has been suggested since we can have labour and business on the same side. He noted Peter Ladner’s article which raised concern that up to now business has been largely silent on the issue. We need a broad understanding that investing in infrastructure benefits all in the community. This is a unique opportunity to come together.

Q – Who draws up the plan?

This was directed at Denny Zane, who got into the complexities of Councils of Government. He nailed it with the line “basically a bunch of depressed people who think it isn’t going to happen” (Local municipal staffs)

An unfair question will rebound on the proposer

Treat it as an opportunity.

Expect the best of your leaders

The best decisions are those which afterwards appear to have been inevitable.

REACTION

The last question really annoyed me. We know what the Plan is for this region. It is on Translink’s website and they have been consulting on it for years. The projects are all well known, the only real discussion now is which one goes first. The problem I see is that there is no consensus on which funding mechanism – or combination – is going to be favoured. I suspect that the provincial government might even support a question that suggested some increase in property tax since that has always been their preferred method, even though it makes no sense and will never get the support of the Mayors.

Someone should have been putting this broad based coalition together ever since we knew that there was going to be a referendum.

Businesses which depend on transit expansion – which includes real estate developers – should already be beating the drum for more TOD which will follow the transit expansions. It is not just the bus drivers and the environmentalists who want to see more rapid transit.

There is going to need to be similar sessions in Surrey and further out in the suburbs. Meetings in downtown Vancouver, even though they are webcast, are not going to be enough to get people to support a question – even before we know what the question is and when it is going to be asked.

I also think we need to keep in mind the reality that Translink is not just about transit – nor should it be presented in that light. It is not “soft selling drivers” to point out that Translink owns the Patullo and Knight Street bridges and provides funds for the Major Road Network. Increasing the funds going into Translink will inevitably result in more spending on roads too. You cannot put in a bus lane on a two lane road!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 24, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Why are there homeless people in Vancouver?

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Judy Graves, the City of Vancouver’s homeless advocate, retires after more than two decades on the job

The CBC interviewed her on The Current and The Early Edition – you can read a condensed version here – but this question and answer seemed to hit the crux of the matter

Q: Why were so many people on the streets and in the doorways?

A: We had several people collide in the early 90s. We had the federal government pull out of supplying subsidized housing for the very poor. We had been developing rapidly in Vancouver so the old rooming houses had been torn down and the apartments that had been built weren’t affordable for anybody with a low income.

Judy Graves, the City of Vancouver's homeless advocate, retires after more than two decades on the job.

Judy Graves, the City of Vancouver’s homeless advocate, retires after more than two decades on the job. (CBC )

We had welfare cutbacks, and the system became so difficult that people with any kind of brain injury or mental illness could not navigate the system.

There were government programs – but they were cut. Homelessness was the result. I would say that the result was inevitable. I would go further. I would say that homelessness was created deliberately.

There has been a steady drumbeat throughout my working life that taxes were too high, and that government spending was wasteful. Money should be left in peoples’ pockets so they could spend it – not some bureaucrat. And the market was a much more efficient system for ensuring a better outcome. There was a stream of people claiming that the intellectual foundations of the Chicago school of economists were far more intellectually respectable than “the left”. Friedrich Hayek – of whom I had never heard when studying political philosophy – was now canonized. There were a number of platitudes that were recited about the rising tide that raised all boats, that increasing economic growth would benefit everybody. That wealth would “trickle down”.

It was, of course, all nonsense. Mostly lies and half truths. What was actually happening was that the rich had decided they no longer wanted to pay taxes. They disapproved of the priorities of society and wanted to keep their wealth for their own indulgences. Only a few areas were to be protected – or possibly see increased spending. Defence, prisons and policing.  After “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” it was easy and popular to close grim mental institutions. There was talk of “care in the community” but none was ever provided.

And even though tax rates for the wealthy plummeted, the expected increase in government revenues that was supposed to occur never did. The wealthy were no more willing to pay lower taxes than high ones, and came up with ever more creative ways of hiding their money. They moved it to tax havens. Tax avoidance became the major source of income for a number of small, independent countries that had very little else to generate foreign earnings. The Cayman Islands has a bit of tourism – but earns much more from looking after money than people.

I can clearly recall an economics lesson learned at East Ham Grammar School. The teacher had been a well paid Ford executive but left that job to teach there. And I can still see him sitting at the front of the room arguing with some conservative minded students. He said that he actually felt that he ought to pay taxes, because he appreciated what those taxes bought. Not the least of which was the room in which we were sitting.

There is no doubt at all that many publicly funded services are far more efficient than their private sector comparators. Healthcare is the most obvious. The management cost of the US private system – mostly insurance companies looking at ways to avoid paying for procedures – greatly exceeds that of the public systems like Canada or the UK. ICBC is actually a cheaper way to provide car insurance, with a better outcomes – especially when their collision data is used to drive road safety measures, something a private sector insurer would never consider. The privatization of British Rail resulted in public sector costs that were four times higher than they were  in public ownership. Competition did not drive down costs.

In order to pull off this triumph, the elite have had to hijack democracy. We keep on voting for right wing governments, despite their obvious failures. Well, a lot of people no longer vote. That makes things a lot easier. The right wing has mastered the art of storytelling – the “narrative” now always trumps anything backed by objective research. And, just in case, those engaged in such activities will be silenced. Many willingly collude with these devices. The “buy in” to the myths and legends is quite impressive. And those of us who have facts and figures on our side are urged “don’t go negative” – with the result here we have recently seen.

The cure for homelessness has always been obvious and staring us in the face. House them. The private sector has a long and miserable record of housing the poor – since exploitation is always going to trump any other strategy for a rent seeking or profit maximizing entity. The public sector’s involvement is more problematic. The record is spotty, partly due to the way that its activities were always moderated by those who were less than enthusiastic about it succeeding – or being seen to succeed. It is only when there is fear of the lack of a social safety net that people will comply with requirements that are obviously against their own best interests – but they see little or no alternative. Homelessness – and people begging on the streets – serve as a useful minatory device. This is what will happen to you if you don’t co-operate.

The City, of course, has no powers that it could use to actually address the  problem. Even the City of Vancouver, which has a Charter and thus has somewhat more ability than other lesser municipalities entirely subject the whims of the legislators. They may  indeed hire another advocate. They may allow a few more shelters to open – but only in really bad weather, of course. Not all the time. And the shelter provision is minimal: it does not even pretend to be housing.   And the shelter experience itself drives many to the streets as comparatively safer places.

Postscript – please also read the comment by MB: the last paragraph of this post is unfair to the City of Vancouver, and I apologize for that. But not everybody shares his opinions about these developments

UPDATE “30,000 Canadians are homeless every night, 200,000 Canadians are homeless in any given year, national report says” CBC from which we learn

“Vancouver, through a series of public and private partnerships, has achieved a 66 per cent reduction in street homelessness.”

This post was further updated on December 31, 2013 with the addition of two links – one on why people don’t vote and another on how Utah intends to end homelessness

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2013 at 9:21 am

Posted in housing, politics

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One picture worth a thousand words

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Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 11.21.52 AM

This image comes from the South Delta Leader – and their credit simply reads “via Twitter”

Written by Stephen Rees

May 9, 2013 at 11:27 am

Farewell Mike

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Surprising news this morning that a corporate reorganization has eliminated the position of Vice President, Planning & Policy so Mike Shiffer is no longer with TransLink. Service and Infrastructure Planning will now report through the Chief Operating Officer. Strategic Planning will report to the  the VP Corporate & Public Affairs.

He gave a talk at SFU early in 2010 (which was reported here) which showed his depth of knowledge and understanding of the issues. This was soon after he arrived here, so he managed to survive for three years. Apparently he wants to stay here.

The reorganization is just one more indication of the damage that the current insistence on audits and cutbacks is having on the organization.

UPDATE Thanks to a tweet from Paul Hillsdon I have a link to Ian Jarvis memo to staff in a Surrey leader story

The role of planning – and especially Strategic Planning – is always difficult since it seeks to bring objectivity and rationality to an arena where all too often passions and gut instincts hold sway. We are not alone in this as the current pantomime in Toronto over rapid transit expansion shows – or the latest brouhaha in the London Mayoral elections, where the future of the hop-on, hop-off bus is once again at the top of the agenda.

Planning should most definitely NOT be about PR and spin  which is what “Corporate & Public Affairs” are all about. That’s the place where they believe that perception is reality. And we all suffer for that.

By the way, congratulations to Joe Trasolini on winning his by-election, but I am afraid  that means his favourite road project will once again resurface.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2012 at 8:02 am

A Better BC: Making a Better Plan for British Columbia

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Jane Sterk, leader of the Green Party of BC, will be speaking at UBC about the upcoming election and the Green Vision for our province. There will also be a Q&A period open to the audience after the keynote speech.
Date: Thurs., March 19th
Time: 5-7pm
Location: UBC Point Grey Campus, Buchanan Building D Room D304

Written by Stephen Rees

March 16, 2009 at 9:43 am

Posted in politics

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