Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for April 19th, 2007

Premier’s ally faces questions about lobbying

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CBC Vancouver

Now I have to be very careful here since the temptation to go after Ken Dobell is very strong. But he can afford lawyers and I can’t, so I am going to be circumspect.

The use of the word “ally” is interesting. Maybe the CBC feel the need to be overly cautious too. It is not the word that springs to my mind. The role of Ken has been somewhat more proactive, I think. Formerly the City Manager of Vancouver he was hand picked to be Translink’s first CEO. And then he was summoned to become the Premier’s most senior Civil Servant. The role that Humphrey Appleby filled to Jim’s PM? No, I don’t think so. Eminence gris might be closer to the mark, I think. Besides I think that the conventions that the right wing follow in Canada are now much closer to Washington DC than London.

Policy advice to premiers is naturally one of those areas where the Freedom of Information Act does not reach, so the precise relationship is always going to be a matter of speculation. But Ken has since moved on and has picked up a number of new jobs.

It would seem that the questions now being raised are likely to be dismissed as a “technicality”. A matter of timing, no more. But questions have been asked before. Back in January he was explaining to the Globe and Mail that he was not in a conflict of interest

“There are multiple hats, and it’s quite true I have to take one off and put on other one, but that’s not atypical for people that are in this kind of a role,” he said in an interview yesterday, adding that he still sees himself “in a broad sense” as a public servant and that he does not act for private companies.

… his work for the province on softwood lumber, coastal forest and matters related to the Pacific Gateway initiative “is unlikely to involve any city [of Vancouver] issues. However, there may be a perceived conflict that should be addressed.”

Since the Pacific Gateway is going to dump a heck of a lot more car traffic on east Vancouver streets the use of the word “unlikely” is … erm … surprising.

Of course, for those of us some years younger, who have been the victims of age discrimination for some years, it might be heartening to see the number of appointments someone over compulsory retirement age can collect.

UPDATE More details in the Friday Vancouver Sun 

and on Charlie Smith’s blog 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 19, 2007 at 12:01 pm

Canadian house prices set to double in 20 years: CIBC

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If that’s all they do, I will be very surprised. Of course we seem to have got a better handle on inflation these days but just for the sake of comparison in under 40 years (1968 – 2007) a 1930’s built house in Loughton Essex rose in price from £8,000 to £605,000. And I am sure that you can come up with more local examples that are even more staggering. What needs to be done in articles like this one – or programs like the Antiques Road Show – is to look at the real value of money in the same time period and produce price comparisons in constant dollars or pounds or whatever.

Real estate is still a good investment, but most of us buy houses to live in, not flip. And the alternative is to be a tenant – and be regarded as a second class citizen as a result. When I moved to Victoria I remember a fellow bus passenger being astonished that not only did I get a vote in the local elections, but I intended to exercise that franchise! She could not believe that someone who “did not have stake in the community” (i.e. had a big mortgage) was allowed to vote.

Of course the other side of house wealth is that you as the occupier probably don’t get to enjoy it that much. House owners pay property taxes based on the house value – and the bills for heat and light. The house needs constant maintenance – and these days it seems ever more frequent remodelling – and most of the capital gain is out of reach unless you want to remortgage. And, of course, that is what a lot of people do, and then cause economists heartburn about equity in houses leaking into the economy to stoke the demand for consumer goods. But is there really much difference between a new kitchen or bathroom (“improving the property”) and say a riding lawnmower or a gazebo?

My Mum resisted essential upgrades to the bathroom and kitchen for a long time, at the peril of her own health and well being, because she saw brand new fittings being thrown out of the just bought houses up and down the street. You might remodel your kitchen to increase the saleability of the house, but the new owners are more than likely going to rip it all out anyway. One bit of information we get on a regular basis, but is missing on UK tax statements, is the amount of the value that is represented by the land and that by the structures upon it. That shows the reason why, around here, when they buy an old house (anything over twenty years old) they are just as likely to rip the whole thing down and start again. And probably build two houses on the same bit of land. I think if I knew any builders, I would go into the property development business. It does seem to carry a very low risk to return ratio. But while in England they always say “Yer can’t get the wood, y’know” here you can’t get the plumbers. (The expansion of the EU means that the English now have plenty of Polish skilled tradespeople.)

Written by Stephen Rees

April 19, 2007 at 9:01 am

Posted in housing, Urban Planning

Students, teachers group win B.C. bus ad fight

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 CBC Vancouver

TransLink rejected the Rock the Vote campaign as too political. It argued that those political messages might prompt riders with different points of view to find another mode of transportation.

I am glad the students won. If that was the argument advanced by Translink (and I recognize that in a brief news report some of the complexity of the lawyer’s arguments may well have been over simplified) they deserved to lose. If you can tolerate over crowding, rude treatment by staff and other passengers, uncomfortable seats (if you can get one) unreliable service – and all the other “transit sucks” experiences we are all so familiar with – then what the ads say is pretty irrelevant to your mode choice. Poeple who use transit either have no other choice (“captives” in the charming newspeak of transit planners) have made an economically or environmentally defensible choice. And, I suggest, are much more sophisticated than the staff at Translink give them credit for.

Most people on transit seem to ignore their surroundings: they close themselves off behind books, papers, ipods, cell phones, gameboys. The ads anyway are extremely lame. They seem, to be mostly about debt counselling though I admit I like “Poetry in Transit”.

Freedom of speech is really important. “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Translink appeared to believe that if it allowed political ads that it would be said to be endorsing the view of the advertiser. Which I suppose is what happens when amateur politicians at a local level are allowed to control things. They seem to lose all sense of proportion. And spending our money on expensive court battles over this issue shows an appalling lack of common sense. If you must spend money on dealing with worrying messages, get rid of the graffiti!

There are a lot of things about the transit system in this region that are demanding of attention – time and money in staff and board members. This isn’t one of them any more. Can we now get on and do something that actually matters? And can you please get rid of the people who have been pushing this nonsense “since 2004”!

Written by Stephen Rees

April 19, 2007 at 8:35 am