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

Archive for December 10th, 2007

We’d spend smarter, if we had the money

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Very intelligent oped piece by Dave Robert Taylor, president of Tipping Point Communications and former communications director for the David Suzuki Foundation.

What he has done is move house so that his wife does not have to travel so far to work. That alone more than meets the famous “one tonne challenge”. But he also contrasts what it is going to cost him in terms of taxes compared with what he could have done to the house he is moving into. He identifies a whole series of capital expenditures that each would reduce ghg emissions and then looks at what governments do with tax payers money when it comes to reducing emissions. And the answer is clearly that leaving the money is his hands would have done much more than it will do now. Because while people like Gordon Campbell talk a lot, they don’t achieve much – Canadian greenhouse gas emission increases since signing on to Kyoto being one the worst in the developed world. He also gets in a neat dig at twinning the Port Mann Bridge.

And comparing his position with my own while I owned an older house in Richmond, I wish that I could have afforded to do some of the things he discusses. I replaced the double glazing – but with “like for like” to just eliminate the condensation in between the double glazing – not better windows with a higher R value. I did buy a new hot water tank – but just because the old one busted. I did not know about “an energy-efficient, tankless version”, and the man who came in response to our call for a new tank certainly did not suggest one. The roof got replaced – but with laminated shingles as the old cedar shakes had simply rotted. Again, there was no suggestion that passive solar panels or even solar voltaics might be an option. Just finding a trustworthy roofer was hard enough. We did upgrade appliances with more energy efficient ones, but mostly because the old ones were life expired and the new ones had to fit the spaces they left as we could not afford a whole new kitchen. When we left we still had electric baseboard heaters and an open hearth for burning wood. All that did was send the heat up the chimney but it looked pretty. I also left behind most of a horse chestnut tree which will be nicely seasoned by now. In terms of what it cost to cut the tree down and the heat it will one day generate, it was probably the worst in terms of fuel purchase economics – but the neighbours were a lot happier. I did sit down and do some sums to see if not paying down the mortgage but investing in energy saving devices would be worthwhile. At that time electricity in this province was so cheap the answer was no. And using my RRSP headroom would have been a better bet financially than those extra mortgage payments, simply due to their tax treatment. This was very much the same calculation when I considered buying a hybrid car. Getting from 12 l/100km to 6l/100km was worthwhile (conventional, ULEV car): spending the same amount again to get the next 2l/100km (Prius) wasn’t.

Right wing ideologues have long argued that taxes should be reduced since governments waste so much money and individuals are better at making decisions about their own welfare – except when it comes to things like defence and prisons of course. But in health and education – and increasingly transportation – “user pay” is seen as the way to go. It is nice to see that argument being directed at the environment for a change.

And I am not sure where this stands right now but at one time I recall standing in Delta Municipal Hall (that’s the local government for Tsawwassen) at a Community Energy Association stand, while a steady stream of residents came up and complained to me that there were not allowed by local bylaws to do things like put passive solar panels on their roofs. At that time, Delta residents seemed to me to be far ahead of their elected representatives. At least one local greenhouse operator has been allowed to use recovered methane from the Vancouver dump that was formerly simply flared off, so maybe things there are better now.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 10, 2007 at 12:22 pm

Shameless self promotion

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I got another article published in The World Edition, this time about updating the Livable Region Plan

Written by Stephen Rees

December 10, 2007 at 10:51 am

Posted in Urban Planning

Gordon Campbell – Nation Builder?

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Globe and Mail

Today’s nominee for The Globe and Mail’s Nation Builder of the Year award for 2007 is B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell.

One online nomination puts it this way:

“He came to office on a platform that included opposing aboriginal treaties and weakening environmental protection. Yet in the past year, he has taken a bold leadership role in both fields. …

“He has shown that a political leader can grow in the job and rise to the challenges that confront him.

“In a time of growing cynicism about politicians, such an example helps restore our eroding faith in public institutions.”

I am going to have to spend some more time on this site to find out how to protest about this. It has obviously been posted by one of his hired hands, or some odious creep who thinks it will get him something. Because that is the way it works in the BC “Liberals” who are, of course, anything but.

He came to office and then disgraced it by driving drunk on holiday in Hawaii. Luckily no-one was hurt – except his own reputation but somehow he managed to survive that and did not do what he should have done then – resign! He then proceeded to “deregulate”, which meant gutting the Environmental Assessment process, and halving the resources of the ministry that was supposed to be protecting the environment. (At the same time he also reduced the ability of the Human Rights office to do anything effective in that field.) He got rid of photo radar, refusing to acknowledge that it was curbing excess speed and reducing collision severity. He had promised not to privatise BC Rail prior to the election, but did so anyway. A court case about that the corruption of that process has still to actually get to hearing evidence. The outcome was a series of incidents – one of which killed all life in the Cheakamus River. He overturned a Regional Transportation Plan that had won an award from the Transport Association of Canada as the first urban sustainable transportation plan in order to promote a subway to the airport and a “Gateway” program that threatens the Burns Bog (a unique ecosystem essential to the health of the Fraser delta) the Pacific flyway and will also lock the South of Fraser region into car dependence. At the same time he ended democratic local control of the regional transportation authority mainly due to its lack of support for his imposed favourite projects. He allowed a highway to be built across Eagleridge Bluffs – another unique ecosystem – a tunnel would have been cheaper and produced a better road. The process of “improving” the Sea to Sky Highway also ensured urban sprawl would spread in Squamish – and ended any discussion of using the railway to improve passenger transport choice in that corridor. Instead of improving transit across the province (the most cost effective way of dealing with increasing greenhouse gas emissions) he has pursued a “hydrogen highway” – despite the inability of Ballard (one of the initial developers of the fuel cell) to make a hydrogen car that could become commercially viable. He has done nothing to promote the use of conventional electric vehicles in BC despite there being three BC companies exporting these around the world.

I have not touched upon his activities in other areas since they were not mentioned by his nominee, but I think it is fair to say that he has not been a unifying force in BC – promoting dissent and discord wherever he goes. He has managed to hold on to power simply because rising energy and natural resource prices have produced a booming economy and budget surpluses. However, he has not dealt with outstanding issues like the shameful record in child protection or the lack of affordable housing or the growing crisis in health care, all of which required increased government spending. Throughout his term of office he has been mainly concerned with privatisation, tax reductions and paying down the debt, not delivering better public services. His recent conversion to reducing greenhouse gas emissions was not conveyed to his cabinet so that effective action has been delayed – and in the case of highway expansions – deliberately ignored.

If anything Gordon Campbell has confirmed the worst possible view of politicians: he has confirmed the cynics who now have a demonstrable example of a politician who is lying as long as his lips are moving: who has no principles other than promoting his own career and the narrow economic interest of his wealthy and powerful supporters: who has used the treaty process to forward the interests of his cabal rather than the broader welfare of First Nations and the province as a whole. It is only because he is compared to current politicians such as George W Bush that he looks better than some – and no worse than most of the rest.

Letters to the Editor should be sent to

Written by Stephen Rees

December 10, 2007 at 9:45 am

Posted in politics