Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 12th, 2008

Delta Council Meeting

leave a comment »

Delta Council decided this evening to refer back to staff recommendations to extend the environmental review process and delay the port expansion by five years. There was some discussion at the beginning of the meeting which I missed. According to Ben West, a lot of people left at that point, but more trickled in later. But even so I find it hard to accept that the hall would have been filled.

The mood was depressing. The process of the SFPR was left on the agenda and when they got to that I sat down in the public section. About thirty people were distributed about these seats.

Mayor Jackson said that several years ago Delta made its preference for an upgrade of Highway #17 rather than the SFPR. That was ignored. Since that time the Council has done its best to work within the process since the province has been determined to build what it wants, and there is no discussion of other ways to achieve the project’s objectives. Delta has therefore tried its best to ensure that local concerns are addressed. While some progress has been achieved, much remains to be done yet the draft EA report is now presented in near final form with only two weeks to provide final comments. A final report will then be submitted to the Minister who has 45 days for a review. An environmental certificate is expected to be issued in June.

The comments and requests made by Delta are summarised in the report. All the information is also on the municipal web page. It is expected that the EA working group will continue to meet after the certificate has been issued. There are at least 17 different plans in various stages of development to mitigate some of the impacts of the project.

Councillor Robert Campbell described the alignemnt near Burns Bog as a tug of war between environment and agriculture – and either way it was a major loss. It could have been avoided if the recommendations of the McAlhenny Report on an upgraded HIghway #17 had been accepted. It was achievable and with minimal impact.

Mayor Jackson responded that the Province chose to ignore that report. The GVRD and the BC Truckers Association both supported the Highway #17 proposal. The staff also produced a compelling report. She felt that both documents should be “brought forward” – which presumably means included in the Delta comments on the EA .

The staff pointed out that they only had two weeks to respond. Moreover they have not “been privy to discussions between the Gateway and Environment Canada”.

Councillor Krista Engelland asked what was the role of the EAO after the certificate is issued.

The staff response was that the EAO has an obligation to see that the conditions imposed on the project are upheld, but the regulatory agencies have the lead.

Councillor George Hawksworth spoke at length about the process pointing out that it was designed to make the project work, “not to kill the project”. He emphasized: “At no time were we in a position to kill the project. For a lot of people it is not satisfactory.” Staff responded that Council took every step possible, and was supported by the GVRD in its attempt to ensure that the OCP would be respected. The province ignored it.

Mayor Jackson shared the frustration: “We have no leverage.”

Councillor Vicki Huntington said that the EA had been a frustrating porcess. “It is unprecented and unconscionable to have to chose between the bog or the farmers. For five years we have been tearing our hair out. The process has nothing to do with the legislation.” The EAO cannot look at alternatives, only the project as proposed. “The whole process is designed to mitigate, not say yea or nay. We know this is wrong.” The province’s commitment to the ALR is worthless. Both the Council and the public worked hard to develop viable alternatives that would have worked but they were never considered. Alternatives did not matter. “We did not say ‘you can’t build this project’ but we did say there was a way to do it properly that would not destroy the community. And what value is this ‘monitoring’? Does that mean that something will stop? The ‘responsible authorities’ turn out to be bureaucrats in the DFO and Transport Canada. It is unbelievable that it is not the Minister.”

Councillor Huntington is also Chair of the Heritage Advisory Commission. “95% of the built heritage is impacted by the Gateway. It will irreparably change North Delta. ”

She went on that there is public dissappointment. The public is not yet ready to give up. “We needed leadership. Sadly that has not happened. We did the best we could. I am heartbroken.”

Mayor Jackson pointed out that many times Delta had tried to speak to the ministers, “but we could not get Victoria to listen”. She also pointed out that the Holger Naas route would not have worked “the trucks don’t go there.” And the impact on farms along Ladner trunk Road would have been signifivant.

It occurred to me afterwards that Holger and Naas had taken the proponents at their word, that the trucks were headed for the border or the TransCanada. In fact, as we now know, that movement is insignificant. The trucks are simply moving containers around within the region. The long haul is on rail. In other words, the entire justification of the roads component of the Gateway is based on a lie. The Holger Naas alternative makes sense only if the Gateway was really going to increase truck travel to the the rest of North America. And with the rising price of fuel, and rail’s significant advantage in fuel economy, that is simply not going to happen.

Councillor Jeanie Kanakos said that they should request a meeting with Falcon and Emerson and make a presentation on all the outstanding issues which the EA has not resolved. While this was generally accepted as a useful idea it seemed unlikely to happen. As the Mayor said: “They don’t want to meet with us.”

Councillor Scott Hamilton said they had played into the government’s hands. They had had to fight many battles at once, but they could not turn their backs on the need to mitigate a project that was going to proceed anyway. “We can’t just fight the project. And we can’t stop them”. He also pointed out that no-one is conducting an assessment of the cumulative impact of all the Gateway projects taken together.

It seemed clear to me that the high turn out on Saturday in Tsawwassen had impressed Council. It was clearly not just about power lines (and by the way the CBC is reporting that Campbell has announced they will proceed). Building a large port on the Pacific Flyway is grossly irresponsible. Building a large port that is not likely to be needed, given the way that trans-pacific trade is going to change is short sighted. Deciding to add new port facilities in Vancouver, when there are under utilised facilities in Prince Rupert which desperately needs more work, while Vancouver continues to be over-heated, just seems like willful stupidity. This is a provincial government that seems to have abandoned any pretence of caring about what it used to like to call “the heartland”. Come to think of it, I don’t think they have used that word lately. It is also very blinkered when it comes to the environment. Climate change is very au courant, so they go for that, but salmon, sandpipers and bogs do not rate at all. The ALR is for building things on and trading to get treaties. As are regional parks. This is a government entirely devoid of principle. And since it is a one man show, just one man should get the blame.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2008 at 11:30 pm

Posted in Environment, Gateway

Tagged with

Vancouver Voters’ Guide Blogging Contest

with 3 comments

The following came to my inbox today from Mark Latham

I’m a semi-retired economist working on democratic media reform. Based on similar contests I’ve sponsored for UBC student elections, I’m now launching a “Vancouver Voters’ Guide Blogging Contest”. The idea is that voter-directed funding will encourage bloggers to create helpful guides to Vancouver municipal issues and electoral candidates.

Vancouverites are invited to vote on a real-time on-line ranking of blogs. To start it off, I browsed the web and found ten blogs (including yours) that cover Vancouver issues. The initial ranking at this point is mostly random; it will change soon based on votes coming in. Please let me know if you’d prefer not to have your blog included.

The ballot:

Contest info:

UBC contest:

My blog on this project:

I had not thought that I would comment very much on City of Vancouver polling issues – but I do hope that Vancouver issues I have touched on will be significant in the election. I have posted quite a bit about the Burrard Bridge – an issue which I would have regarded as being sufficient of itself to get Sam Sullivan and Peter Ladner tossed on the grounds that they are apparently incapable of simple arithmetic. I have also castigated David Cadman at a COPE meeting on transportation for not saying anything about the Gateway – which given the dumping of lots more traffic into East Vancouver and the City’s supine acceptance of it, is another reason to vote for anyone but NPA. Not that I am am partisan of course. Then there is the housing issue and the Province’s current shameful treatment of tenants of Little Mountain. Of course the City takes no responsibility for housing. The there is the awful mess of the downtown eastside – which has been steadily getting worse and everyone must take the blame for. Cambie Street is not the City’s fault either – but they have not exactly covered themselves with glory there. And as far as I know no politician is claiming credit for the Carrall Street bike lane which is a small but significant step in the right direction. Does this qualify me for for a cash prize? Naaaaah

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with

If We All Started Driving Priuses, We’d Consume More Energy Than Ever Before

with 2 comments

Prius in Bad Company

Photo by Beedle Um Bum on flickr

By Robert Bryce, Public Affairs Books. Posted May 10, 2008.

While energy efficiency is laudable, history shows that it leads to people consuming more energy.

This is a longish piece but worth sticking with. It is more on the arguments that were advanced by Mark Jaccard when he advocated carbon taxes. We have seen advances in energy efficiency in a range of applications, but the energy savings do not tend to go to fatten our bank accounts. In fact we tend to consume more energy than before.

And of course this is not new. I heard about the Jeavons Paradox as a spotty six former.

In 1865, a noted British economist, William Stanley Jevons, published a book that would become his most famous work, The Coal Question. Jevons’ book was the beginning of what is now known as the field of energy economics. After studying coal consumption patterns in Britain and assuming (wrongly) that his country’s coal deposits would soon be exhausted, Jevons concluded that “It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuels is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.” This observation has since come to be known as the Jevons Paradox.

In fact it often strikes me that the people who prescribe economic nostrums based on the illustrations used in Econ 101 “Perfect Competition” seem not to notice that the real world is nothing like as simple as that abstraction. Though they behave as though it ought to be, which is even sillier.

I have often quoted the remark (though I cannot recall its source) “It they were all Zero Emission Vehicles tomorrow, we would still have the problems”. Yes, hybrids are better cars, just as there may well be better fuels, but it is the car itself that is the real problem. Cities were around for five millennia before the car and though everyone complained about the crowds, and the smell, they still lived in them and benefitted economically, socially and culturally from their existence. At the end of the nineteenth century, as public transport was introduced and later electrified, city life got better and cities expanded. Death rates from communicable diseases plumetted thanks to better science and better drains. People no longer had to live next to the job, which was a big improvement if it was in a rendering plant.

The Garden City movement thought that better urban environments would produce better people – an idea Frank Capra repeated in “Its A Wonderful Life” (a paean of praise for the Savings and Loan business). But neither had imagined what would happen if nearly everyone owned at least one car, and tried to drive it everywhere. Which is where we are stuck now – and where our current leadership seems content that we stay.

In fact it also occurs to me now that the argument about energy efficiency also applies to road building as way to manage traffic congestion. Because roads are not priced, buidling more of them induces more demand . For a brief moment there is some space. But just as when you leave a comfortable safety cushion between you and the car in front, someone pops in to the gap and fills it up. And we end up with more congestion than when we started. They could all be Smart cars or hybrid SUVs – but the results in terms of travel time and sprawl would be exactly the same.

Better cars and better fuels will be made, but we will not produce better places if that is what we rely on. In fact they will get much worse.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2008 at 1:54 pm

Free film festivals

leave a comment »

hat tip to Bonnie Fenton

WHAT: Free Climate Change Film Festival and Panel Discussions

WHEN: Friday, May 23rd (6-10pm) and Saturday, May 24th (noon-10pm)

WHERE: Vancouver Public Library (Alice MacKay Room), Central Branch, 350 W. Georgia Street


KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Jon Steinman – Deconstructing Dinner (

FEATURED FILMS: “Who Killed the Electric Car?” “Kilowatt Ours” and “Garbage” – See attachment for complete list

PANEL DISCUSSIONS: May 24th from 2-3pm and from 6-7pm.  Featuring (2-3pm): Jon Steinman (Deconstructing Dinner), Tom Rankin (Save Our Rivers), Hannah Askew (Healthy Planet Kitchens) – (6-7pm): Dr. Erica Frank (Food, Health and the Climate), Rob Baxter (Sierra Club – Vancouver Renewable Energy Coop), John Stonier (Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association), Tom Rankin (Save Our Rivers).

MORE DETAILS: Please visit and follow the links.


environmental films with a positive spin

Friday May 23, 2008:

Film #1: Too Hot Not to Handle

Topic: Leading scientists provide a solid explanation of global warming and its effects.

Length: 60 minutes

For more info:

Film #2: Garbage

Topic: The Story of a Canadian family that agrees to keep their garbage for 3 months.

Length: 75 minutes

For more info:

Film # 3: The Nature of Things with David Suzuki: The Weather Report

Topic: The film travels to the Canadian Arctic, Montana, Northern Kenya, China and India, visiting communities and ordinary people whose lives and livelihoods are being impacted by global warming.

Length: 45 minutes

For more info:

Saturday May 24, 2008

Film #1: The Story of Stuff

Topic: An animated explanation of the inherent problems in our production and consumption patterns.

Length: 20 minutes

For more info:

Film #2: Power Play: the Theft of BC’s Rivers

Topic: The leasing of BC’s rivers to corporations for private hydro-power projects.

Length: 20 minutes

For more info:

Film #3: Wind Over Water

Topic: The debate over an offshore wind farm proposed off the southern coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Length: 30 minutes

For more info:

Film #4: The Climate of Change

Topic: Demonstrates the environmental impact that a local municipal government can make in the absence of federal leadership

Length: 15 minutes

For more info:

Film #5: Vineyard Energy Project

Topic: The story of Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the US east coast, and their journey to becoming energy independent through the use of solar and wind energy.

Length: 12 minutes

For more info:

Film #6: Who Killed the Electric Car

Topic: This film investigates possible suspects in the vanishing of the electric car that was on the road in the early 1990’s.

Length: 120 minutes

For more info:

Film #7: Being Caribou

Topic: For 5 months, a Canadian couple migrates on foot with the 123,000-member porcupine caribou herd from wintering to calving grounds in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. After completing their journey, they head to Washington, DC to tell politicians and activists what they found.

Length: 54 minutes

For more info:

Film #8: Kilowatt Ours

Topic: The film moves from the coal mines of West Virginia to the solar panel fields of Florida as the film-maker discovers solutions to America’s energy related problems.

Length: 56 minutes

For more info:

Film #9: Crude Impact

Topic: explores the interconnection between human domination of the planet, and the discovery and use of oil.

Length: 20 minutes

For more info:

Hat tip to Celia Brauer

And don’t forget the Green Film Fest on now.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Posted in greenhouse gas reduction

Tagged with

PBS on Alternative Fuels

leave a comment »

The Nightly Business Report is doing a series this week on this issue. Since we have been around this mulberry bush several times, there may be those who read here who will want to watch

Tuesday – GM crops to increase production of ethanol from corn

Wednesday – ethanol from sugar cane in Florida

Thursday – ethanol from woodwaste

Friday – methane hydrates (frozen fossil fuel from the sea bed)

Check local listings for times – but it is usually 4:30pm on KCTS (cable 27 where I am)

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2008 at 12:38 pm

It Isn’t Morning in America Anymore

leave a comment »

— It’s Dusk on Planet Earth

By Bill McKibben, Posted May 12, 2008.

Alternet has a trenchant piece for Americans. It applies to us too. Especially in the Greater Vancouver area.

There’s a number — a new number — that makes this point most powerfully. It may now be the most important number on Earth: 350. As in parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A few weeks ago, our foremost climatologist, NASA’s Jim Hansen, submitted a paper to Science magazine with several co-authors. The abstract attached to it argued — and I have never read stronger language in a scientific paper — “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.” Hansen cites six irreversible tipping points — massive sea level rise and huge changes in rainfall patterns, among them — that we’ll pass if we don’t get back down to 350 soon; and the first of them, judging by last summer’s insane melt of Arctic ice, may already be behind us.

No we don’t burn coal to generate electricity here. Yet. The way that BC Hydro has been dismantled almost guarantees that some of our huge coal reserves will be used in this way soon. Of course it will be claimed to be clean coal – which as far as I am concerned is about as convincing as the claims made by those who want more nukes. Of course we are very happy to export our coal – and whatever it is used for, combustion is the only use that it will find.

But just look around around you – at the Dodge Ram Supercab with its massive engine – that takes a suburban commuter to work on his own, and might carry his golf clubs or a skill saw at weekends. At the gas leaf blowers. At the gas heaters on the patios. At the swimming pools with electric heaters that get their owners a review by the grow-op police. And our provincial government – which says it wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – is actually facilitating an increase in Vehicle Kilometres Travelled with massive road building projects either underway or planned. And tells us, with a straight face, that this will help reduce congestion and thus emissions.

And in the suburbs people who would like to stop driving and take transit find they cannot. There is just no service for them, since, as usual, the vast majority of spending is going to Vancouver – which already has the best transit service in the region. Langley will not get better transit service any time soon, but it will get a wider freeway. So it will not get Transit Oriented Development either, so it will remain locked in car dependancy. As will the new residents who move to Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge in response to the Golden Ears Bridge opening. The current policy is that transit will get to these communities over the Pitt River Bridge in some far distant future. So once again we can only expected more development designed for a car driving populace.

At the same time as all this is going on – and the Pitt River Bridge and the Golden Ears Bridge are under construction – Metro Vancouver continues to hold meetings on what it calls a “Sustainable Region Initiative” – with Gateway promoters on the platform. Orwell would be proud. Doublespeak lives.

Neither the province nor the municipal governments have any understanding of the urgency of this issue. We do not have the luxury of prevarication. We have already lost the pine trees and the salmon. Yes lousy management played a part in both, but so did denial of the effects of climate change. If the port expansion goes ahead its curtains for the sandpipers too. The SFPR will alter the hydology of Burns Bog – and once that has gone you cannot get it back.

The most worrying aspect of all this is that despite the protests, and the rocketing price of gas and food, our inability to deal with major social problems, our escalating health care costs and no realistic strategy to deal with any of this, the polls predict a third term for this government – which means as far as they are concerned they do not have to change. They think they can continue as they are because holding on to power is all that matters. The fact that the planet is becoming uninhabitable by humans is incidental. The fact that much of BC is suffering is of little concern. They and their friends are doing ok for now, and they can always slap another coat of greenwash on the agenda – they don’t actually have to mean it.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2008 at 11:36 am

Posted in Environment, politics

Politicians look for ways to turn rising tide of poverty

leave a comment »

The Daily News

The release of the latest census data last week showed that the average family in Prince Rupert has significantly less income than it did five years ago, and local politicians say they’ll continue to fight for their rural constituents to redress the imbalance.

“The average family in Rupert between 2001 and 2006 lost on average $6,000 of income, and in some communities like the Queen Charlottes it was even worse,” said Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen. “This confirms just how hard hit our region has been, and it also confirms to me that the federal government is right to continue putting support money into our region, because the numbers don’t lie and the region needs the help.”

According to Statistics Canada, the median income in B.C. fell by 3.4 per cent between 2000 and 2005, with the 12.7 per cent drop in Prince Rupert putting it among the worst hit.

Well now, isn’t that timely. Prince Rupert desperately needs more work. It is a a whole day’s sailing closer to the Asian Pacific Rim ports and has a better railway connection to the rest of North America over the eay grades of the Yellowhead Pass.

All we have to do is cancel the Vancouver Gateway – which by any measure is not only destructive but not needed here. The port expansion and the road “improvements” tied to it are environmental disasters. The local economy is still vastly overheated with shortages of affordable housing and labour. Further stimulus by a mega projects that meet no local needs but introduce much more road traffic is a complete waste of resources, when somewhere like Prince Rupert already has the necessary port and infrastructure and needs the work. The Vancouver Port people should be told that the need of Prince Rupert to survive trumps their greed, and that they should stop competing for their traffic.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2008 at 9:47 am

Posted in Gateway

Tagged with