Stephen Rees's blog

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

Greens to call for twinning of many of Canada’s rail lines

with 4 comments

Globe and Mail

Ms. May released her entire platform last October in a 156-page document called Vision Green. However, because no election campaign was on, it received little attention in the news media.

It may not have received much attention in the media but it got a lot of attention from the Liberal Party – they copied most of it. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Good ideas are still good, no matter who promotes them. As long as they are part of a consistent platform. Of course the carbon tax is in there – as part of a tax shifting policy. Now it is not progressive to shift from income taxes to consumption taxes, and that is something that needs to be understood. And “revenue neutrality” may not be desirable either – because it is not so much how much revenue government collects but what it spends it on. One of the great myths around is that government is incapable of spending wisely, and that government expenditures are wasteful – whereas private spending is good for the economy. But actually, spending money on our public healthcare system is both good for us, the economy and much more efficient than the private sector model we see operating just to the south of us. And leaving people with more to spend on big pick up trucks, foreign holidays or widescreen tvs is of limited benefit. Which is also why I like the idea of an alternative to the GDP as a way to measure the economy.

So the proposal to increase GST looks pretty good

Restoring the GST to 6 per cent from its currently 5 per cent, and transferring that revenue to cities for environmental infrastructure projects such as public transit.

BUT my advice would be to avoid dedicated taxes that can only be spent on one thing (look at the mess the gas tax is creating in the US with transit systems running out of money as people switch from cars to buses and trains). Much better, in my view, to come up with a program of support for city transit to come from general revenues, and be unabashed about rolling back the tax breaks given to the rich and to corporations. My first target for revenues would be an end to corporate welfare, and many of the subsidies given to industries that need better direction – for example the money that goes to the oil companies, or the motor vehicle manufacturers.

I like the headline – it is not often that you get a headline like that in a general election. The only way it could get better is if it also raised the idea of electrifying railways, which is something we are going to need to to do to give us a much better range of power sources. Right now most trains in Canada are diesel. And a lot of locomotives are old and need to be replaced with much more efficient versions. The switcher below, for instance, saves lots of diesel oil by reducing the need the idle all the time. Many engines are not switched off even though they are not being used!

NREX 2007 Roberts Bank BC 2008_0914

Written by Stephen Rees

September 16, 2008 at 5:34 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Heh. “Twinning the Railway” was one of Pierre Trudeau’s promises in the 1980 election, I recall a Roy Peterson cartoon lampooning the idea in typical Petersonian fashion…. or maybe it was a Norris, whatever, I’m sure I have a copy buried so deep in my basement archives that it can never be found…. Of course, later in the decade the Rogers pass tunnel was actuallly twinned, The Fraser/Thompson canyon is already effictilvy twinned, given co-operation between CP and CN. That leaves the Kicking Horse, maybe they could twin the Spiral Tunnels in a double helix 😉

    David Banks

    September 16, 2008 at 8:39 pm

  2. A historical note:

    GM pushed the sales of diesel locos in the late 40’s, claiming the benefit of fuel savings because one could just shut off the diesel motor. In practise this saving never materialized as most diesels just idled away. If real comparisons between diesel and steam were made in the 40’s, including idling diesels and steam engines with roller bearings and Giesel ejectors, the fuel savings for Diesel would be much less. The result would be that many short & medium rail lines would have used steam well into the early 70’s, until the end of the useful lifespan of the steam locomotives.

    Malcolm Johnston

    September 16, 2008 at 8:44 pm


    I just did a blog post on Elizabeth May’s new whistlestop tour that will be starting in Vancouver on Sunday. I don’t know how well attended it will be, but it will hit 8 out of 10 provinces. This is not an endorsement of the Green Party and I don’t work for them. I just like this idea and want more people to know about it. With all the other candidates criss crossing the country in jumbo jets, it is a very novel approach. Maybe you could do a post on this.


    September 19, 2008 at 10:35 am

  4. Do I need to – haven’t you covered the ground already with your comment and blog post?

    Stephen Rees

    September 19, 2008 at 12:08 pm

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