Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for April 2013

Better Cycling Facilities Means Mobility for Everyone – Not Just Cyclists

A Press Release from the BC Cycling Coalition

This just turned up in my inbox. I have already posted it in the comments section of an earlier post, that covered a Transportation event in Richmond I spoke at. Then it occurred to me that not many people would likely see it there.

Disability Advocates & Seniors Support Cycling Infrastructure Improvements

VANCOUVER, BC – Improved cycling facilities are not just for cyclists – they benefit everyone by increasing mobility, safety and accessibility. People who use power wheelchairs and mobility scooters have seen real everyday benefits in accessibility from new bike lanes and paths in the City of Vancouver. Leaders in the disability community and seniors are voicing their support for major investment in cycling facilities across B.C via a new video:

The BC Cycling Coalition (BCCC) is calling for $75 million a year in provincial funding to implement comprehensive cycling improvements outlined in their Cycling Strategy for B.C.  “Investing in better cycling facilities and safety education will bring widespread benefits to BC communities and all of its residents – including people with disabilities and the elderly,” said Craig Langston, vice-president of the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC.

“I get around on a power wheelchair – it goes a lot faster than is safe on crowded sidewalks and I used to have to creep along in Downtown.” added Langston, who sits on the Disability Advisory committees for the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, and for TransLink.  “On the new separated cycle routes, I can travel at the same speed as slower cyclists and get around more efficiently. Cycle tracks are not just for cyclists or for the young and athletic.”

“I’m 63 years old and I started riding an electric-assist bicycle three years ago. I love the freedom and mobility that it gives me, but there are plenty of areas where I still feel unsafe riding.” says Fiona Walsh, Board Member for HUB: Your Cycling Connection. “We want better cycling facilities so that everyone – from eight to eighty years old – can ride their bike and feel safe and comfortable.”

The Cycling Strategy for BC calls for greater investment in cycling facilities, improved road user safety education for cyclists & drivers and clearer regulations in the Motor Vehicle Act around the use of cycling facilities by electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

“Streets that are bike-friendly improve safety, mobility and accessibility for citizens of all ages and abilities – including families with children, pedestrians, people with mobility issues and even drivers.” says Richard Campbell, President of the BC Cycling Coalition. “This is a wise investment that benefits everyone – not just the cycling community.”

For more information about the Cycling Strategy for B.C., visit

Written by Stephen Rees

April 29, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Posted in cycling

Tagged with

What’s with abandoned Gas Stations?

with one comment

I have often wondered why there are so many abandoned gas stations – and why so little ever seems to happen to them. This is not something outside my experience but is completely beyond my understanding. Until now. Patrick Johnstone does this sort of thing for a living – and he writes well. So take yourself over to NWimby and learn something. Warning: this is only part one – there is more to follow.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 28, 2013 at 8:28 pm

An Alternative to the Broadway Subway

with 22 comments

At the request of its leader, Adam Fitch

Saturday May 4 at 10am a Jane’s Walk (on bicycles!) to look at CPR RoW/16th Avenue for LRT


Written by Stephen Rees

April 25, 2013 at 10:59 am

Free Coffee at Translink

with 9 comments

For reasons that seems fairly silly to me, there has been a lot of attention paid in the last few days to the “news” that Translink staff get free coffee at the office. As it happens, I know why that is, as I was personally acquainted with the person who made that decision. And it was based on purely financial concerns. There was previously the usual arrangement of staff collecting money from their colleagues and buying the necessary supplies. There was a significant amount of time spent, during working hours, administering this system and collecting the money in cash. The calculation was quite simple. If the employer took over the administration of the coffee supply, then the time saved more than compensated for the cost of the coffee. By having a contractor deliver the supplies, and having one for all the offices, there was also real saving in the cost of those supplies compared to retail prices: but it was the staff time saved that clinched the argument.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Economics

Tagged with ,

You get the policy you pay for

with 4 comments

I breaking my own rule about linking to a paywalled story. I got it through a tweet – so maybe that is why their alarm bells didn’t ring. It is, in a way, a “no surprise there” story but it confirms why for the last ten years so much has been spent on roads and how little on transit.

The story is headlined “Corporations fill Liberal coffers“. The Sun has put together a database of corporate donors using Elections BC data. The number two donor is The New Car Dealers Association of B.C., giving $822,814.New Car Dealers Association of B.C. president and CEO Blair Qualey said dealerships have long been supporters of parties that have a free-enterprise approach.

“They are entrepreneurs at heart and like small government, few regulation and low taxes,” said Qualey of the association’s 350 auto dealers.

“They like to support democracy and make contributions locally to candidates in all the parties,” he added.

He noted that auto dealers have also made contributions to the NDP.

Individual dealers, you note, NOT their Association.

At that all party meeting I blogged the BC Road builders were handing out cards – to a fairly predictable response. Oh no, they replied, it’s about infrastructure. Yeah, right. If we simply made better use of the infrastructure we have we would not be building as many new roads – but there might be quite a lot more work for repairs and maintenance. Knocking down a huge bridge that had many years left in it does not make economic sense to me.

What strikes me is how obvious this all is. It is only because an Association makes a big donation to a party that this is getting noticed. What the Sun database needs to be used to do is to track how much money goes to candidates – and how much of that comes from what looks like individual small donations. Because these are not just new car dealers – they are  the people who have money to donate, from whatever business they happen to be in, and they all say they “like small government, few [sic] regulation and low taxes”. If someone who just happens to be a car dealer donates to the BC Liberal candidate in their riding, so what?  It has always been the case that the candidates with the most money do well. Those with little or no money hardly make a dent. It is only in places where majorities are thin that these candidates make a difference – which is why the two big ones get really worried about “vote splitting”. But that is all about first past the post, and is a distraction

Actually, roads are not at all “small government”. Road construction is a huge business and right now most of it is paid for from taxes. They are not too happy about those that are tolled but the policy – only new roads or bridges, not existing ones – means that toll revenues can only be used to increase road capacity, not reduce it. And the money so collected can only be used on that project, not diverted to other transportation policies. The BC Liberals have been very firmly attached to this policy – even though the last bit – ” and there is a free alternative” is looking a lot less credible on the issue of Fraser crossings.

Similarly, the people who fuel the cars favour less regulation and so on. But also rely very heavily indeed on subsidies. And in BC we seem to be only too willing to allow new fossil fuel extraction to be conducted without even demanding royalty payments. Alberta, of course, demands far less for its oil than, say, Norway. Encana, you note, is number three on the list.

De-regulation has been delivered, under the guise of making government more efficient. So processes like environmental assessments have become pretty much a foregone conclusion. And anyway, there is no-one left in the enforcement branches to see that there is compliance with any conditions that might have been imposed.  This doesn’t just apply to BC, of course, but Canada as a whole. Perhaps what is surprising is that all that this has created is growing public disquiet and unrest – and a few spectacular environmental disasters. Mostly, so far, elsewhere.

Perhaps what this article illustrates best is how far Christy Clark has fallen in the eyes of the very organizations that normally cheer for her. The mainstream media in general and whoever is pulling the strings at the Sun these days.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 23, 2013 at 10:25 am

All Party Forum: Next Generation Transportation

with 11 comments

Blogging on my tablet using the Steamworks WiFi as SFU does not provide a guest log in to their network. The only people who get to use the SFU Network are students, alumni and staff.  To make other people welcome on their campus, SFU really needs to reconsider that policy.

It was a well filled large room. The format was very tight indeed a two minute opening statement from each party representative then one minute questions, with a one minute response from each. At the end each party would get a two minute wrap up. The event was also a live webcast with other questions invited over twitter using the hashtag #bctranspo. I have those tweets on Tweetdeck so I can fill in the gaps in what I managed to get on my tablet. I have also gathered the tweets together as a storify page – which is also something carbontalks has now done 

Mary Polak

Minister, Transportation and Infrastructure
Jane Sterk
Leader, BC Green Party
Duane Nickull
MLA candidate, BC Conservative Party
Harry Bains, Opposition Critic, Transportation and Infrastructure, BC NDP

Jane Sterk goes first. Our trip systems are not serving us well – we have gridlock and lots of single occupant vehicles. Not the kinds of communities we need for now or the future. [It is not so much about transport] as land use and community – we made pedestrians our priority in Esquimault. The Green Party is concerned about living our lives well and creating locally based economy which reduces the need for motorized transportation.

Harry Bains: the size of the crowd shows how concerned we are. 1.2 m people coming to the region in the next 30 years but we are moving backwards. Lack of funding, lack of leadership,we do not have the transit service to meet present demand. Victoria is fighting the mayors, not working with them. TransLink is not accountable, the carbon tax is revenue  neutral (just cuts income taxes) and the insistence on P3 for every major project raises the cost. [All HBs remarks were negative but were aimed at “Victoria” and not the BC Liberal government by name]

Mary Polak: everybody has ideas and there are a large number of retired engineers living here. Every community has a different priority. Dust suppression on the Peace is as important as transit here. I came here tonight from Langley on a crowded express bus, with people standing, over the Port Mann. [There was no word on an any policy.]

Duane Nickull – I have some great ideas for Point Grey. Data and facts. Renewable and clean energy. Jobs for BC success of Canada Line – high speed electric rail. I commute on a bicycle, but that is not a solution for everybody.

Q1 Governance for TransLink directly elected people to the Board. Rep by pop directly elected.

DN – open transparent and accountable Regional approach would work

MP – that is one thought I am of two minds Not too much weight for most populated area. How to incentivize  people not to behave parochially

HB – we have to change – [then sounds like local councillor]

JS – nine people does not sound enough because of the size of the problem. Need real local government representation

Voony – road pricing

JS – we could use all kinds of transportation demand management techniques including pricing, PAYD insurance, but is it essential that we are also improving transit in parallel

HB – carbon tax: we will roll back tax breaks to companies to free up revenue for carbon reducing activities like transit

MP –  we are currently looking at short term solutuions. There are lots of different types of road pricing – whatever gets chosen will be the result of our work with the Mayors’ Council which will then be the subject of a referendum at the next municipal election

Q: There are too many people driving because it is too easy and too cheap. Have you considered raising the cost of driving?

MP You are talking about how to change behaviour

DK “We don’t need to make car use more expensive, make transit more convenient”

[SR actually I think you have to do both at the same time]

HB The problem for most people is that there is no alternative mode to driving. The idea of that everybody commutes to Vancouver is wrong: most trips that start  south of the Fraser stay  south of the Fraser

JS We don’t always need to travel. For instance this evening there is a live stream of this meeting. That helps us reduce need to travel

Email from Saturna – why are coastal tax payers, dependent on ferries, treated differently to people who can use roads and internal ferries which are both free?

HB we will freeze ferry rates for next two years while we conduct an audit into BC Ferries

JS IT is an inherent unfairness in our system. We need to factor cost into road use. It is a big complex problem but meeting everybody’s demands would cost a huge amount of money

DK Two tenets in Conservative Party – one is fair taxes. Ferries are essential services. The CP would introduce tax rebates for ferries and road tolls. It is fair that tourists should pay but not those who depend on ferries and tolled bridges for their journeys to work [and other essential trips].

MP our consultations show that the challenge is are the same around the world. All ferrry companies are seeing declinign use and rising costs. The ferry commissioner reports that only 62% of BC Ferries cost is now covered by fares

Tiffany Kalanj – were faregates a good use of money?

MP These faregates work well in London. I think that the estimates of fare evasion were low. They should have been there in the beginning. Experience will show that they will be effective.

DK It is not a wise investment. When you consider that fixing the asbestos problem in schools would have been 1/10th the cost and children’s health is much more important than lost fare revenue

HB there was no business case We will have to wait for the data, but is unlikely they will pay for themselves

JS The perception of fare evasion is not objective. I doubt it

Larry Frank UBC Have you considered an incentive for municipalities to change their land use policies to transit oriented development when transit investment is made? We need a rationalized approach to see if they actually support transit

DN I am a big supporter of the feedback loop. We did this with energy efficient buildings – it is factual and  scientific

MP mixed use in Langley – we may all have ideas – they have their own ideas. Don’t tell people in the valley what to do

HB work with the mayors – I think they will agree can’t be top down

JS you have more expertise than us. We need to change our pattern of growth. We made need a stick, or education, set conditions like we do for businesses

Darryl from Surrey – youth will have no voice in the referendum

MP . The are many different options – you can have impact in broad consultation

HB referendum is shirking responsibility. South of Fraser are the fastest growing areas.

JS referendums are divisive. “Majority rules” is not a good approach to the complexity of problem

DN the referendum is wasteful.  There are lots of ways to get views. In my riding I will hold town hall meeting because good ideas can come from anywhere

[The Province has a longer version of this section but the link might be paywalled]

Q – Why do you have separate plans for goods movement and people ?

HB – Public transport is for people

DK Use existing rail corridors – railways can also be used for both people and goods

JS –  we have different view of the current economic model. If we had a locally based economy there would be less travel for us and our goods. Excellent question

MP people forget about the importance of freight.

Peter Ladner – [poor] health [is strongly correlated to] car dependency. Will you make health part of transportation decision making

JS  yes

HB waffle about all those issues

MP walking and cycling doesn’t work in a lot of BC. We have included bike paths on the new Port Mann Bridge and will be on all new infrastructure, but we do not want people walking on provincial highways

DN – I was recently hit by a car when cycling on West 7th. If the data supports that assertion then it is a factual decision

Q Have you examined transportation issues on socio economic lines?

DN The carbon tax people hits people who have no alternative to driving. It is the same with tolls. People need to be protected from these taxes

JS people on low incomes are punished – affordable housing is further out so they need to drive more. They use cheaper, old cars [which are less efficient] . We disproportionately penalize those with low incomes [with user fees].

MP I think that regional needs are more divisive than socio-economic divisions. The niddle class are the most challenged. We have done so much for the poorest.

HB carbon and gas tax hit them but they don’t have transit which could equalize

One list of capital  projects for the region  [not two separate ones (one for Translink, one for MoTH)]

HB waffles about current system – not a bad system now

MP planning integration – provincial highways serve a broader purpose than local travel. We are doing a lot better now with [Translink’s] MRN e.g. Patullo Bridge joint project panel. We also put bus lanes on SFPR and [the approaches to the Massey] tunnel

DN need for more public input – integration is more efficient

JS one list is important – but are there more alternatives. The amount of money spent on the Port Mann project could have provided rail for the whole region! [scattered applause]

Q – Safer streets for PEDs and cyclists

JS it’s a local government issue. Sidewalks are very expensive. They have to be wider. We are committed to both modes. How do we transition to new economy? Or do we continue to “Dig up the province and sell it to China”

MP we have $148m in BikeBC. We fund projects but it is better run by local governments.

HB many communities are doing that – better coordination

DN happy with Highway #99 but we should not have walking on provincial highways

Organiser – there are many more who want to ask questions but we are out of time. I ask that you ask those questions on Twitter and other media to all the candidates

HB closer

Start planning today for the growing pop. We can’t go on the same way. South of Fraser is so far behind we can’t afford referendum.


At this point my tablet lost its wifi link. I continued typing but as WordPress is a web based platform my notes are lost. However the storify link enables me to point you to a crowd sourced alternate. I also found that Jeff Nagel not only writes a more than adequate story – nice pics too –  about the forum he also embedded my storify.



The meeting was very well organized and run. No-one got to monopolize the conversation, there was no speechifying or abuse. Generally all four candidates presented themselves well. I must say that of the four, Harry Bains was least comfortable and the most to rely on canned speaking points. He was also repetitive and focussed on his constituency (Surrey).

I will also say that I spoke to Duane Nickull, the conservative candidate, afterwards, since he was far more impressive than anyone I have ever met carrying that party’s card. I suspect that in real policy making he is going to find it much harder to reach conclusions in the public arena than the private sector. Sadly it is not always easy to reduce things to data – nor can one rely on it to the exclusion of all else.

The mind boggles that Mary Polak thinks her government has done so much for poor people. Her belief is, I am sure, sincere. Which just goes to show how far out of touch with reality she is. She also demonstrated that she has not grasped many of the complexities of her brief – which she admitted baffled her.

On the issue of freight I was angry that no-one said we have done far too much to meet the demands of the BC Truckers. The SFPR and the widening of Highway #1 – Port Mann Bridge was all attributed by the government to the needs to get trucks out of congestion and promote the port. We lost large swathes of prime agricultural land, much sensitive habitat and important archeological sites. Most freight already moves by rail – but no-one mentioned that railways and ports are both federal responsibilities. Nor was anyone there from Transport Canada. No one pointed out either that there is little congestion on provincial highways off peak – but the port continues to work bankers’ hours M-F, 8-4!!

Jane Sterk did very well – and was lucky to secure first and last spots. Her closing remarks on the need for better inclusion of all opinions got a round of applause.

And as an afterthought here is a graphic from the Guardian which shows very forcefully why Business As Usual is not an option

Screen Shot 2013-04-19 at 12.45.44 PM

Written by Stephen Rees

April 19, 2013 at 10:52 am

Posted in Transportation

What I like about walking (video)

with 2 comments

This is on Gordon Price’s blog this morning

Amazing, isn’t it, that people need to be told about this activity. Actually every trip is an interrupted walk. Just like avoiding sitting all the time is important to health, so extending the walk parts of every trip is key. Even if you just chose a more distant parking spot than the one closest to the door.

Bad parker

Written by Stephen Rees

April 10, 2013 at 9:55 am

Posted in walking

Light rail touted as cure for city’s congestion

with 6 comments

The city in question is actually Copenhagen. Which is why it piqued my interest. You mean Copenhagen has a congestion problem? I thought they were the model we were supposed to be following. It has all those bicycles – and the space between the buildings is dealt with properly. People can not only walk they can also sit outside if they want to. But they still have congestion?

Partly the answer is of course they do because congestion is not so much a problem  as evidence of success. Detroit does not have congestion any more. Moreover, in a flourishing city, traffic expands to fill the space available and congestion occurs at the times when most people want to travel. That is why traffic engineers and transport economists spend so much effort on peak hours and the journey to work. Indeed if congestion is just the banal observation that it takes longer to drive when everyone else does than when the roads are empty, it is a pretty pointless pursuit trying to “cure” it at all. Something Todd Littman has dealt with far more effectively than I could.

There is no magic bullet, but there is a set of approaches which can be adapted to the needs and geography of places – which are all different. No single solution or technology solves every problem – and not all “problems” are going to be completely resolved. We can, however, aim for better solutions and compromises which dissatisfy everybody to the least extent possible.

So what this article identifies is a set of schemes to serve areas which do not have the sort of public transport mode share as the rest of the city region. In fact it is the same problem we have. Copenhagen has a metro and all day, every day, bidirectional passenger rail services. I have to use that awkward phrase in case any of my readers still think “commuter rail” exists outside of a few North American cities. The reason they get 25% of the trips made by the population living near stations on trains is that there is a service all day and every day – and it goes to more than one destination.

Actually that in itself is a significant figure. What do you think they do for the other 75% of the trips? Yes bikes will take care of some of it, as will walking but most will be in cars. And these light rail lines are proposed for the areas that only get a 5% mode share for transit – just like most of our region.

I think it is also significant that the entire article has not a single money figure in it anywhere. If you tried to write a newspaper piece about transit here, someone is bound to ask “How much is this going to cost?” and “Who is going to pay for that?” (which actually means “not me!”) What it does stress is the importance of the network – and of selecting the ” best value corridors that the city ought to prioritise” – which sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “political opposition and questionable profitability could derail these and other proposed light rail lines” – is that Copenhagen or Surrey vs Vancouver? Except here no-one would use the words “profitability” and “transit” in the same sentence.

It also points out the silliness of thinking in terms of some future point when the present set of schemes have all been realized as an end state. It isn’t, and never will be, because there is always going to be more to do. The important thing is chose the right direction to go in. That was something we had done once – the Livable Region Strategy – which was not perfect by any means but did make the priorities clear. And then the provincial government simply ignored it and went on doing what it has always done – built more and bigger freeways. If those resources had been devoted to transit network expansion, we would be looking at a different set of problems – but we would not have solved them all. Let alone “cured congestion”. But then we weren’t trying to. We were just aiming at “increased transportation choice” – which was expressed as a target transit mode share at various dates into the future. Except that the mode share target was always 17% of all trips and the years just kept being put off into the future.

I understand that the Mayors and the Minster are now sitting down and trying to come up with some funding proposal for Translink. Presumably something that she can flourish on the eve of election day. Yawn.

“When free enterprisers have something worth fighting for, we win,” Christy Clark last night

“Win” meaning “win elections”. Free enterprise has also brought us ocean gyres full of plastic waste, global warming trending well beyond 2°C, unaffordable housing and persistent homelessness, the crash of 2008 … the list is endless. When they “win” everybody else loses.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 9, 2013 at 10:37 am

Margaret Thatcher and me

The Guardian this morning explains why “do not speak ill of the dead” does not apply to politicians. Even so the overwhelmingly right wing mainstream media are full of hagiography today. They have had plenty of time to get these puff pieces ready.

I am not going to do a sort of rebalancing act here. Though if I find anything suitable I will probably link to it. I will stick to my preferred format. Since this is my blog, I use it to record my thoughts and experience, since they are not expressed elsewhere much these days. The events I chose to focus on are those that  I was involved in. Not her worst crimes by any means – nor even, given the length of her rule and the extent of the damage she did, of very much significance perhaps. But they seemed bad to me at the time, and on reflection still seem worth noting.

One of the strongest influences on her political approach was her relationship with her father – a grocer in Grantham: a small shop keeper. Local authorities in general – and the Greater London Council in particular – were becoming concerned about the way that retailing in Britain was changing in the 1970s. Town centres had been identified across London, and policies were put in place to try to preserve and promote their diversity. They provided a broad range of social and economic functions – not just in terms of shopping but a whole range of public and privately provided services and amenities. They tended to support each other, and create a sort of local ecology of urbanity. The larger, chain retailers were seeking to increase their market share, and by adopting a model where their stores were larger, with extensive car parks and combined several functions would actually replace entire shopping centres. They also argued that such places were a better urban environment since they provided shopping without having to deal with busy streets and through traffic. They created a pedestrian realm which was safer and pleasanter than the traditional High Street, with heavy trucks and buses at close quarters to shop fronts.

In London, the boroughs were looking for ways to reroute the the traffic and make the shopping areas easier to use. But the retailers and developers were eyeing both large greenfield sites on the edge of town, usually with a motorway access nearby, or failing that some of the large areas of land being freed up by the modernization of the railways. These brownfield sites were more expensive to develop but were usually closer to where people lived – and could also be reasonably served by short diversions of established bus routes. Of course, none of this could be done on the fly: there had to be plans and a planning process. Data had to be collected and analysed. There would then be public consultations before the plans were finalized. The data source all relied on was the decennial Census of Distribution. This noted the location and style of every retail outlet – and calculated the total retail turnover of a given area. It was generally accepted that retail turnover was pretty much set for each area – and in real terms was not expected to grow by very much, except in areas identified to attract new populations (like the Docklands or Thamesmead – the former Royal Arsenal).

When someone proposed a major new development the borough impacted would consider the planning application, but if they decided to reject it there was a process of appeal. This usually resulted in a public enquiry – a quasi judicial process with witnesses, evidence and cross examinations. This is where the data came under direct scrutiny. The authorities had no ability to create a protective zone for established businesses, but they could question the need for the development and object to its location, usually based on the established local plan land use designation.

One of Mrs Thatcher’s “reforms” was to cancel the Census of Distribution. She said that small shopkeepers – like her father – had no time to fill in all these forms the bureaucrats demanded. Their time was valuable and their were more important things for them to do, so the burden of bureaucracy should be lifted from them. What that meant was that when Tesco or Sainsbury proposed to build a new large supermarket – or even a whole new out of town shopping centre – there was no longer any objective, reliable data on the impact that would have on established centres. Only the John Lewis Partnership went on record as opposing the decision – as most small shop keepers adored Mrs T and anyway had always voted Conservative. They resented local planning controls as much as any other business.

There are now very few traditional High Streets left in Britain. The only retailers interested in small shops are those run by volunteers for charities: payday loan sharks like them too. Stricter drinking and driving laws, combined with very low price alcohol in supermarkets put paid to the local pub – often the social centre of many communities. The Post Office saw its role shrink too.  The small shopkeepers that Mrs T so admired have been, pretty much, eliminated. But many of the people whose livelihoods have gone, and those communities that have seen their centres wilt and fade, continue to read the Daily Express and vote for that nice Mr Cameron.

Parenthetically (and regular readers will know how fond I am of parentheses) the whole thing about preferring real town centres to shopping centres – aka “malls” is spelled out here  with respect to what is now going to happen to Oakridge, Brentwood and Lougheed. We were just ahead of out time, that’s all.

The other huge impact her decision making had on me was the abolition of the Greater London Council. I have written about that a lot here. I got promotion out of that. Initially I was tasked with organizing the research that backed up the campaign against abolition. We thought that facts and figures, carefully collected and documented and clearly presented, would win the argument. I think they did actually, but that makes no difference if the person who you are trying to convince makes her stock in trade implacability (“The lady is not for turning” – “There Is No Alternative”) and she has a secure majority in the House of Commons.  So the GLC was abolished and I was recruited into the Civil Service in part to help clear up the mess.

That was also why I decided to emigrate to Canada. I did such a good job at Traffic Management, further promotion was offered to Water Privatization. There was never any convincing economic case advanced for the abolition of the Regional Water Authorities. They were very efficient indeed, producing plenty of clean water for homes and businesses at extraordinary low cost – as well as a variety of related services in environmental protection, public health and leisure facilities. So what would an Economic Adviser actually do?

I think it is fair to say that prior to Mrs T, the UK civil service was apolitical. Though the incoming Labour Government in 1964 was convinced of its opposition to some of its policies – so ably documented by Minister of Housing R H S Crossman in his diaries, later adapted for tv as the series “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister”. Indeed, we kept copies of the books in our top left had drawers for ease of reference, when some piece of political silliness needed to be stopped. But increasingly my masters were looking worried. Mrs T would swoop through the corridors with her staff – and the most Frequently Asked Question was “Is he one of us?” Your future depended on the answer.

To her credit I have to note that she was not so dogmatic as to scrap London Transport (though I credit Prof Christopher Foster’s timely history lesson on the state of traffic in London prior to the LPTB for that) or indeed British Railways, which she hated, never used but recognized was better run than the hodge podge of companies that emerged after John Major’s foolish interference. The Falkland Islands are also still British – after relatively modest loss of lives – and seem likely to stay that way. If you think the British Empire is – or should be – dead instead, well … then you’re A Wet, aren’t you. The worst thing she could call anyone. And,  she did make a conservative case for tackling climate change. Though she switched sides later.

I was mistaken in thinking that Thatcherism was a British phenomenon. The lurch to right was actually occurring everywhere. Interestingly in Canada, it became most noticeable after we elected a Liberal government, which published a Red Book which was mostly Keynesian in tone but then appointed Paul Martin as Minister of Finance, who ran the place like an offshoot of his shipping company. Perhaps those who think a Liberal revival under the Dauphin Trudeau would be a Good Idea should take second thought as it is not at all clear if he has any political convictions  – other than an insatiable lust for power and fame.

Mrs Thatcher had a long and very successful life in which she achieved most of what she set out to do. The consequences were, mostly, dreadful for ordinary people. But those who shared her husband’s priorities – he had a large personal fortune and not much to do as the result of his sale of Castrol – did Very Well Indeed. I am hoping that the current wave of leaks of personal information at least put a brake upon some of their worst excesses.  I would like to think that government of the people, by the people, for the people might once again replace government by corporations, for corporations. But I think far too many people are still bedazzled by the myths and legends those people create. When you read Mrs Thatcher’s obits, keep that in mind. She was not St Margaret and must not be allowed to become that posthumously.

I will leave the last words to the Guardian editorial writer

Her legacy is of public division, private selfishness and a cult of greed, which together shackle far more of the human spirit than they ever set free.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with

Not the Cherry Blossom Special

with 5 comments

blossom topper
Gordon Price posts several times a day to his Price Tags blog. I impose a much less demanding schedule on myself. But I also use flickr for pictures – because I can put text with them there, so it can be a bit blog like, now and again. One of his posts this morning is about photographing cherry blossoms. And why – in his opinion – the results are not as gratifying as seeing them In Real Life. It is of course quite true that our eye sees things differently to the camera – but then that is what photographers (and painters before them) have always played around with. And also be it noted that we are looking at these pictures on some kind of illuminated screen. So I have much less control over things like size or what else appears in the vicinity on your screen. Lots of flickr posters instruct their viewers to switch to a black background. I also print some of my pictures to go on the wall, or as greeting cards and one off books, which look far better than any photo album ever did. But on paper, they are different to on the screen.

The first one was actually used by the Vancouver Observer on their facebook page – they rotate through their flickr group regularly, but you can see more than one by clicking on their cover picture to enlarge it and then using the right arrow on that image. And the reason I put it there was I had seen a tree in bloom in Quilchena Park on March 18 – a day when the mountains were covered in fresh snow. I liked the deep blue sky as a background so I shot looking upwards into the tree. I would have liked the mountains in there somehow – but that angle wasn’t available at the time. Someone using one of my pictures has always seemed to me to be an endorsement (that’s why I use Creative Commons licensing). And they used a much tighter crop than mine.

Over the Easter weekend many more trees had blossomed. And when we went to get some groceries I took my camera along to take some shots of them.

McBain Avenue

Valley at King Ed 2

22nd Ave at Valley w/b

22nd Ave at Valley e/b


This last image is from a much smaller tree, newly planted, which still had a label attached to it which identifies the species. Hence my title. These are not actually cherry trees. They are, mostly, plums. This one is Night Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus Ceracifera Nigra) which is why when I now post the inevitable, irresistible blossom pictures to flckr, I use the Japanese word “sakura” to describe them. Because otherwise some tree expert will be sure to correct me.

Just enjoy the pictures. When the sun was shining you could have gone out and seen them yourself. Now the clouds have returned, I hope these images brighten your day.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 2, 2013 at 11:28 am