Stephen Rees's blog

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

“No means yes to regional transportation improvement limbo”

with 7 comments

I have insomnia. I have had it for a long while. Recently the only way I have managed to get to sleep is to imagine a world where we have won the plebiscite, and the parties that failed to secure individual majorities have successfully combined into a coalition that prevents Stephen Harper from continuing his disastrous reign. My partner tells me I am dreaming in technicolour.

I can deal with the No campaign appealing to the anti tax, right wing crowd. I would expect no more. What has hurt are the numbers of people who say they are voting No on principles that we share, like equality. That they are voting No for all sorts of Good Reasons. They have not, they say, been swayed by the outright lies perpetrated by the CTF which only now are being authoritatively tackled by those traduced by them. Rather they object to the Really Important Issues. Like the impact of a regressive tax on poor people, or the thoroughly unsatisfactory governance of our transit system and its lack of accountability to the people of this region. That rejecting a sales tax is more important than getting more HandyDART service – as though that were – somehow – a bribe.

Peter Ladner in his BIV editorial hits the right note

The only one clear message all these heartfelt no votes can truly claim is: I cannot bring myself to support the only proposal on the table, backed by municipal, regional and provincial governments, endorsed by 130-plus organizations from all walks of life, that – in spite of its inevitable flaws – is guaranteed to strengthen the economy, spread costs evenly, clean up the air and save lives, reduce spending on costly automobile infrastructure and subsidies, improve social equity, reduce public health costs, give employers access to a wider range of employees, give tens of thousands of households a chance to save $10,000 a year in automobile expenses, speed up goods movement, and reduce congestion and commuting times.

But rather like last weekend’s Pete McMartin column just a little bit too late, I fear.

The time to submit your votes stretches out before us, but I have a worry that the convinced have already committed themselves – not that they were open to any suasion. They had already made up their minds, and cannot conceive of any circumstances that would persuade them otherwise. And the people who might be swayed don’t actually vote these days. Their ballot has probably been recycled, or simply lost. Or they never bothered to register and anyway they haven’t got a driver’s license.

So this is now the time for the Hail Mary pass. A ball tossed high in the air in the hopes that someone near the goal line might actually reach it in time. And we could still, maybe, squeak out a win. If you are reading this you are mostly likely someone who has already voted. So this is not addressed to you. This is aimed at those who care enough to register, who got their ballots only recently and have not yet made up their minds. Or who could still register, and vote, if only they can summon up the will to try and make a difference.

Because that is where we are. More of the same, only getting steadily worse as we try to find another way forward. or something better. Something we had a glimpse of in 2010, but which seems to have slipped our grasp. A place where owning a car and driving for everything, no matter what, does not define us. Where walking, cycling and taking transit are realistic options. Where society actually does exist. Where “me first” is not an acceptable justification for anything.


When originally published this article had no title. I have since inserted the title from the Business In Vancouver editorial by Peter Ladner that I quoted

Written by Stephen Rees

March 30, 2015 at 8:11 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Appreciate all of your efforts and insight. Whatever the outcome, it certainly wasn’t because of your lack of trying (but not ready to give up yet).


    March 31, 2015 at 1:51 am

  2. Well, I have a lot to say on the subject of “progressives for No” but should probably keep it brief other than to say I’ve not encountered one with arguments that hold up under scrutiny. Most being simply variations of “Christy Clark proposed it, therefore I oppose it” at heart. One of the more depressing things about this is certain individuals whose voice I once respected and endorsed have been revealed as charlatans. Of course, that joke is on me.

    I should probably stop here.


    March 31, 2015 at 8:22 am

  3. It could be worse, Sparks. I’m currently reading Afterburn, Society Beyond Fossil Fuels by Richard Heinberg. Planetary collapse seems inevitable now. It’s not hard to see why with the unreasonable reaction to this plebiscite by otherwise intelligent people.


    March 31, 2015 at 12:06 pm

  4. Yesterday, Monday 30, 2014 I made the mistake to take SkyTrain at Waterfront station during the pm rush hour, instead of taking the #84 bus to VCC-Clark at 4th and Fir.
    On the train entering Waterfront nearly all the seats were full, with people that likely got on at Granville, Stadium, maybe Main. Then hordes of people got in –including me. At Burrard more people got in..

    It reminded me of London, Paris and Tokyo..but not in a nice way..

    One standing lady started to talk to me…she wasn’t happy but said that she will vote no anyway. I told her to complain instead to Clark and Stone…I could feel the people cringe…as if I said something blasphemous..
    I was planning to ask how many people have cars but don’t use them to go to work, as parking downtown all day long is so expensive (plus gas etc.) but I chickened out..

    Red frog

    March 31, 2015 at 2:42 pm

  5. I second your comment. I shouldn’t look at blogs this late in the evening as it just gets me upset. “I have insomnia. I have had it for a long while. Recently the only way I have managed to get to sleep is to imagine a world where we have won the plebiscite….”


    April 1, 2015 at 9:45 pm

  6. While I am depressed over the referendum I do know it is not actually the end of the world. Christy may even surprise me and deliver some funding mechanism. I am pretty sure that within 5 to 10 years people will have forced positive change. I just hope not too much damage gets done before then.


    April 2, 2015 at 2:48 pm

  7. @Rico
    Who is going to force positive change?

    Have a look at which BC ridings elected Liberal MLAs. Which spending would be more helpful in holding those ridings: roads or transit?

    Of course the correct answer is “roads” because they are elected by car-dependent interior communities, suburbs designed for cars and urban ridings like West Vancouver where the average person can afford three BMWs. That this government has offered to spend any money on transit (subject to a Yes vote and no doubt endless studies on how best to proceed) is a minor miracle given who elected them and who voted for the official opposition.

    If the No side wins the plebiscite then I think our only hope lies in the corporate boardrooms. Some business leaders know that an efficient transportation system is essential to their continued success. If their elected representatives fail to deliver such a system pressure will be applied at the party level to replace those representatives. Unfortunately the link between infrastructure investment and business success isn’t always clear and the process of replacing politicians and policies is very slow. Things will have to get significantly worse before the current government feels any pressure to change course.


    April 2, 2015 at 3:58 pm

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