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

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ProVancouver party proposes flat fare and other transit discounts across Lower Mainland

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Faregates at King Edward

The title is that of an article in the Georgia Straight

The ProVancouver Party is one of several new entities that have popped up due to the upcoming city election all of which claim to be non-partisan (just like the flailing NPA) and different from the status quo.

The main difference is simply in the level of understanding of how local government in Vancouver works (or is supposed to) between those who have some experience and those with none at all. Many of the new candidates seriously think that their naivete is a qualification rather than a liability.

I am not going to bother with analysing any of these half baked proposals. I am simply going to point out that getting elected to Vancouver City council does not enable anyone to introduce any of these ideas. As the Straight points out these are regional measures, which means that they have to appeal to most of the other municipalities outside of the City of Vancouver. The only commonality among these municipalities is their utter contempt for Vancouver and all it stands for. For one thing they are all convinced that Vancouver benefits far more from transit than they do. Even when Burnaby has far more SkyTrain service than any other municipality. And if your identifier is ProVancouver, you are already setting yourself up for an argument. West Vancouver still thinks it would be better off if it left Translink altogether – though even they have to concede that it is really difficult to find any acceptable piece of land within West Vancouver that could be used as a bus storage and maintenance facility.  Places like Anmore and Belcarra even think that people from other municipalities should not be allowed park or even drive on their roads.   Especially in summer.

The key word that ProVancouver has latched onto is “affordable”.  Which you might think would translate into some kind of means tested subsidy for transit fares. But as usual in all such woolly thinking, the term itself is not defined – but has something to do with “families” even though most people now live in rather different households than the traditional Mum, Dad and 2.4 kids. What we do know from our experience with the referendum is people in general believe a lot of nonsense about Translink and think they pay quite enough in taxes to provide much better service than they currently get. And that second belief is equally strongly held everywhere – even in the best served parts of the region. If you are not going to collect enough at the farebox, then it has to come from somewhere else, and any proposal is always going to be met with the angry riposte “How are you going to pay for that?” (without waiting for the answer before stamping off).

One of the great weaknesses of the upcoming ballot is that it is going to be filled with a lot of names: most of them will be unfamiliar. And whoever gets elected is going to have spend a lot of time and effort getting up to speed on procedures, rules and regulations. To some extent that does mean the potential for more influence from the professionals who have mostly been doing this stuff as a full time career for many years. But sadly they will be fully occupied trying to persuade the newly elected councillors that they have to both listen and read attentively. There is no evidence at all that ProVancouver has the slightest intention of doing that before insisting that they are now in charge: heaven help us all if that is the case.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2018 at 4:25 pm

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unlikely

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There are still some glaciers

I took this picture out of the window of a plane flying from Vancouver to Terrace last week. It was a beautiful day, and I spent most of the flight staring out of the window at the Coast Mountains. There are still some glaciers there. Not as many now, and they are probably somewhat smaller than they used to be, though apparently that is not the case everywhere. However, the reason that I am posting this picture here, now is that it is very unlikely that we will be able to take photos like this in the future.

This is not a matter of belief. Climate change is an established fact. What is worse, climate change denial means that we are putting off the necessary actions to meet that challenge. Most disappointing in that regard are the actions of the present governments in Canada and British Columbia. Justin Trudeau was elected to change the policies of the previous conservative government. He said that he would live up to commitments to reduce ghg emissions and signed the Paris accord. But at the same time he was determined to see the expansion of the Athabasca Tar Sands – and that includes building a new TransMountain pipeline to feed a much expanded export terminal in the Burrard Inlet. He claims that this is necessary to fund the development of newer, cleaner alternative energy sources. The Premier of British Columbia opposes that idea – but not because of its impact on climate but the probable impact of a spill – either on land (which would be the responsibility of Kinder Morgan) or at sea (which would be the responsibility of the federal government – which is to say all Canadians). He is also promoting a completely unnecessary hydroelectric project called Site C on the Peace River near Fort St John.  I say “unnecessary” because it is only needed if there is more development of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) for export. Fracking the gas for export releases methane, and makes LNG a worse case of greenhouse gas increase than coal.

In both cases, there are short term political gains because so many people have been taken in by the promise of economic growth and jobs from the tar sands and LNG expansion. But both rely on developing markets in Asia – and that is also unlikely. Because there they are developing wind and solar power far more rapidly than we are. China is determined to be the leader in electric car production. Most of the previous climate change agreements failed to deliver simply because western politicians refused to accept that China and India would do their part to reduce carbon emissions, due to their determination to increase their own economic status. In fact both are benefitting from the rapidly dropping cost of renewables. They also have access to much closer and more convenient fossil fuel resources. There is plenty of natural gas there, for instance, and Chinese oil refineries are not designed to cope with heavy oil feedstocks.  The latest news about a new BC LNG plant is that it will be designed and built in Japan. So much for all those new jobs we were supposed to be getting. Another unlikely prospect.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 2, 2018 at 11:52 am

BC Budget 2018

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Thumbnail_Highlights

You can read the whole thing on the BC Gov website or Justin McElroy on the CBC ‘s summary. Basically a commitment to increase necessary spending in the right areas which is being funded by increases in taxes on the corporations and the wealthy. So I am generally in favour.

But what is missing is a much needed correction of former BC Liberal policies which saw a giveaway of our natural resources. Once upon a time oil and gas revenues from leases and royalties made a significant contribution to our provincial budget. That is no longer the case, and ought to have been corrected by the new NDP (+ Green) government.

Two reasons leap out. Horgan retains Christy’s silly obsession with LNG, as well as Site C (which will increase GHG emissions) and, quite possibly, given the federal Liberals commitment the potential TMX pipeline expansion too. Our emissions are not going down even though it is quite clear from the state of the Arctic ice alone that this is a problem we are not tackling. Melting permafrost, with consequent releases of methane and mercury, are immediate threats, not something in the future.

But secondly the whole budget rests on a somewhat hopeful outcome of the ICBC debacle. I think the idea that somehow economic growth and a reasonable approach from personal injury lawyers is going to be enough is overly optimistic. We are going to need the revenues from oil and gas royalties and leases sooner rather than later.

But also, the whole fight with Alberta over the pipeline starts to look a bit different  when you consider how much diluting bitumen for pumping down the pipe depends on BC natural gas and its condensate. (For that thought I acknowledge the twitter feed of Eric Doherty.) The entire project is based on a falsehood, that there will be a market in Asia for dilbit at a higher price than the US refiners are currently willing to pay. It becomes less attractive to the US market (where nearly all of the exports go now) if the BC fuels it depends on have to pay some fairer share of the costs on our local environment and the fact that the resource is not renewable. There is a real reason to fear the loss of jobs at the Burnaby refinery if TMX is all about exports. We need to make sure that we are getting money for value. That isn’t case at the giveaway prices set by Clark.

AFTERTHOUGHT

Yeah, well there was something else that wasn’t in the budget. It would have been really welcome if the NDP had reversed some of Christy Clark cuts to the Public Service Pension. Of course, when these were announced they came with the message “these changes protect your pension” but what they actually meant was that the government was going to stop picking up the tab for some essential health services – so the pension paid out now has to pay for the things that are no longer covered. First up was MSP, of course, but at least that will be going if not immediately. Then there was extended health care, where coverage is now distinctly chintzy. A couple of fillings today cost me $200. And I will need either a denture (over $2,000 – some coverage) or an implant (near $7,000  – no coverage at all) soon. More of that would have been covered under the old plan.

And of course many Canadians have no dental coverage at all.


“As announced in September, starting on April 1 the carbon tax will rise by $5 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. It will be the first of four annual increases and will bring the price on carbon to $50 per tonne of emissions in 2021.”

source: The Tyee

Written by Stephen Rees

February 21, 2018 at 3:58 pm

The National Interest

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“It is the national interest to move forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and we will be moving forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, today, in Nanaimo

The national interest requires that we adhere to our international commitments. The rest of the world (with the notable exception of the United States) is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Canada signed on to the Paris agreement – which I thought meant that we shared that commitment.

“We don’t have a plan to meet Paris target, and reduction shortfall is about same as GHG growth from tar sands, which account for vast majority of national emissions growth”
Kathryn Harrison, Professor of Political Science UBC via Twitter (By the way, Jason MacLean of USaskLaw also chipped in to the Twitter conversation with this paper – but it is in draft and warns “do not cite or quote”)

To be clear, that idea that we can avoid a 2℃ increase in the global average temperature seems to be shrinking in the rear view mirror. If we were reducing emissions then perhaps that would not be the case but since we have now passed 400ppm it seems to me very unlikely. It is the “tipping point” that catches us. It really was a deadline, because once past that the permafrost starts melting and that releases more carbon than we have released since the industrial revolution. It is not clear if that can be stopped. We talk about this being a threat to human civilisation, but it is an existential threat to life itself as we know it. The planet will survive, and adapt. In aeons of time. But we won’t be around to see it and much of the life with which we share so much of our DNA will be gone. So will many low lying islands in the Pacific, and much of the current coastline. Because the methane from our fracking was ignored, our emissions weren’t getting better as we thought, but very much worse. And what has already been emitted is now the problem. And “carbon capture and storage” is mostly a pipedream. And the carbon contribution from oil sands extraction is not trivial even if we do not count burning the stuff we manage to export.

Digging up bitumen for export to Asia is an unlikely economic venture, since the market is currently awash in better, cheaper, easier to deal with oil. And other sources of energy have now proved to be cheaper than fossil fuels in many applications. But we are convinced, against all evidence to the contrary, that somehow expanding extraction of the oil sands is necessary for Canada’s well being. The current extraction is uneconomic. It would not be happening without billions in subsidies from us, the hard pressed citizens. Somehow, the profits of a few corporations are far more important than the well being of ordinary Canadians.

In the more immediate future, the local resident orcas will be gone. Even if we actually manage to stop the pipeline, the lack of salmon that they feed on is already an issue. I do recall when we were campaigning against freeway expansion that we lamented the lack of charismatic megafauna to feature in our arguments. (The Nooksack Dace didn’t quite fit the bill despite the “don’t diss de dace” plea.) Well, if the most intelligent mammals on the planet don’t fit that description, I don’t know what does. But apparently the survival of the resident orcas isn’t in the National Interest, even though tourism is one of the most economically significant issues of the Pacific coast – along with fishing – and the people who depend on the health of its ecosystem.

There will be a spill. There has already been one, but that was at the terminal, so that was actually cleaned up. Quite what happens when the spill is out in more open waters, in worse weather isn’t clear. The idea that somehow the diluent (condensate from natural gas) is going to hang around long enough so the rescuers can scoop up the bitumen seems far fetched to me. It wasn’t the case in the Kalamazoo River. And “world class spill response” that we have seen so far for other kinds of spills has been less than impressive.  Which is why the province is saying that we need to get that right before the spill happens, which seems only reasonable to me. Because, once again, once the bitumen hits the bottom of the sea it is almost impossible to recover and the long term impacts, while we cannot be precise, are not going to be good.

The pipeline crosses the traditional lands of several First Nations. Prime Minister Trudeau has made a large number of speeches about reconciliation. Apparently that too is a National Interest only for as long as it does not butt up against some generous contributor to party funds.

Justin Trudeau, Rachel Notley and John Horgan all share in the same ethos. They were elected because they represented change from former conservative governments. The conservatives were wrong about nearly everything. None of the outcomes they predicted for their policies have come about. Instead we have seen an increase in the wealth of very few at the expense of the many. Wealth did not trickle down from tax cuts. Wages remain stubbornly low – except for CEOs. Housing remains unaffordable for many. In too many places there are still totally unacceptable threats to clean air, clean water and edible food. We keep being told we cannot afford essential services like health, education and childcare. All three of these politicians, elected to bring about change, are stuck in the past, clinging to outdated ideas and technologies. The National Interest is that we join the leaders in clean energy and renewable resources. We can no longer simply cut down more trees or dig up more minerals when we need more money. We have a huge legacy from these outdated industries – asbestos, tailing ponds, poisoned land and water are problems in nearly every part of the country. Trains blow up in the middle of towns, cars continue to kill thousands every year, schools cannot withstand expected earthquakes – the list is long and daunting. Keeping jobs in the oil sands does not seem to be one of the best ways forward – especially in a week when one of the largest operators announces that it is laying people off and buying self driving trucks. Given these problems, clinging stubbornly to a failed philosophy seems to me to be indefensible.

It is really sad that the people who went to Nanaimo to bring these problems to the Prime Minister’s attention failed miserably – and are now charged with the worst imaginable Canadian sin. Being impolite.

For more about the National Interest and how NEB defends its decisions you should really read this oped by Elizabeth May  

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2018 at 3:52 pm

Growing Smarter

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growing-smarter-webThis is the title of a new report. Actually the title is longer than that but I like to be snappy when I can. The publisher adds “Integrating Land Use and Transportation to Reduce GHGs” which you may be sure is right up my alley.

Two things before I go further. This report was published on September 27, and I have only just learned of it. I thought I had spent quite a bit of effort making sure that I kept on top of this topic since it is specifically addressing BC. It was not until today that I saw a tweet from Charlie Smith which linked to an article in the Georgia Straight by Carlito Pablo.

Secondly, the report was commissioned by The Real Estate Foundation of BC. Now my association with Real Estate in BC had lead me to create a mental link between realtors and the BC Liberals. During the campaign against the expansion of Highway #1 there were credible sources saying that the then Minister of Transport, Kevin Falcon, was holding fundraising breakfasts for the realtors in this region and the Fraser Valley and promising that highway expansion would enable them to continue to build and sell single family homes. As opposed to the denser forms of development that tended to support transit. The implication being that RS1 supports right wing voters.

The other important thing to note is that you do not have to rely on my opinion or that of Carlito Pablo. You can download the full report for yourself from the link above.

But I am going to copy here the list of recommendations

Recommendations include:

  1. Bolster regional government authority and integrate transportation planning with land use in ways that support climate action.
  2. Strengthen the Agricultural Land Commission’s authority to protect farmland and limit non-agricultural use of protected land.
  3. Strengthen coordination amongst key agencies, ministries, and orders of government and support collaboration through the Climate Action Secretariat and the Local-Provincial Green Communities Committee.
  4. Use market-based tools to more fairly share the costs of transportation infrastructure and expand transportation choice.
  5. Update tax and fee structures to support sustainable financing of civic infrastructure.
  6. Help establish a Low Carbon Innovation Centre in the Lower Mainland.
  7. Create long-term transportation financing agreements between local, provincial, and federal governments.
  8. Update community GHG reduction target requirements and provide provincial support to help meet these requirements.
  9. Establish GHG impact assessment standards for local and provincial transportation projects and planning agendas.
  10. Reinvest in BC’s Community Energy and Emissions Inventory (CEEI) system to provide defensible transportation sector data.

The report was commissioned by the Real Estate Foundation of BC as part of its research on sustainable built environments in British Columbia. The report was prepared by Boston Consulting, in consultation with the Smart Growth Task Force, with contributions from MODUS Planning, Design and Engage

This all looks very promising, and I am going to download it myself before I type anything else.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 5, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Jagmeet Singh on Transit

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I am not a member of the NDP and haven’t really been following their leadership race, but congratulations to Jagmeet Singh for securing the leadership. He says (on his blog)

a Jagmeet Singh-led government will:

Adopt a National Public Transit Strategy: Canada is still the only country in the G8 without a national transit program and people across Canada are looking for more affordable, reliable, and accessible public transit options. Congestion in our urban centres is hurting both our economy and our environment. A Jagmeet Singh-led government will implement a National Public Transit Strategy that will provide the long term and predictable funding for public transit that cities and communities across the country are seeking.

This appears under the “Carbon Emission Reduction” section. Good.

Now perhaps some of the dippers who read this blog can explain to me how a leader can impose his will on the rest of the party. I come from a UK Labour Party background where policy commitments of this kind have to be endorsed by the annual Party conference (convention in North American parlance). While a leader can espouse a policy, it is the membership at large which determines policy. And if you have a taste for such things try a search for “Clause Four” to see where that leads to.

I am, as I said, heartened by this commitment. But to what extent is this reflective of what the party rank and file actually want? Aren’t the big supporters of the NDP the union members in the car industry?  Isn’t that where most of the big bucks come from in the national party? 

The last bit has been deleted in response to a comment.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 1, 2017 at 7:34 pm

“Watermelon” wants free transit

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Straight picture

There are a lot of nice photos of Mary Jean “Watermelon” Dunsdon and a nice old bus in the Straight. I replied under the article but decided I should post here too. Not that I need to write much more

“she’s traded in her bikini for a business licence”

Erm, I don’t think so. Wreck beach is not the sort of place where people wear bikinis, is it. And her famous Georgia Straight front cover picture doesn’t have her wearing a bikini either.

watermelon

As for free transit, we have been around this argument several times over the years

https://stephenrees.blog/…/a-case-for-free-transit-in…/

https://stephenrees.blog/2008/03/31/free-transit/

https://stephenrees.blog/2007/12/20/free-ride/

And just to show I’m not the only one who thinks this idea is far from “sensible”.

https://thetyee.ca/News/2007/07/30/FareFree6/

The way to get more people using transit is to increase service – and make what you do provide more reliable. That means more trains and buses – and put the buses is exclusive bus lanes. Put a camera in the front of every bus, and paint the bus lane red, then the operator just clicks the button every time the bus gets behind a vehicle that is not a bus. Use the ticket revenue from that to buy even more buses. But you cannot afford to give up 50% of current revenues if you want to increase service.

By the way the City has no power to make transit free – but there is a great deal it could do to give buses priority on Vancouver’s streets.

I think we would be better off with Pete Fry on council.

344046049_dc52519e04_o

Seven Sisters Road by “sarflondonunc” on flickr

Written by Stephen Rees

September 26, 2017 at 3:27 pm