Gross

There was a weird event in Council last week, following something that got a little media news on the TriCities, if not much mileage here in New West. This week, New West Council moved to take a piece of  correspondence out of closed, which means I am now able to talk about it. I should probably add that to this post one of my semi-regular caveats that this blog is my writing and contains some of my opinions and should not be construed to reflect the official position of the City or the opinion of anyone other than me.

The first point here is to clarify why City Councils have in camera, or “closed” meetings at all. There is certainly a broader collection of topics talked about in Closed than suggested in the news report linked above. Pretty much every Monday, Council has a closed meeting, usually just before the regular or “open” meeting. At those meetings we talk about things that fall under Section 90 of the Community Charter, which you can read here in its full breadth. This is the Provincial Law that governs how local government councils operate, and Section 90(1) list the reasons a council may discuss items in closed, where Section 90(2) talks about where council must keep the topic in camera – a not-unimportant distinction.

The topics typically discussed in closed are ones you might expect – real estate negotiations, human resources issues, advice from our lawyers, or involving information about a member of the public that is subject to the privacy protection provisions of FOIPPA but also many things beyond that involving security of the organization, procurement, negotiations with senior governments, financial planning, and more.

Of course, there is very little the City can do that remains secret – we eventually have to make an open decision before we spend money or adopt a bylaw, so most things discussed in closed eventually end up in open reports. When we buy or sell a piece of land for example, we operate those negotiations in closed (to assure we have a competitive relationship with the purchaser/seller), but the final purchase/sale agreement comes to an open meeting and is publicly voted upon. The line item of the price we pay also ends up in a financial report. Review of appointments to City Commissions and Advisory Committees or hiring of senior managers necessarily contain a significant amount of personal information about applicants, so that information is kept in closed, though the final decision of whom to appoint is brought to an open meeting.

The decision whether a subject can or must be discussed in closed usually happens long before Council even sees the Agenda, and the City Clerk (whose skills include an encyclopedic knowledge of the application of Section 90, and who gets advice from the City Solicitor if there are any doubts) usually makes the call, though there may be discussion with Council. It is important to note in this case that Section 90 also applies to Metro Vancouver Board and the committees within, and if necessary, communications from the City to Metro Vancouver about those boards.

It is not unusual for municipalities to communicate with each other about how regional boards operate. The City of New Westminster sends representatives to Metro Vancouver boards and committees, agencies like E-Comm, the Fraser Health Authority Advisory Council, Municipal Finance Authority, and others. It should be no surprise to anyone who follows New Westminster Council that we have been pretty proactive at seeking diversity in the representation on those boards, just as we have for our own advisory committees, and that has included some communications with other Cities to coordinate equity-seeking actions.

But this is something different, something much less positive, but concomitant with creating a respectful and safe workplace for all persons.

At the time that New Westminster wrote this letter, the Mayor of Port Moody was indicating that he was ready to come back to work at Port Moody Council, though it was unclear if the legal case against him had been resolved, or what that resolution entailed. This return to work was, to use the technical term, a shit show. Debate about whether he should have returned to work made clear that the only person with the power to prevent him from doing so was himself. His Council and the residents of his community were powerless to remove a person facing a serious criminal charge.

During this time, it was not reported that Mayor Vagramov also returned to work on Metro Vancouver committees. This resulted in the situation where other regional leaders, often including a member of the New Westminster Council, had to sit in committee meetings beside a person charged with sexual assault while the case was still before the courts. That is not an acceptable situation to me, and it is clear from the letter we wrote that this was not acceptable to the majority of New Westminster Council. Unlike his decision to return to his regular Council duties, he serves at Metro committee at the pleasure of his Council, and it is within that Council’s prerogative to remove him from that position until his legal situation was resolved. New Westminster appealed to Port Moody Council to exercise that prerogative, to assure that all members of our Council and Councils across the Lower Mainland are able to exercise their duties in a respectful and safe workplace.

Yet another gross part about this is that someone in Port Moody leaked this letter to the media before it was released from in camera, which is likely a violation of the Community Charter, but I’m not a lawyer. Why they did it is unclear, but it smells of shitty politics. Ultimately, it was fated to come out to the public sooner than later, but by jumping the gun the person who leaked the letter put many people, including me, in the difficult spot of having to say “no comment” to the media when asked about it, because for us to comment on it would itself be a violation of Section 90.

So New West Council lifted the resolution and letter from closed this week, allowing us to speak about it. But in many ways it speaks for itself.

This is a gross situation, and it is far from resolved. Vagramov has not been “exonerated” as he claimed, and the way he and his lawyer shrugged off the original accusations with the “awkward date” language further the ongoing patterns of victimizing and the accuser by robbing her of a voice. This is not an act of apology, and shows a profound lack of self-awareness,  of judgement, and of understanding of  a power imbalance being asserted.

That there is no way to remove him from his position of power is problematic, but that is not something we can do anything about, and need to ask the provincial government to make changes to the legislation. That my colleagues in New Westminster and across the region, some of whom may have been victims of sexual assault and have felt this case more personally than I have, will now have to choose between serving beside Vagramov on a Committee, or removing themselves from committees. He should not have the power to force others to make this choice, and they should not be the ones stepping aside.

The letter from New West Council was written at a time before this matter was “resolved” in Vargamov’s mind, but I do not think it is resolved in the minds of many people. I think it is still appropriate to call on his Council to remove him from Metro Committees, and I hope that the provincial government can finally bring in some legislation to address these issues when they arise.

Shaping our future

Expanding freeways doesn’t remove congestion.

This should not be a controversial statement. But somehow, urban planners, transit advocates, and climate activists still have to point this out to local government and provincial leaders, who have for the most part replied by saying some version of “Yeah, but this one is different”. Denial is an expensive vanity in light of the Climate Crisis.

The world around, growing cities have added capacity to congested road networks to find that the larger road networks are just as congested, and the surrounding areas made less livable because of that congestion. This is not conjecture or legend, it is a measurable certainty well established in the literature. Continued application of lanes has never, ever proven to solve the problem. I risk belaboring the point here, but if you need convincing, spend 5 minutes (or 5 hours!) Googling “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion”, or your pick of paradoxes: Braess Paradox, Jevon’s Paradox, Downs–Thomson paradox. They all, from different angles, explain that adding road lanes makes congestion worse for everyone. Always.

So, taking those things as read, I don’t have to go into the myriad of reasons why the 10-lane bridge plan for the Massey crossing was a bad idea. As I may have mentioned in the past, it was an idea built on a foundation as shaky as Fraser Delta silt. This was obvious during the Environmental Assessment of that lamentable plan. It was found wanting, and required such a contraction of inferred impacts that it literally ignored traffic impacts 100m from the intersection pictured above. It was clear that the only benefit to building it was a political one in a riding held by an independent on the south side of the link. It was no surprise that when the political imperative went away, that half-baked mutli-billion dollar scheme needed to be cancelled.

Here we are two years later. A very-slightly-less-terrible option is being legitimately floated (immersed?), and the same arguments for expanded road capacity are being trotted out like they are long-held truths. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

I’m engaging in a bit of wrathful Patsplaining here because I have been banging this drum for a long time, as an advocate for sustainable transportation, as a professional who worked on the Environmental Assessment process of the previous 10-lane bridge proposal, and as an elected official expected to show leadership in my community. This project has been part of my life for almost a decade, and I lament we still have completely failed to address the underlying issues. After all of this time, the political conversation is no more truthful than it was almost a decade ago. Same as it ever was.

The plan to replace the Massey Tunnel with an 8-lane immersed tube is a bad one. Every bit as bad as the 10-lane bridge. Fundamentally wrong for all the same reasons as the bridge, such that they are effectively the same project. There is no defensible reason to oppose the big bridge and now support the big tunnel. To point: it is a massive waste of money that will not solve the problem it is alleged to solve, but will instead take away from efforts to address real crises in our region.

The current tunnel does not meet current seismic codes, that is not a point of debate. Like a shocking amount of our public infrastructure, even life-critical infrastructure, it was not built with a 21st century understanding of seismic risk. There is something very visceral about being one of the unfortunate dozens in the tunnel at the time of a major earthquake that does not have the same effect when we think about the dozens of schools, office buildings, bridges and other structures that are at risk, so this makes a compelling case for doing something. Upgrading or replacing a piece of infrastructure to meet current risk standards should be a priority, no argument there. We may quibble about where to prioritize a tunnel over, say, the 270 schools still on the “to do” list. However, to continue the unfortunate whataboutism of using schools as a comparison, building a much larger facility to accommodate future growth is a different discussion than whether we should replace or fix up a school. Seismic upgrades do not require doubling capacity.

If building more lanes doesn’t fix congestion, you may ask, what does? Experience from around the world tells us there are only two models to significantly reducing road congestion. The Detroit Model (massive economic collapse and depopulation) is probably something only a few fringy cranks want to promote and I want to be clear I disagree with this model for the Lower Mainland.  That leaves the Nordic Model: road pricing and serious investment in the alternatives. Invest in rapid expansion of rapid transit, and price the roads to pay for it. One will not work without the other, you need to do both. This combination is the only thing that we know will work, anyone telling you otherwise is lying. No government can claim to be progressive, to be addressing road congestion, or to be committed to climate action unless they are doing these two things.

Why do I care, here in New Westminster, and why should you care? I assert that aside from the Port Mann fiasco, this project will be the most important region-shaping project of our generation. More than SkyTrain to UBC or rapid transit to Fleetwood (and likely at much higher a cost), the expansion of road capacity and entrenchment of a Motordom-oriented development model South of the Fraser will define our region. And the current definition makes us look antiquated and negligent. The tunnel will not only shape our region in a less sustainable way, it will take away limited resources that can must be applied to sustainable transportation approaches if we can ever hope to reach our regional livability goals, or Paris climate targets. But who is going to stand up in our region, and show the leadership needed to push back against this bullshit-driven boondoggle?

Ask Pat: Pier Park overpass

Harvey asks—

What’s happening with the new Pier Park overpass. It was originally announced to be completed in the Fall 2019 but now it appears as if no work is being done.

The overpass at the foot of 6th Street will provide pedestrian and cycling access to the west side of Pier Park prior to the closure of the through-a-construction-site access currently provided, which needs to be closed because that construction site will spend more than a year being a hole in the ground. The idea is that there always needs to be a second access to the park to compliment the current 4th street overpass and elevator.

It was originally going to rely on an elevator for accessibility, like the 4th Street one, but our experience with that elevator has been infamously problematic, first with some design issues delaying opening, then with ongoing vandalism that puts the elevator out of service periodically. The ramp was seen as a better choice for the west side, giving people more and different options (for some people, long ramps are a barrier, for others, elevators are). There has also been a long-standing complaint at Pier Park that it lacks shady areas in the heat of summer, especially for kids to play. To meet accessibility guidelines for grades (less than 5%, with regular “landings”), the ramp must be quite long. By building a light, airy structure with a wide platform, the ramp also provides shade for a redesigned children’s playground that will be in the center of it.

Now to your question. The new overpass is a partnership between the City and the developer of that soon-to-be-a-hole-in-the-ground-before-it-can-be-rebuilt-into-a-permanent-park as one of the conditions of the rezoning. Early plans to have the overpass open in 2019 ran into some permitting problems between the developer and the railways. There are 4 rail companies that need to sign off on a new overpass spanning those lines. These four Purveyors of the National Enterprise have head corporate offices in Montreal, Calgary, San Francisco and Fort Worth and combined annual revenues just under $60 Billion, so getting them all to set aside a little time to sign off on a pre-approved design for a little ol’ overpass in New Westminster is sometimes a challenge. Arranging for a window of time to lift a span over their rail lines that doesn’t interfere with their operations or possible operations is also a challenge. Especially as their empowering legislation (the Rail Safety Act) essentially puts them in a power position more akin to the Jedi Council than than any level of government, never mind the power usually granted to publicly-traded multi-national corporations operating in our communities. This means these highly profitable corporate entities not only choose not pay property taxes for the lands used in our community, they are also not required to comply with noise or nuisance bylaws, or any laws that establish community standards. They are not even expected to pay for the basic infrastructure required to keep their operations in our community safe, instead passing those costs on to the local governments they don’t pay those taxes to. They even have their own armed police force operating inside our community with no accountability to local or provincial police oversight. So each and every one of them has veto power, and they rarely feel any specific rush to respond to requests from communities or third parties trying to make good things.

Didn’t see that rant coming did you? It’s been building up.

Anyway, the overpass will be built as soon as the developer and the railways can get their regulatory thing figured out, hopefully by the spring, and then the access to the west side of the park will be via the Parkade entrance at the foot of 6th Street, and probably 2 years later, the underground construction part of the development to the west of Pier Park will be done enough that pedestrian access at the west end can be re-established on the waterfront.

UBCM 2019

This year’s Union of BC Municipalities meeting was a crazy week for me, and I didn’t report out right away because I got behind on e-mail and council stuff and my other work and enough excuses I have a bit of time this weekend so here we go. Being a month and a half after actual event, I will try to keep this short, and if you want to hear longer details about what happens when a couple of thousand local government types get together and talk policy, you will have to buy me a beer, I guess.

Yes, there is a socializing/networking part to UBCM like any convention. It is often inspiring to meet your cohort from other Municipalities, like the super cool and visionary leadership of the District of Squamish.

The annual UBCM conference has several different elements for most participants, but I am going to skip past the AGM and appointment of executive stuff that is pretty inside baseball. The big three elements, and the reason we are all there, are the resolutions, the workshops, and the meetings. With so much going on, it is impossible to attend them all, but here were my experiences this year:

The Meetings: The City of New West had official meetings with several Ministers and senior provincial government staff to discuss specific issues. We share the load between my Council colleagues a bit on these meetings, so I was not able to attend them all. I did get to take part in the meeting with the Premier to discuss some aspects of our capital and strategic plans, and ways we thought the province could help us achieve them (and, of course, how us achieving them helps the provincial government meet some of their goals!). I’m not sure of the Premier deciding to put on his Victoria Shamrocks cap as he saw the New West contingent enter the meeting room was a good sign. New West Council also met with Ministers to discuss the future of the Massey Theatre site, the state of Indigenous Courts in New West, and the urgent need for support in building Child Care in New West.

I also serve a role on the executive of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, which is kind of a professional association for local government elected officials and acts as a sort of local chapter of the UBCM serving the Greater Vancouver, Fraser Valley, and Sea to Sky areas. The Lower Mainland LGA has its own resolution sessions at our spring conference, and the Executive takes the highest-priority resolutions from the conference and requests meetings with the appropriate Ministers to lobby on the resolution topics.

Through this process, I was able to attend a meeting with senior officials in the Ministry of Environment, calling on them to match Local Governments’ commitment to climate action by declaring a Climate Emergency and consummate acceleration of their efforts to get BC in line with the emissions targets in the Paris Agreement. I took part in a meeting with the Attorney General asking for better support for the Indigenous Court System, with the Ministry of Transportation reiterating our need to make it easier for Local Governments to reduce speed limits within our jurisdictions, and with the Minister of Finance to discuss expansion of the vacancy tax and speculation tax programs. Finally, we had a meeting with the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation where he and his staff outlined the Province’s intentions in introducing UNDRIP legislation.

The Resolutions:
This is the part of UBCM where the group collectively calls on senior governments to change policy or provide funding. The UBCM resolutions session is a bit of a gong show, not in the least because there were more than 200 resolutions on the agenda this year. As the meeting has a fixed schedule, there was no chance we would get through them all. Some are moved through a “consent” block, but some others take a long time to work through as amendments and debate are inevitable, especially when talking about potentially divisive topics like whether we are killing the planet and maybe should do something about that.

Yes, they literally throw you on the Big Screen when delegating on resolutions. It’s true what they say about TV adding 5 pounds to your beard.

New Westminster had seven (7!) resolutions, but only 6 were being considered:

B80: Declaration of Employee Compensation as Part of Annual SOFI Reporting was endorsed by the Membership. This was covered a bit here, and I was happy to hear that the members of UBCM supported this move to reduce harassment in our workplaces, especially for our public-facing workers.

B109: Fresh Voices #LostVotes Campaign call to open up voting in local elections to Permanent Residents was endorsed by the membership after a hearty debate lead by Councillor Nakagawa, and framed brilliantly by Councillor Sharmarke Dubow of Victoria.

B174: Investments in Local Government and Not-For-Profit Seniors’ Services and Supports;
B184: Creation of the Office of the Renters Advocate;
B194: School Bus Safety; and
B207: Support of Indigenous Court System.
None of these resolutions made it to the floor for debate. Simply put, the resolution session ran out of time, before these items got to the floor. We had about 220 resolutions (plus more than 60 “C” category resolution, see below), and only got through the first 168. These resolutions are “referred back to the Executive”, which means for the most part, they will disappear into a black hole. Some we may try to bring back next year.

C14: #AllOnBoardCampaign. This was the City of New West joining the call on the Province to make transit more equitable by removing fares for those under 18 years of age and to address the punitive structure of fare evasion fines for youth and those with low or no incomes. As a “C” category resolution, it was put aside in favour of another resolution that was thought to materially address the same topic. In this case, the UBCM resolutions committee saw Resolutions B113 and B114 by Burnaby (which addressed youth and restorative justice in fines, and increasing the low-income transportation subsidy, respectively) as being a more comprehensive approach to the issue, which is, in the technical term, bullshit. So we will have to go again next on this one with a better-structured resolution.

Alas, the resolutions session at UBCM is both exciting and frustrating. I can’t help but feel there needs to be a refresh of how resolutions are prioritized, and how the session is managed, as letting half of the resolutions die on the floor for lack of time is unsatisfactory to everyone. There is also a strange dichotomy of debate on the floor. I pledge next year to do a “slippery slope count” for how many times that phrase is used in an argument to not make change because it implies some sort of endorsement of much larger change. Not only is the “slippery slope” a logical fallacy – indeed I think it is the only logical fallacy we actually name while we make it – I think it is too often used to defend a status quo that even the delegate admits is not functional. Ah, governance.

Workshops:
This is the most typical “conference” part of the conference, where there are workshops and forums that let local government types find out what is happening around the province, what legislation is changing, what we could do better or stop doing badly so we can be better at our jobs.

Yes, passenger vehicles are a complex legislative framework in Canada and BC. And it is all going to have to change.

I attended a Policy Session on Ride Hailing “Passenger Directed Vehicle Services” legislation that was a bit of a hot mess, as it is clear that the provincial government is trying to responsibly regulate an industry whose business model is based on lack of regulatory oversight, and the audience’s essential message was “I want” despite the regulatory hurdles – which is a weird piece of cognitive dissonance for elected officials. I attended a Plenary on BC’s Energy Futures where the need to take immediate and meaningful action on climate was moderated against not asking a few “resource dependent” communities to change.Yes, this is a Panel on Energy Policy in local government featuring some powerful and intelligent local leaders, and some guy from Langley who was there for undefined reasons.

I was at the Large Cities Forum, where the dominant topic of conversation was clearly the housing crisis and the housing affordability crisis. I attended a workshop in the changing face of waste management and recycling as this area is shifting fast as the amount of waste we are generating is starting to increase again at the same time as global markets for recycling products is shrinking, and what that means for the targets we have set. I also attended a Cabinet Town Hall on Infrastructure investment.

there are always lots of bar charts at UBCM, and like every Homer ever, I am always looking to see how we measure up, even in the bad news statistics.

We heard addresses by the Premier (well done, funny at times, nothing ground-breaking, and clearly more directed towards the more rural communities present), the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Leader of the Green Party. The star of the room, however, was Selena Robinson, who as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is clearly getting a lot done and is building a lot of respect across party lines for the work she is doing.

I took part in the BC Municipal Climate Leadership breakfast with members of the Council and representatives from all three Provincial parties to discuss the alignment of local and provincial goals towards climate action. I am also the Chair of the Community Energy Association, so I was tasked with a bit of Awards Ceremony MCing, as the Minister of Energy and Mines handed out Climate and Energy Action Awards to local government across the province that have done exceptional work or are breaking new ground on reducing energy use and GHG emissions in their community.

So, yeah, looking back, it was a busy three days.

#ELXN2019

The election is over, and it ended with a bit of a whimper. I have been immersed in this election for a few months and have many resultant notions bouncing around in my head, so better to get them down on paper bits so I can sleep again at night. That said, I am not much of a political pundit, and am willing to lose an argument over beers on any of the points I raise below. If nothing else, it will be fun to read in two years when everything I say below is proved wrong.

I was not too surprised by the nationwide result. Even the day before the election I was thinking (and MsNWimby can attest to my many shifts of opinion about this) that a Liberal majority was still in the cards, based mostly on their apparent strength in the 905 and the Maritimes. Against my own advice, I allowed the poll aggregators to sway my betting pool entry, and under-guessed their strength. The full strength of the BQ surge was not something I saw coming through, and was more of a surprise to me than the fully-expected but nonetheless-satisfying no-show by the racists (may we never speak their name again). Scheer won the 32% Conservative base, and not a single vote more. I suspect he will be replaced as Leader before he gets another chance. Make no mistake, that is the long game of Jason Kenney’s silly “Alberta will separate” rhetoric, and when Kenny’s knives come out for Scheer, it is going to be a milk bath. May’s campaign was also likely to be her last, though she picked up a seat (notably in a jurisdiction where the only clinic offering abortion services is closing due to lack of public funds – coincidentally?), she is clearly bumping up against the ceiling of support she can bring the party, and needs to step aside for some new vision.

I already publicly threw my lot in with Jagmeet and do feel he was the breath of fresh air in this election, but I’m not going to sugar-coat a loss of 20 seats by pretending it is a victory. There are bright lights across the country, and the NDP indeed did elect members in every region, but 24 seats is a disappointment. That a terrible ultra-conservative parachute candidate with no apparent ability to remember her own party’s platform eaked out a victory over a dedicated hard working ass-kicker of a community leader like Bonita Zarrillo may be my biggest disappointment of the night. If the surge branded as the #upriSingh really extended past the base, Bonita would have taken that riding, as would have Ruth Ellen Brosseau in Berthier-Maskinong and Svend Robinson in North Burnaby. The poll surge was visible, but it may have reflected only the base coming back to camp after a bit of time in the wilderness. Singh’s growth may have just represented the progressive faith that many lent to Trudeau last election coming back to the NDP, as more people recognize that Trudeau’s “progressivness” is as skin deep as his Indigenous-themed tattoo.

The NDP gained come power in this loss (what is the opposite of Pyrric Victory? Lavenic Defeat?). I think the result that gives Liberals and NDP together that crucial 170+ seats is one that will lend itself to some stability (along with the inevitable Conservative milk bath mentioned above). In contrast to a formal coalition, a Confidence and Supply Agreement as was worked out in BC may be a positive path forward, if the peoples in the backrooms of both federal parties are mature enough to get that work done. But is suspect minority rule will be the model, with the opportunity to make some positive progressive change through this, including finally seeing the Liberals honour their many promises on National Pharmacare. Any talk of a potential referendum on Electoral Reform would have to be tempered by the recognition that such a measure would be doomed from the start, and would only serve to entrench the inequity that gives the NDP 7% of the seats with 18% of the vote.

Locally, Peter Julian was no surprise, and it should be no surprise as he is an eminently electable guy, a hard worker, and a strong campaigner. Will Davis had an impressive lawn sign budget, but no other visible demonstration of a campaign or local bona fides, aside from leveraging the New West Progressive campaign “machine”. Megan Veck was another capable spaceholder for the Conservatives in town, aptly drawing their 20% vote base. Suzanne de Montigny showed up at every event, and put in a serious effort, but the positive Green campaign narrative was hampered by her random attacks on the NDP, culminating in a social media accusation of “corruption” in the last weekend of the campaign because she got an anonymous phone call she didn’t agree with. So aside from a couple of notable all candidates events no-shows by both Davis and Veck, there wasn’t much of a local campaign story, and the general lack in vote shift reflected that:

Percentage of vote in New Westminster – Burnaby riding, 2015-2019 Federal Elections.

BTWW 2019

My ride to work for Bike To Work Week yesterday was pretty typical. Nice weather for a 20km ride, and 4 people attempted to murder me.

One was a person in an SUV blowing through a stop sign into my path on a residential Vancouver street, which was easy to forgive because she gave me that ubiquitous “oops” wave. One person pulled a bone-headed u-turn right in front of me as I am going down a hill on another designated bike route in Vancouver, causing me to lock up both wheels on slick streets. No “oops” wave this time, but he did give me a dismissive spin of his tires as he shot away from the scene, which I guess is acknowledgement. One was an attempted dooring on a traffic-calmed bike route, followed a few hundred metres later by a guy in a CLK brush-passing me at 50km/h when I try to stay out of the door zone on another traffic calmed bike route. I foiled them all.

There were also two places where City works crews (one in Burnaby, one in Vancouver) chose to completely close off a relatively safe bike route with no warning and no indications of alternative routes in order to do horticulture work, which is kinda a nice nod to Bike to Work Week.

There were also three places where I was forced to make sketchy moves on the bike because of horrid cycling infrastructure failures. One infrastructure failure in Burnaby is a long-standing grievance at Royal Oak station that will get someone killed eventually. Another is the relatively new one in Burnaby I have already lamented, that the City of Burnaby has now made even worse with the addition of a pedestrian fence. The third one is related to recent construction at the Nanaimo Skytrain Station in Vancouver that has been there for a few months, and seems like it may continue to be there for a very long time. All three of them are adjacent to or near transit stations, so perhaps I should be complaining to TransLink? But not one of them would be acceptable, or last this long, if it was cars forced to make the sketchy move. If drivers were forced to even lighten up slightly on the gas pedal for a brief moment, there would be signs and flagging people and traffic studies. Because even where cycling routes meet transit stations in pedestrian-heavy areas adjacent to popular parks, it is cars that are accommodated first, and the rest of us can fuck right off and get killed. In the context of a ride where several people in cars did actually try to kill me, these little grievances and seemingly minor inconveniences start to grind your gears.

But I’m tired of complaining. And I’m tired of hearing that “scofflaw cyclists” are the bane of urban areas. I’m tired of reading study after study showing that pedestrians and cyclists are getting killed by cars at increasing rates at the same time that driver fatalities are going down. I am tired of Police and ICBC telling me to make eye contact and dress up like a Christmas tree or I had it coming when some asshole left hooks me. I am tired of the profound gap between the lack of responsibility that the people who choose to use cars feel, and their absolute righteousness around their use of cars. I am tired of arguing for basic cycling infrastructure against the societal priority of (preferably free) storage of cars in all public space. I am tired of meetings at City Hall where the only time we discuss cycling infrastructure, it is in the context of how we can maybe afford some half-measure some time off in the future if it doesn’t irritate too many people, but we certainly can’t afford to build something that is safe, connected, and integrated. I’m tired of ceding so much space and energy and money and atmosphere to cars. I’m tired of us treating this City-destroying and planet-killing addiction like it is untreatable, or even beneficial. I’m sick and tired of car culture, of Motordom.

Cycling is making me tired. But it isn’t my legs that hurt, its my heart. I’m afraid that this weariness has taken away the joy I used to get from riding a bicycle.

Voting For

My regular readers (Hi Mom!) will not be shocked to find out I have a bias this Federal Election. Still, there are some people who follow me on social media or read this blog hoping to read about City Council stuff who get angry that I sully that with politics. Some feel that I need to bury my partisan opinions not that I am elected and pretend I support everyone’s ideas equally. If you fall in this camp, I respectfully disagree, and suggest you might want to skip this post and go on to another one where I am ranting about bike lanes or climate change or housing or some other “non-political” subject.

This election has had some holding their nose, but I feel fortunate that I have someone and something to vote for in this election. I have not always been a strong supporter of the NDP (a point one of the campaign managers in this election tried to make hay with when he was running against me in the Muni election – strangely not recognizing it undermined his own narrative that I was a hopeless partisan hack, but I digress…) but I have become a stronger one with each passing year.

At the Federal level, I was inspired by the strength, vision, and positivity of Jack Layton. I appreciate that it was Tom Mulcair who served as Judge, Jury and Executioner on the corruption of the Harper government and opened up the gap that Trudeau was ultimately more effective at filling in 2015. I can debate at length (and have!) the direction the NDP Campaign went that election, but the principles of the party, including speaking out strongly against the Hijab ban, stood in contrast to the alleged progressiveness of the Liberals, who predictably swerved back to the Right once elected. I have had the opportunity to meet, eat, and ride bikes with Jagmeet Singh, and am always amazed at his grace, his firmness of vision, and the intensity with which he listens. He sees people as good, and sees Canada as a force for good, and wants to see that vision realized. Dude is the real deal.

Fortunately, here in New West we are represented by Peter Julian, and it is easy for me to support him as well. He has a well-deserved reputation as one of the hardest working MPs. His busy Constituency Office here in New West has helped thousands of people address everyday problems with the federal government. He has spent more than a decade running seminars to help people with disabilities and other barriers assure they receive the benefits to which they are entitled in their income tax filings. Representing one of the most culturally diverse ridings in Canada, Peter has learned to greet constituents in dozens of languages (some put the count at 50) because he feels it is important that every resident of this riding feel welcome here. In Ottawa he is bringing forward issues that matter to this constituency, most recently including the Canadian Green New Deal bill he brought to Parliament, hoping we can begin to justly and fairly transition away from a fossil-fuel reliant economy.

I’ve got at least 1,000 more words about the other local candidates that I wrote a few times and deleted, because I am trying really hard to avoid negativity here. Perhaps I can sum it all up wondering where these people were before the election. Other parties parachuting in candidates with zero name recognition and no history working on issues in this community, only to have them avoid all candidates events and play duck-and weave with voters, will assure this remains an “NDP stronghold”. I see no effort by another party to develop a following, or even identify local leaders to carry their brand. Based on the last 5 years in this riding, it appears the NDP are the only party to take New Westminster seriously. After the election other parties will no doubt lament the NDP is unfair or too strong in New West, blaming voters for the work the parties and candidates themselves simply didn’t do to earn their votes.

No federal platform is perfect. There are things in the NDP platform I would like to see them push further on, and things I am critical of (e.g.: electric car subsidies are not great climate policy). Their housing plan is ambitious, and realistically relies less on incentivizing the market (which if done poorly only pushes prices up and is ultimately a better policy area for provincial and local governments) and instead emphasizes doing what Canadian governments did successfully in the decades between WW2 and Brian Mulroney: investing in subsidized housing to provide supply at the lowest parts of the affordability scale. The NDP Climate Plan pushes the edge of possibility (as it is now too late for half-measures) and rightfully centers the marginalized and those displaced by the inevitable economic shift. Their platform more holistically addresses Truth & Reconciliation than any other federal platform. The time for universal pharmacare and sliding-scale dental coverage is now, and will get our health care program up to speed with those provided in advanced European economies while ultimately saving the government and employers money. And we will pay for the (short-term) cost by taking the subsidies away from the companies that are using them to nuke our climate, and by charging more tax to very wealthy people. And, of course, the type of social investments the NDP are talking about are the type that actually grow an economy, not the type that the wealthy can squirrel away in the Caymans…

There is stuff in here for me to vote for, and lots of it.

So I count myself lucky. No holding my nose and no ill-informed strategic hedge betting. A local candidate who walks the walk and does the work, a federal leader I believe in, and a platform I can support. I voted NDP at the Advance Poll last Sunday morning and was enthusiastic in doing it, and on Monday I will be spending my time Getting out the Vote and thinking of a better Canada.

Climate Emergency

One of the big topics we discussed at Council last week was a report from staff entitled “Response to Climate Emergency”. This policy-rich, wonky, but still preliminary report had its profile raised by a variety of delegates coming to speak to Council, urging aggressive climate action. That many of the delegates represented generations of people who will be around and most impacted by the climate crisis was not lost to anyone in the room.

If you want to read the report, it is here (because of the way our Council agendas work, you need to scroll down to page 81 of that big, ugly agenda package). I want to summarize some of what is in there, and talk a little about what I see as the risks and opportunities ahead. When we declared a Climate Emergency, we were asking our staff to show us the tools we could apply if we want to act like it is an emergency and shift our emissions towards the Paris targets. Now it is up to Council to give them the authorization and resources to use those tools.

When New Westminster (or any local government) talks about greenhouse gas emissions, we talk about two types of emissions. “Corporate” emissions are those created by the City of New Westminster as a corporation – the diesel in our garbage trucks, the gasoline in our police cars, and the fossil gas used to heat water in the Canada Games Pool or City Hall. This is managed through a Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy or CEERS. For the sake of shorthand, that is currently about 4,000 Tonnes (CO2equivilent) per year. “Community” emissions are all of the other emissions created in our community – the gas you burn in your car, the gas you use to heat your house, the emissions from the garbage that you and your neighbors toss out, etc. These are managed through a Community Energy and Emissions Plan or CEEP. And again in shorthand they amount to more than 200,000 Tonnes (CO2equivelent) per year.

When Council supported the Climate Emergency resolution, it included the targets we want to hit for emissions reductions to align with the commitments that Canada made in Paris, and with the global objective of keeping anthropogenic climate change under 1.5C. This means reducing our emissions by 45% by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 100% by 2050. These targets are for both our Corporate and Community emissions.

Clearly, the City has more control over its corporate emissions. The two biggest changes will be in re-imagining our fleet and renovating our buildings. We can accelerate the shift to low- and zero-emission vehicles as technology advances. Passenger vehicles are easy, but electric backhoes are an emergent technology, and the various energy demands of fire trucks are probably going to require some form of low-carbon liquid fuels for some time. The limits on us here are both the significant up-front capital cost of cutting-edge low-emission technology, and the ability to build charging infrastructure. Rapidly adopting low- and zero-carbon building standards for our new buildings (including the replacement for the Canada Games Pool) will be vital here, but retro-fitting some of our older building stock is something that needs to be approached in consideration of the life cycles of the buildings – when do we renovate and when do we replace?

Addressing these big two aggressively will allow us some time to deal with the category of “others”. This work will require us to challenge some service delivery assumptions through an emissions and climate justice lens. Are the aesthetic values of our (admittedly spectacular) annual gardens and groomed green grass lawns something we can continue to afford, or will we move to more perennial, native and xeriscaped natural areas? How will we provide emergency power to flood control pumps without diesel generators? Can we plant enough trees to offset embedded carbon in our concrete sidewalks?

Those longer-term details aside, corporate emissions are mostly fleet and buildings, where the only thing slowing progress is our willingness to commit budget to it, and the public tolerance for tax increases or debt spending in the short term to save money in the long term.

Community emissions are a much harder nut to crack. Part of this is because the measurement of community emissions, by their diffuse nature, are more difficult. Another part is that a local government has no legal authority to (for example) start taking away Major Road Network capacity for cars and trucks, or to regulate the type of fuel regional delivery vehicles use.

We do have a lot of control over how new buildings are built, through powers given by the Provincial “Step Code” provisions in the Building Code. A City can require that more energy efficient building be built, recognizing that this may somewhat increase the upfront cost of construction. We can also relax the energy efficiency part in exchange for requiring that space and water heating and cooking appliances be zero carbon, which may actually offset the cost increase and still achieve the emissions reductions goals. The retrofit of existing buildings will rely somewhat on Provincial and Federal incentives (that pretty much every political party is promising this election), but we may want to look at the City of Vancouver model and ask ourselves at what point should we regulate that no more new fossil gas appliances are allowed?

Shifting our transportation realm will be the hard one. The future of personal mobility is clearly electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and shared vehicles. Somehow the Techno-optimists selling this dream fail to see what those words add up to: clean, reliable public transit. Yes, we are going to have to look at electrification of our private vehicle fleets, and getting chargers for electric vehicles into existing multi-family buildings is an economic and logistical barrier to complete adoption, but ultimately we need to reduce the number of motorized private vehicles moving through our City, because that is the only way we can make the use of alternatives safer, more comfortable, and more efficient.

Denser housing, more green spaces, better waste management built on the foundation of reducing wasteful products, and distributed energy systems linked by a smarter electricity grid – these are things we can build in the City that will get us to near-zero carbon. We can layer on resiliency of our systems and food security decoupled from fossil-fuel powered transglobal supply chains, but that is another couple of blog posts. If you are not getting the hint here, we are talking about transforming much of how we live our lives, because how we have lived our lives up to now is how we ended up in this emergency despite decades of seeing it coming.

The barrier to community emissions reductions is less about money and more about community drive / tolerance for change. Every time we (for example) take away 5 parking spots on 8th Street to provide a transit queue-jumping lane, it will be described by automobile reliant neighbours as the greatest indignity this Council ever imposed on residents. Building a separated bike lane network so our residents can safely and securely use emerging zero-carbon transportation technology like e-assist bikes and electric scooters will be vilified as causing “traffic chaos”, and opponents will somehow forget that “traffic chaos” has been the operating mode of New Westminster roads for 50+ years.

The questions will be: Do we have the political will to do what must be done? Will our residents and businesses, who overwhelmingly believe that climate action is necessary, be there to support the actions that may cause them some personal inconvenience, or challenge their assumptions about how their current practice impacts the community’s emissions profile?

The delegates who came to Council asked us to act, and I threw it back at them: they need to act. As helpful as constant reminders of the need to do this work are, we need to bring the rest of the community on board as well. We passed the Climate Emergency declaration, and now we have a toolbox we are ready to open. To some in our community still mired in denial, that toolbox looks like the Ark of the Covenant from the first Indiana Jones movie. How will we shift that perception?

Shit is about to get real. We need climate champions in this community to turn their attention towards educating and motivating their neighbours – the residents, business and voters of this community – that these actions are necessary and good. Political courage only takes us to the next election, real leadership needs to come from the community. Let’s get to work.

Ears and Hearts

One challenging part about this job is that you are always learning, at least if you are doing it right. Politics and policy making are complex things. Despite North American media’s lamentable fascination with covering them like they cover sports – scores kept and hot takes and winners and losers – the reality is that there are never clear winners or losers. Politics is never (and should never be) a zero-sum game, and the simpler your answer the more wrong it probably is.

For people doing the work of elected official, there is rarely time for self-reflection. Worse, if we continue the zero-sum sports analogy model of politics, there is nothing to be gained from reflection. Make a decision and move on, hunker down if challenged. But if you are in this to make change, to build a better community or a better world, some decisions stick with you, and cost you as much sleep after you make them as they did before. I’m not saying it’s healthy.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the Begbie Statue since casting one of the minority votes against having the statue removed from a its eponymous square. I have also had numerous discussions and read a lot of correspondence on the topic. Since this story resulted more than a dozen TV news reports and the same number of newspaper stories across the province, I even received the benefit of kudos for “taking a stand” from people all over the country.

Problem was, not a single one of them actually knew why I voted the way I did, or even cared to find out. My process concerns and desire for better policy guidance was not noted, they just presumed I was on “their team” in this us vs. them zero-win battle and that my brave stand against the forces of political correctness (ugh) was appreciated. These were hard e-mails to read, and near impossible to reply to. I also talked to people who did not agree with the way I voted, and I have to say they were generally much more aware of my actual concerns, and most expressed appreciation for my attempt to have a fuller understanding of the issue. The difference between the two “camps” was stark.

In the last few months, I have had to read some lamentable commentary on the topic in the dead tree media. Recently, some blow-hard named Douglas Todd was quick to infer intentions in writing without ever taking the time to contact anyone on our Council of from the Tŝilhqot’in to discuss the issue. Not surprisingly, this self-proclaimed expert got the entire argument wrong. I also got to enjoy a recent gaslighting attempt by New Westminster’s own Minister of Absurd Apologetics. I have to admit that reading those commentaries provided real value to me, because they helped me to understand the issues a little better. By beating away at strawmen to provide Facebook clicks for their Postmedia Oberherren, they helped me to better frame my understanding of what my Council colleagues were striving for in the removal of the statue.

It would be wrong for me to overstate the influence these conservative white guys, comfortably shouting from their money-hemorrhaging big media platforms, had on me. Their expressed opinions may have convinced me I had to write this piece, but it wasn’t them that changed my mind. That happened weeks ago around the time that I attended the ceremony where members of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government came down to honour and remember the members of their family that were unjustly killed in New Westminster.

It was then that I started to understand that this is not about the person cast in bronze, and it is not about ancient history. This is about the place, and it is about the now.

Begbie square is a place where the current justice system manifests our continued unjust treatment of Indigenous people. The place where the statue stood overlooked that entrance in a way the statue of Lady Justice did not – not with a blindfold offering balance, but with a Stetson and a pipe, on a pedestal above and staring down on those who would enter. The statue also looked over the old court house yard across Carnarvon Street, figuratively Lording over the very place where the family of the Tŝilhqot’in were killed. You do not have to oppose the idea of there being statues of Judge Begbie displayed in New Westminster or elsewhere to agree that perhaps this one place is the single least appropriate for this symbol. To place it there perpetuates the affront for which our Federal and Provincial governments have already expressed remorse.

Through this lens, it doesn’t matter if Judge Begbie was a racist or he was an ahead-of-his-time defender of the rights of Indigenous peoples (this is where Douglas Todd goes so wrong). The statue that just happens to carry Begbie’s countenance is (as expressed by the plaque on the statue) a representation of a colonial justice system that “brought order” through injustice, standing over where a most egregious injustice took place, and at a place where the impacts of structural injustice still take place today. That could not stand, and should not stand. To claim we are “erasing history” is a silly distraction; removing it acknowledges history.

I expressed concern during our Council deliberations about whether we had really done the work to remove the statue. I did not feel we had consulted with the community, with the Tŝilhqot’in, with the Qayqayt and other nations about this act. As we were only beginning our community’s Truth and Reconciliation journey, I was concerned the outcome of an action seen by many as provocative was getting us off on the wrong foot, and would close ears and hearts before the conversation started.

Then the Tŝilhqot’in honoured us by sharing their commemoration with us, and were able to tell us their stories about what this injustice meant to them as a people, the pivotal impact the loss of those leaders had on their community, how their quest to know where the remains of their family are. The true story of this place was related to me in a way it had not before. These are not my stories to tell, but after hearing them and recognizing that this is not ancient history to them, but something that they still experience today, I was lead to reconsider the importance of the symbol of the statue and of the place.

I suppose I err too often in pondering over process and policy and not enough about the importance of action. Even when I was a “rabble rouser” about town, I was always trying to think of how we can creatively and cajolingly make change happen through system shift instead of just showing up at Council guns cocked demanding change. Sometimes it worked, but that is probably a reflection of my privilege more than any kind of superpower I may have. Reconciliation is going to be a different experience, and it will challenge all of us to think about our assumptions, our processes, and our privilege.

It is clear to me now that that removing the statue was the right thing to do, perhaps I just wasn’t brave enough to agree that the time was now. I was wrong, the time was overdue.

Poe?

I get a lot of correspondence as an elected official. I try to read it all, and try to respond to most of it – almost all with the opening line “I’m sorry I am so late replying to this e-mail, I get a lot of correspondence as an elected official.”

There are those few letters that come in every once in a while to which I have no idea how to reply. Bravo? Thank you? Please let your care professional know you have access to the internet? I try hard to take every one seriously, but at times I feel like I’m being played. There is a name for the specific phenomenon I am talking about: the Poe.

Poe’s Law is an internet adage that says “Without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.”

This has been extended beyond its original intent as a characterization of religious extremism and has been applied to the wide variety of on-line crankiness. And once you recognize it (something that likely only happens to elected officials and local newspaper editors, I suspect), it changes how you view a letter like this, that we at New West Council received last week (personal info redacted out of common decency):

 We often get letters addressed to a wide reach of local and provincial elected types. The content here was, however, a curious mix: The Roman numeral date, the pejorative salutation, the way he spells “Apparatchik” correctly, but immediately uses “they’re” in place of “their”. We commonly hear…uh… unusual opinions that leave me questioning how they are even asking me to act on an issue, but in this case the ask is kind of benign if a little confused: Speak out against China doing something but let other countries do it (those other countries are allowed, as far as I know, but I digress…) So is this a slightly cranky guy venting his deeply felt convictions, or someone mocking Mayor West, and the rest of the recipients? I would have happily assumed the former, but see those two attachments to the e-mail? (ps: never open attachments to an e-mail unless your IT department has vetted them!). They are these two graphics:

OK, now I’m thinking he is having us on, so I Google the person who sent it. His name has many, many hits, mostly in the form of letters he has written to editors of local newspapers from Montreal to Spokane, often with the honorific “Rev.” added, to opine on everything from racism (he is against it), homophobia (also against), potential names of future NHL teams (interesting), pipelines (he is for them), Alberta Premiers (he is against them – past and present), and the viability of DC-Marvel crossovers. He even got a pro-Derrek Corrigan letter published a few years ago in the Burnaby Now.

So, seriously, I don’t know if the Reverend takes himself seriously, but he definitely has lots of time and opinions, and I’m not sure I have time to address them all, so I don’t think I’ll reply. But don’t let that dissuade you from writing me a letter, or asking me a question with that red ASK PAT button up there, I will try to get to it as soon as possible. If I think you are serious.