Ask Pat: $1 Transit?

Terran asked—

Hey Pat,
Hope I’m allowed to still ask questions even though I don’t live in New Westminster anymore. (I’ll be back once affordability comes back)

Translink recently started asking about transit fares again. This was a long time promise for the compass card that we could better manage the system. The survey is quite overly simplistic but that’s not my question more concern.

My question stems for the comments below the Facebook post they have for the survey. The idea of $1 transit fares comes up. Considering only ~35% of the budget comes from transit fares could this actually be a realistic option? I know I would switch from using my car if I could get to work for only a $1. Would the increased ridership even come close to off setting the huge loss in revenue? Is there even a way to know?

Sure, I’ll give you one free question since you used to live in New West. Wait – was that your question?

As you mention (and I talked about a bit a few weeks ago), TransLink is going through a Fare Review process right now. This is likely in response to the integration of the Compass Card as much as to a newfound opportunity for the next stage of system growth, as the Mayor’s Plan for a decade of capital investment may be back on track.

This review is not intended to boost or reduce fare revenues, only to re-jig the system to make it work better; to make it more “fair” or more user-friendly. The working model is that any adjustment would result in about the same revenue from fares, it will just be collected in different ways. The survey therefore was designed to collect people’s feelings about fare structures such as whether people who travel farther should pay more, or the entire system should be a flat fee, but is basically silent on what the actual flat fee or distance charge would be.

What you are suggesting is not just a “flat fee” model, but one that sets the fee quite a bit lower than it is now, in hopes that it will boost ridership. Considering the purpose of the survey, what would that rate have to be?

TransLink receives a little more than 1/3 of its operating revenue from the farebox, or about $510 Million of a $1.4 Billion budget. Aside from roads and bridges and all the other things TranLink does, they annually have about 240 Million journeys on the multi-modal transit system, or 360 million boardings (obviously, some portion of journeys results in more than one boarding, as a person may transfer from SeaBus to the SkyTrain, or from one bus to another on a single journey). So depending on whether you want to issue transfers or not, you would need to charge $2.15 per journey, or $1.45 per boarding.

So a dollar won’t be enough, but would this simple and cheap fare boost ridership enough to make up for it? At current service levels, there would need to be a doubling in the number of journeys on the system, or a 45% increase in boardings. Anyone riding a SkyTrain during rush hour or standing on a 106 recognizes this is not viable without a significant increase in service levels, which would require investments in the capital part of operations (buying more trains and buses), not just increased operational costs.

Perhaps there is some wiggle room in the idea of flat $2 fares per journey, one might speculate that this would provide a 7% increase in ridership to make up for the lost revenue per ride, but that brings us back to the fairness question: should a person riding the 106 from Columbia Street to Uptown pay the same amount as someone riding SkyTrain from Surrey to Downtown Vancouver? Which type of journey are we trying to incentivize more? These are the questions the current review is trying to address, even at a relatively simple level.

Calculating an optimum fare, one that incentivizes use but also provides enough ridership to maintain a system, is some difficult calculus, even putting aside the political implications of increasing the various tax subsidies to the system (or the massive tax subsidies to the alternatives). I don’t think we are going to get there through this fare system review.

And seriously, we really need to talk about how much you are spending on your car now. If $1 fares would sway you, perhaps you might want to crunch the numbers and see where $2.15 fares put you, financially. The sad reality is that, regardless of how much we subsidize cars, they are still surprisingly expensive to operate if you do the actual math.

Ask Pat: Anvils and elephants

Duke of Belyea asks—

Hi Pat, perhaps the notion of the Anvil Center being a white elephant could be dispelled if you or the City could show the actual revenue/expense numbers for the facility.

First, on the premise, I disagree with you. Second, on the solution, I wish it was that simple.

I do not think critics of the Anvil Centre (or indeed critics of Council) will ever be convinced that it is anything but a white elephant. Specific residents of Coquitlam will write occasional long-winded factually-challenged screeds to the Record for some time, using the Anvil as an example of New Westminster’s failures, regardless of any success seen around or within the Anvil. That is just political bullshit theatre we need to live with, and facts will not change it, because the Anvil is more than building, it is a totem around which previous elections were fought and lost. Some people never stop fighting yesterday’s battles.

The premise further relies on measuring the success or failure of Anvil on a balance sheet of effort-in & revenue-out. I simply don’t see it that way. To explain that, we need to clarify what the Anvil is, and what a City does.

For one building, The Anvil Centre has purposes to fill a long paragraph (noting, for full disclosure, that I was not on Council when these conversations and decisions were made):

The Office Tower was conceived as an economic driver for Downtown, but since the City sold it off for more than it cost to build (success?), the City no longer had much say in how it is operated. The owners have every right to set their rent and manage their incentives any way they see fit, regardless of whether it serves the larger purposes of the City. The restaurant space is finally leased, and although later than we may have liked, I think we will have an operating restaurant that fills a niche in the City, brings attention to Columbia and 8th, and becomes a revenue driver for the City. I’m not sure how you measure the success of the shift of the Museum, Archives, and Lacrosse Hall of Fame to this venue. They have been relocated from various other locations to a central cultural hub, which also freed up space in those other venues. The New Media Gallery has quickly become one of the region’s most important artistic venues, drawing visitors and raves from around the region. Conference services are on or ahead of target for bookings and revenues, the program at the Theatre is (slowly) coming along, and the numerous arts and culture programs on the 4th floor are similarly starting to fulfill the original vision for activating the Arts in our City. All of these tangible purposes are wrapped up in the larger benefit of turning a windfall (the DAC funding) into a community asset to replace a failing retail strip at the renewed gateway to our central business district.

This brings us to your solution to the inevitable political push-back: a simple spreadsheet that outlines the costs and recoveries from the Anvil. I suppose it is doable, as the City’s Financial Plan and backing documents are openly reported, and every input and output is buried in those spreadsheets somewhere. But it would be really complicated, simply because the Anvil is not a single entity operating separate from the rest of the City.

The museum and archives have always cost money to operate; moving them to the Anvil doesn’t change that. The old Hall of Fame site is now home to a very popular and revenue-generating recreation program: is that success part of the Anvil, though it is located at the Centennial Community Centre? The City’s Arts Programmer works out of the Anvil, but also administers the City’s Public Art program, which is funded through a combination of fees, sales revenues, and taxes – how does that balance sheet overlap with Anvil’s? Even the Conference Services, which are a revenue-generation aspect of the Anvil, share resources with other departments (especially the theatre and our catering contractor), and rely on an integrated operation to be successful. There are staff who spend part of their time doing Anvil-related things, and part of their time working at other facilities, just as the toilet paper and photocopier toner at Anvil are bought as part of City-wide operations. The tax revenue for the office tower is higher than it was when the space was a one-story retail space, but that tax enters general revenue, and needs to be measured against opportunity cost if a private developer had taken over that site… the list goes on.

I guess it sounds like I am creating a list of excuses of why not, instead of addressing your original concern. Lyrical gentlemen from Coquitlam will accuse me of “spinning” the facts here for political reasons – the same way they would accuse any spreadsheet produced of doing the same thing. So if you want a spreadsheet to solve a political problem, I suggest it won’t work. So why spend valuable staff time producing it?

I tend to agree with one idea buried in your premise, and maybe an answer to that last question: we need to find a better way to share our financial information in the City. Although all reporting is “open”, I am afraid our efforts towards “transparency” is a little clouded by the complicated way that Public Service Accounting Standards are regulated and performed. Even as a City Councillor exposed to this stuff all day, I am sometimes challenged to create connections between line items in spreadsheets. There is a lot of Accountant Talk here, and with all due respect to the profession, they are no better than others at explaining to lay people just what the hell they are doing. I’m not sure what the answer is from a public engagement viewpoint, but suspect (hope?) we can do better. I’m just not sure it will ever be enough to satisfy some Letter-to-the-Editor authors, and maybe that shouldn’t be our goal. However, we do need to find ways to translate our financial reporting so residents and businesses can be confident that their money is being spent wisely.

I am pretty sure of one thing: any honest accounting would reveal the City spends more money on operations at the Anvil than it receives in revenue from Anvil operations. Just as it spends more money on the Canada Games Pool than revenue earned, or the all-weather playing field at Queens Park, or the Queensborough Community Centre, or the Library. I suppose there is a discussion that could be had about which of these operations community assets would need to show a financial profit to be considered “successful” in the City, but I don’t think that is where you were going with this question.

I also think there are improvements we can do to make Anvil run better, especially in opening up the first floor to more public use and making the entire centre more inviting. That is an ongoing discussion, and one very much worth having.

More on setting rules

A little expansion on my last past about the election, and my talking about it here.

I received a bit of social media feedback, mostly positive, but also including a bit of criticism from someone in the community I respect immensely about being too political or partisan on my blog. They like the council updates and community stuff, but didn’t want to have to sift through partisan attacks and negativity.

Frankly, I don’t know how to respond to that, except to say sorry.

I try to use this blog as a bit of a community service, to report out on things happening in the City, but I also try to make it clear this is my voice and my opinion. This is not official communications from the City or anyone else, nor is this an official duty of my City Councillor job. It is something I do because I like it, and because I think it helps me to a better job as a City Councillor.

Because of that, I am perhaps a little more selfish about it than I would be in most things. I think I have tapered off some of the more political stuff since I got elected, partly because of time commitments, partly because I need to be more aware of a wider audience, and that I have been trusted with a bit of a Bully Pulpit (in the Roosevelt sense of the word “bully”, although some would argue a fear of the more modern usage as well…)

That caution aside, I still feel the urge to shout from this pulpit at times. Often times. There are issues like the Massey Tunnel replacement, our failing ambulance service, fighting climate change and homelessness and the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, that are important to me, important to our City and the region. These conversations are inevitably political, and inevitably partisan. I cannot not talk about them, nor can I pretend I think they are being properly addressed by the current government in Victoria.

Arguably, by not talking about important issues like this, or taking a milquetoast approach to them, I am failing to show the kind of leadership and outspokenness that got me elected in the first place. Some of my regular readers (Hi Bart!) have even suggested I have stepped too far back form the edge since getting elected, that I am getting soft. I honestly have no idea where the middle ground is here, but I am reluctant to spend too much time searching for it, because life is always more fun out by the edge.

So if reading partisan political discussion here is not to your liking, I recommend you skip past those posts. You can always skim down to the more municipal events type posts.

However, I would respectfully also ask you to consider why reading an opinion you don’t agree with, especially from someone you otherwise enjoy reading, causes you discomfort. We need to keep our eyes and our ears open to the people on the other side of the partisan aisle, because sometimes, every so often, they have an idea worth hearing.

Ground Rules

It is election time in British Columbia. The writ has not, technically, been dropped, but campaigning has been going on for quite a while. Arguably, the current government has done nothing but campaign for the last 4 years, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. In this light, I thought I would throw together a bit of a pre-campaign blog post to tell my loyal readers (Hi Mom!) and anyone else what to expect from me here.

Now, more than ever, I am partisan. This blog post will be including much partisan content in the coming months. This election matters to the future of our region and our community, and there is no way I can stay silent or disinterested in the result. I will expand on this further between now and May 9, but I can summarize my feelings in one paragraph:

The current government has failed to address the issues that are most important to me, as a citizen and as a person trying to make my community better. Their failures include the silly Transit Referendum and the shameless waste of billions of dollars on unnecessary bridges, violation of modern urban planning principles, against the desires of the very communities they are meant to serve, and in opposition to established regional and community plans. Their failures include 4 years of fiddling around the edges as the housing affordability and homelessness crises exploded across the region, including their recent attempts to blame the problem on local governments who have been busting their asses (and budgets) to fill in for a senior government failure on a subject that is clearly, constitutionally, Provincial jurisdiction. They have failed to develop any kind of vision for the future of the Province, dumping resources and time into one pet project (Massey Bridge) or another (Site C) with no cohesive vision for how these short-term expenses will result in long-term strength in a post-carbon economy. Say what you want about the LNG, at least it was a (failed) vision. And then there is the corruption…

So I am going to be partisan on this blog, and call out the BC Liberals on their failures. I will, however, endeavor to be respectful towards the people involved (as hard as that is when talking about corruption – which we need to talk about this election, often and repeatedly). They are politicians, but they are also people, and I have to trust they truly believe the lies they are telling. However, I will not spare criticism of their policies or bad decisions.

But yesterday was International Women’s Day, and that makes me want to make one more point.

When a woman serves in politics, she faces a completely different type of criticism, especially in the Social Media age. It seems the more powerful she becomes, the more criticism of her includes misogynist, sexist, and offensive language. I was myself accused last election of being misogynist because I dared to suggest the Premier wasn’t very smart when it comes to public policy, which launched me into a slightly too-long and too-mansplainy response.

So without getting too deep into it again, I just want to say that we, as a province, as a social media community, and a planet, need to point out misogynist language in the election cycle, whether it is pointed at our allies or opponents. I have already seen way too much use of language to criticise Premier Clark that would never be applied to a man in the same role. We need to, especially, point out and criticize misogynist language when it is directed at our opponents, and we need to recognize that pointing out a misogynist attack does not constitute support for the positions of the politician who was attacked.

Ugh, Facebook, why you gotta be like that? Call anyone this election a “bitch”, and I’m unfollowing you.

Keep it clean, folks, no hitting below the belt. Return to your corners, and come out fighting. Let’s get us a government that cares about the people of the province.

Demoviction Conversation

Amongst the joys of my job as a City Councillor is collaboration with other elected types around the region who are trying to solve regional problems in new ways. I’m also a bit of a data geek, so I love getting new information and learning from people much smarter than me who have innovative approaches to problems.

In the interest of bringing these things together, I am working with some pretty cool colleagues to develop a “MetroConversations” series. We had a successful first event in New Westminster last November, and have plans to expand and grow the program in 2017. The second in the series is happening in Langley City next week, hosted by the brilliant and telegenic City Councillor Nathan Pachal

The topic is as relevant in New Westminster as anywhere in the region: How do we replace an aging stock of rental buildings without displacing people who rely on an affordable rental building stock?

There has been a lot of talk about this in the City of Burnaby, and although they get a (perhap unfair?) majority of the press, this is truly a regional concern. The City of New Westminster has done a lot to incentivise the building of family friendly apartment housing, secured rental housing, and other housing forms in the hopes that we can eat away at the affordability monster. We also have a huge stock of condo and rental buildings, mostly in Brow of the Hill and Sapperton, that are aging and don’t meet modern building standards. At some point, replacement of this stock is going to create a Burnaby-like situation, unless we take a proactive approach to the issue. That said, who knows what that proactive approach looks like?

This MetroConversation will feature people who have a better idea of what works and doesn’t when it comes to managing our affordable housing stock – actual subject matter experts who view the issue from diferent angles. As always, this will be an interactive conversation, not a boring set of speeches. Bring your questions, bring your ideas, and help add to the conversation in the region.

The room is relatively small (we want an intimate conversation) so please be sure to register to make sure you can get a seat, we totally expect to sell out.

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Ask Pat: Working together

Matt asked—

So once again, the MOT (Ministry of Transpiration) rolls into town looking to save us from gridlock. I won’t bore you with my opinion on this strategy, but it got me thinking: Where and how does the wishes of the MOT mesh/clash with the wishes of the Mayor’s Transportation Plan.

I think you get my point, but let me expand. I understand the MOT is responsible for certain transportation needs, goods movement is one of them. So I know that truck corridors and the like are the purview of the provincial government and municipalities have to play ball. But on the other side of it, when and how does the Province have to place nice with the Mayors’ Council, or less formally, the wishes of Metro mayors?

There are clearly vastly different visions of how to move people and goods within our region between the current provincial government and the (some) regional mayors.

Square this circle for me.

It is pretty simple. Cities exist at the pleasure of the provincial government. Every power local governments have, including organizations of local governments like the Mayors’ Council and the regional government committees, exists at the pleasure of the provincial government. They have the ultimate ability to overrule any local government decision, and the only price the provincial government would pay for exercising that power unreasonably would be a political one.

This should be obvious when looking at the Vancouver School Board situation. A public body, elected by the public through open elections driven by politics, was fired by the provincial government for being “too political”, or more specifically, for acting in a way that was partisan and defiant of the provincial government.

In the case of transportation in the Lower Mainland, you are correct in identifying there are at least two ongoing visions, and some significant incompatibilities between them. The first is outlined in the Mayor’s Vision and TransLink Transport 2040 plan that it supports. This was developed by the region (with, notably, the approval of the provincial government) and was designed to reinforce the Regional Growth Strategy and the Official Community Plans of the 22 Municipalities that make up Greater Vancouver. The second is being driven by the Gateway Council, a business-government hybrid organization that is primarily interested in moving goods through the region by providing subsidies in the form of taxpayer-funded asphalt through our neighbourhoods and cities.

No point of hiding which of the two visions I support.

There is a lot of history to this transportation schism. It goes back at least as far as Skytrain planning and the setting up of TransLink. There are roots in technology choices for rapid transit that resulted in SkyTrain technology being chose, through the Mayor’s refusal to approve building the Canada Line before completing Evergreen, and the subsequent stripping of their powers by Kevin Falcon. It is reflected in the sudden interest in building a $4 Billion bridge to nowhere while putting every roadblock in place to delay funding of critical public transit expansion. It continues today in the Vancouver Board of Trade (a prominent member of Gateway) calling for a 6-lane Pattullo Bridge long after the regions’ Mayors and TransLink have already settled on a 4-lane solution.

It is not cynical to suggest MOT appears to take more guidance from the Gateway Council than from the Mayors. So it should be no surprise when a government so proud of its fiscal prudence suddenly finds $600 Million to build a highway expansion project, and that the residents of those communities are surprised at its sudden arrival.

I have some pretty significant concerns with the project that MOT has presented to New Westminster and Coquitlam. Efforts to improve the Brunette overpass have somehow brought the UBE back on the table, and it is pretty clear how our community feels about the UBE. That said, I also have reasons to hold cautious optimism about this proposal, because it has resulted in unprecedented conversations between the Cities of New Westminster and Coquitlam.

For the first time anyone can remember, staff and elected official from both cities are sitting down together to discuss our transportation connections, our concerns and needs, and are looking for the common ground, in the hopes that it can help define the best approach to the this project for both communities. I cannot speak too much about what is happening at those meetings (there will be press releases when appropriate), except to say that I have learned a lot about Coquitlam’s view of these issues, and I know they have heard and understood our community’s issues. I’m not sure we are going to come out with a perfect solution that satisfies all parties, but I am encouraged by the respectful and honest discussions going on, and the hard work staff from both cities are doing to make our political fantasies something that may be operational (that is more difficult that you may imagine).

If we hope, as local governments, to influence provincial policy as it impacts our communities, we need to work together like this towards practical solutions, and make it easy for the provincial government to agree with our vision. That doesn’t mean we need to fold over to political pressure when bad provincial policy hurts our communities, but it also means we can’t collapse behind our own borders and pretend our local issues have no influence on regional issues. In the end, we may fundamentally disagree, but let us at least assure we understand what the position is that we are disagreeing with, and why.

But to answer your original question – when does MOT need to play nice with municipalities? When the Minister determines it is required for political reasons. Vote accordingly.

Pedestrians matter

The City has been doing a lot under the new Master Transportation Plan to re-prioritize our transportation system. As New Westminster is increasingly a compact, mixed-use urban centre, our public spaces become more important to the comfort and safety of residents, to the attractiveness and accessibility of our businesses, and to the building of community. That means our public spaces have to be safe places for people; that safety cannot be compromised in the interest of “getting traffic flowing”. Freeways are for flowing traffic, streets are for people.

I’m proud of the work that the City’s Advisory Committee for Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians (ACTBiPed) has done, and the collaborative attitude that City staff has adopted when discussion transportation issues, be they local traffic improvements or large regional projects like the Pattullo Bridge. However one piece of the political puzzle around transportation has been notably absent, not just in New Westminster, but regionally, and that is an independent advocacy organization to support the rights of pedestrians, and assure their voice is heard.

We have had various regional “straphangers” organizations over the years, and greater Vancouver has not one, but two separate cycling advocacy groups: The BC Cycling Coalition and HUB. The cycling groups have demonstrated that adding political voices together multiplies the volume, but also shows that advocacy can be constructive and collaborative. Their hard work over the last decades has resulted in millions of dollars in work making cycling a safer and easier alternative to driving in our region, and their work goes on.

There hasn’t been any such organization regionally working on protecting pedestrian space, or helping governments make better decisions regarding pedestrian rights. Perhaps this is because pedestrians are not seen as an under-represented minority. When you think about it, we are all pedestrians. Even if the only walking you do is to get from your car to a parking space, you need outcross a sidewalk to get there, and want that space to be safe (To expand out to truly everyone – the definition of “pedestrian” in modern transportation planning includes those who need mobility aids like walkers of chairs to help them get around). But politically, pedestrians are almost silent.

When the Ministry of Transportation, TransLink, or a Local Government design a new bridge or overpass, they seek input from the BC Trucking Association and the Gateway Council, organizations like BCAA and HUB use their political influence and the voices of their membership to assure that the interests of their member groups are added to the discussion. But pedestrians, for some reason, are absent. Because of this, sidewalks, crosswalks, and other aspects of the pedestrian realm are too often tacked on afterward, not integrated into the primary design thinking. The first thought is “how do we move cars”, then followed by “ok, let’s fit in some sidewalks”. Imagine how we would design our transportation system differently if we started with “how will a pedestrian use this space”, then decide what spaces we can allow for cars? Shouldn’t that be the default mode in a dense urban area like New West? Where is the organization to advocate for this shift?

The good news is that some local people are starting just this type of organization. They are calling themselves New Westminster Walker’s Caucus. They are a small group started by a few people familiar to the ACTBiPed as strong advocates for pedestrian rights, and for walking as a transportation mode. They have had a couple of meetings, and would love a little support from other walkers in New West and the region – show up at a meeting, lend them your skills, share the conversation.

We are all pedestrians, it’s time we stopped being so damn quiet about it.

Sharpshooter politics

You may have heard of anecdote of the Texas Sharpshooter. He is generally portrayed as a cocky fella standing in a farmyard shooting at the side of the barn. Once his bullets are exhausted, he walks over to the barn, identifies the tightest cluster of bullet holes, and draws a bulls-eye around them. He then speaks glowingly of his targeting skills.

We just witnessed the Premier of British Columbia play Texas Sharpshooter with our coastline.

About five years ago, the Premier was in a tough political situation with the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project. She didn’t know which way the political winds were going to blow as she approached her first election. She needed to telegraph general support to satisfy her political contributors, but didn’t want to be caught wearing that approval if things went south. So she pragmatically hedged her bets. She said she would approve the project only if 5 conditions are met. In other words: “I could be convinced”.

At first, the conditions sounded reasonable and concise: Federal environmental assessment approval, Adequate spill protection for land and sea, First Nations agreement, and financial benefit for BC. Five bullets shot towards the barn. It took 5 years for her to finally saunter over there and draw the targets, now declaring them hit.

The problem with what she describes as her “consistent and principled” stand on this project is that it wasn’t any stand at all. One of the conditions was a sure thing (the NEB approval of the project, and I could go on another entire rant about that one – I have in the past!), but the other 4 had no actual measures! They were phantom targets, a blank barn wall waiting for bulls-eyes to be painted.

To use “World-Leading” as the measure for the spill prevention and response plans is, of course, ridiculous. It would be difficult for the nations of the world to have a spill-prevention-off or an Oil Clean Olympics. That said, I have worked on both the Federal (marine) and Provincial (land-based) consultations as part of my previous job. I have reviewed what other jurisdictions do, have read and critiqued position papers, have attended workshops and spill response exercises, and have conferred with experts local and international. That there are major gaps and unaddressed concerns with the spill prevention and response plans is not a controversial opinion.

?

No plan is perfect, but for them to earn the moniker “World Leading”, I would think you would at least meet the standard set out by Washington State, and it is clear these plans fall far short of those measures. There are places in the world where shipping Afrimax tankers full of diluted bitumen is against the law – a spill prevention measure that really can’t be exceeded. We do not measure up to many other jurisdictions yet, not even close.

But it’s OK. The Premier has drawn the target around the collection of half-baked plans the Province, the Feds and Kinder Morgan have, and has determined they meet her vague test of “World Leading”.

The First Nations condition included the meeting of legal and constitutional requirements, which will be measured by a judge, I guess, but also included undefined opportunities and benefits for First Nations. Despite the Premier’s confidence, we don’t know if the legal and constitutional issues are fully addressed, as many of the groups along the route appear to still be opposed to the project, nor has it been made clear who or what opportunities or benefits agreements have been made. This was tweeted out by a reliable newsgatherer during the announcement:shaneKM

So I guess the target was 50% of First Nations. Nice to find out after.

Finally, the economic benefit to BC was also never provided a measure. It sounds like the Premier negotiated with Kinder Morgan to assure pipeline jobs go to British Columbians first (which probably violates NAFTA and TILMA, but I digress), and Kinder Morgan will contribute $25-50 Million a year to fund various local environmental programs in the Province, providing the Premier many opportunities to stand in front of banners with her Haida print shawl in the future. The amount is significant, unless you compare it to the $1.5 Billion subsidy to oil pipelines recently announced by Trudeau.

Again, this target was never defined or openly discussed until the day it was announced as being hit. If it sounds like I wanted more, maybe it is because hard negotiations to get money out of oil companies is apparently a BC Liberal strength when it serves their purposes. But that’s just politics.

Recently, a poll was released that showed 54% of BC are in favour of the pipeline. My Facebook algorithm keeps spamming my feed with that poll, and it always seems a shockingly small number to me. This was a poll conducted by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an organization with extremely deep pockets that has served as the primary public speaker in favour of the project. Not only have they and others spent hundreds of millions of dollars on print, internet, radio and tv ads trying to convince us this pipeline is a great idea, They no doubt were able to frame the poll questions in as favourable a light as possible to push towards their desired result. Yet they still only got 50% plus the margin of error in support. Describing this support as anything but tepid would be disingenuous.

However, the Premier has clearly done the math. The ridings in Greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island that most opposed to this project were not likely winnable next election anyway. This approval may even boost Green Party support enough in areas like North Vancouver to assure a few quiet, obedient Liberals can still squeeze through. The great thing about drawing your targets afterwards – the real strength of Texas Sharpshooter politics – is the flexibility. We can have no doubt if polls showed an electoral advantage to opposing this project, those targets would have been drawn on another part of the barn, and our “consistent and principled” Premier would be standing in opposition to the project now. Like she was only a year ago:

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Two down, two to go.

It’s been just a little more than two years since I became a City Councillor in New Westminster. In the spirit of consistency, I probably need to follow up on last year’s Year-in-the-Life post. So here are some thoughts about being a City Councillor at the half-way mark of my first term.

That New Councillor Smell has definitely worn off. Although this role involves constant learning, I feel I am up over the steep part of the curve and am more confident in my ideas about what does and does not work in the City. This is manifest in a (hopefully subtle) change from me asking myself “why are things this way?” to a more pointed asking others “Do things really need to be this way?”

I am also becoming more aware of the politics that affect my ability to do my job. Every decision you make in Council is a compromise between competing forces. Even the best possible decision is going to be perceived negatively by someone, for good reasons or bad, and no matter how open, pragmatic, or evidence-based your decision making is, criticism can come from any random, unanticipated direction.

I feel fortunate that our Council, despite our ability to disagree on many issues, is remarkably functional. I hear disaster stories from other Councils that refuse to work together or allow their grievances (petty or serious) to prevent them from doing their work. Some are played out in the media, some others I only hear about through the various grapevines. I have heard first-hand accounts of Councillors in other cities suffering from bullying and harassment within their Councils, and of serious enough threats from the public that police involvement was required. I feel fortunate that our City, as passionate and engaged as it is in civic matters, is largely free from these types of conflicts.

I still lose sleep on Sunday nights before Council meetings. I still struggle with some of the hard decisions and increasingly wear the less-than-ideal things that happen in the City. However, I still believe that government can be open, accountable, and effective, and that we can make (are making?) progress towards the City working better in ways people can see.

I am worried about the impact our aggressive capital replacement plan is having on our budget – but also worried about what happens if we let our capital program slide for too long. I fret a bit over our seemingly chronic inability to complete projects on time. I am trying to be vigilant in avoiding creating my own communication bubble where I am only hearing reinforcement of my own ideas (this is most prevalent in the OCP discussion – I think we are on a the right track, but need to keep an open mind for when the draft plan gets to Council in the New Year). I am trying to be mindful on the job and open to better ways to do it.

I was asked recently at a Christmassy social event: “What is your big goal for this Council thing?” I started talking about this blog, the outreach I have been working on, the City’s Community Engagement efforts, and my overall desire to open up the process of democratic decision making. My inquisitor kept trying to get over to tangibles: new buildings, bridges, parks, things you can attach a brass plaque to. It’s funny I couldn’t get there. We are making progress on several projects, the CGP replacement, library upgrades, a better functioning City Hall, the reformation of the waterfront, but I don’t see those as “my” successes or projects. These are things that large teams of people are working towards, and 70,000 taxpayers are paying for. Although I suppose my feeling of ownership will change if I see my name on a brass plaque…

Finally, I’m half way through the term and finally accepting that adjustments need to be made in my lifestyle. I have been burning a lot of candles, and have frankly lost track of which ends of which I have lit. I am going on vacation for a few weeks to recharge my batteries and pay some much-needed attention to my partner. For my return, I have some pretty drastic lifestyle adjustments planned in order to maintain my household, my relationships, and my sanity. I want to keep blogging (and even do more), I want to be more timely at returning communication I receive, and I have a few tangible projects around town and regionally I want to take a bit of ownership over. I have a long list of “we need to get together over coffee/beer and talk about that” dates I need to keep (you know who you are). This will take a change in programming. Stay tuned.

Until then, we’ll call this a Christmas break. I hope you enjoy your Holidays in whatever form that enjoyment takes, and your 2017 is filled with he things that make you happy. Blogging will resume in January, inshallah.

Cazart!

Cursory apology for not writing enough or answering my queued “Ask Pat”s. Things will change in January, I’m not promising much until then. However, something this newsworthy requires comment, and I’m not going to sleep tonight until I write something down. No time for editing, let’s go.

“Cazart!” is a word invented by the Doctor of Gonzo Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. He defined it as “Holy Shit! I should have known.” However that definition lacks the sense of fatal acceptance and calm that the second clause must be spoken with in order to hit the true feeling. It is the shock of surprise at something that was always obvious; we knew it was coming, but perhaps we hoped against.

To quote the esteemed Doctor himself:

“Cazart” goes far beyond mere shock, outrage, etc. If Bill had a better grip on semantics, he would have told you it meant “Holy Shit! I might have known!” Fatalism, I’d say. It’s a mountain word, but not commonly used……In contemporary terms, we might compare it to the first verbal outburst of a long-time cocaine runner who knew he was bound to be nailed, eventually, but when it finally happens he instinctively shouts “Cazart!”

A good friend of mine succinctly summed up in a tweet much of my thoughts  – not just about the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project, but about the way we continue to dance around the edges of serious issues in this province and this country:

Stickers

The profundity of that comment needs a whole new blog post. so instead, I’m going to write about the completely predictable failure represented by the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project.

I am not a distant observer of the Trans Mountain project. I worked on the Environmental Assessment National Energy Board Review. I read and critiqued the Project Description, and the reams of correspondence from stakeholders, intervenors, commenters. I was a participant the Review Process, and could see how the cards were stacked. I attended the protest camp at Burnaby Mountain and wrote about the impacts on New Westminster. I spent a bunch of time converting tonnes to barrels to cubic metres to understand the throughputs of the existing and planned pipelines, what it means for tanker traffic, for our domestic fuel supply in the Lower Mainland, and for Pacific Northwest refineries. I attended emergency planning drills at the Westridge Terminals when they ran boom boats around showing how easy a clean-up was (a very different experience that folks up in Bella Bella had with the Nathan E. Steward spill). I have talked with my colleagues from across the Pacific Northwest at the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance. I attended the Trudeau government “Panel Review” that was meant to get to the bottom of the conflict about the project, and found it wanting.

All this to say my opposition to this project is not uninformed, knee-jerk, or equivocal. Providing a Texas-based tax-avoidance scheme the right to threaten what is most sacred to British Columbia, “Splendor Sine Occasu”, makes no economic, social, environmental, moral or practical sense. It is a betrayal of our communities, of the nations that were here before us, and of the generations that will (hopefully) come after. It is a failure to lead and a failure to dream.

I admit that I believed that when Trudeau’s refreshed Canada walked into the Paris meeting and said “we’re back”, we were telling the world that we were ready to lead again. I hoped (dreamed?) we were ready to take a role respective of our technological and economic advantages, catch up with true global leaders, and begin beating our energy swords into plowshares. At the least, we would begin respecting our commitments to ourselves and the world. Instead, it is clear we are going to continue to subsidize the industry that provides all those fragile eggs to Alberta’s wobbly basket. We will subsidize it directly through our tax dollars, we will subsidize it through infrastructure investments like 10-lane bridges that lock a generation into unsustainable fossil-fuel-dependent transportation choices, subsidize it through forsaking future opportunities and risking the ultimate destruction of everything we value in our spectacular BC coast.

It doesn’t really matter if that destruction comes from a single “72-hour spill response time” incident or from gradual and inexorable rises in temperature and sea levels. We have sold our legacy, forgiven our opportunity, failed to find a vision that would allow it to exist.

Justin Trudeau was elected because people saw something akin to a new vision. We had enough of the stuffy old white guy with the 19th century solutions, and were not compelled by the other stuffy old white guy and his 20th century solutions. Dickens and Steinbeck (respectively) had nothing on Copeland and Klosterman. The promise was a new direction from the new generation. Fresh ideas and approaches, more personal politics, dare I say “Sunny Ways”. Traditional ideas like fearing deficits, letting oil companies tell us what’s what, or keeping your sleeves buttoned at your wrists were tossed aside. Canada’s back, baby, with a sexy swagger. We convinced ourselves that we could dream more hopeful dreams, that our ambitions to be something better would be realized.

Alas, before the election ballots were counted, long-time observers were asking how soon the Liberals would course-correct to the right with hackneyed neo-liberal (made so quaint now by a Trump-based reality) policy decisions that blur the distinction between them and the Conservatives they campaigned far to the left of. Campaign left, govern right, stay the course. It has worked for the Natural Governing Party because that’s the Canadian way, and has been since… well, I’m too young to know any other form of Liberal.

They campaign to govern, and govern to campaign. Perhaps under P.E. Trudeau that meant serious discussions about Public Policy, the Role of Government, and the Meaning of Nationhood. In 2016, public policy is a hassle, because it is hard to sound bite and some noisy people or potential donors might not like the results. The need to break promises of last election are an issue only for the crisis communications department; after all, they present opportunities to become promises for next election! Voter cynicism? A political machine this size, if properly greased, can work that to their advantage. For one more cycle, anyway.

When Trudeau II showed up on the scene, many voters jaded by a series of abusive relationships received a glimpse of a new beginning. The honeymoon is now over for people in BC concerned about the environment, about our natural legacy. It is important to note that we are a little late to the game out here on the West Coast.  The honeymoon already ended for Civil Liberty types, as Ralph Goodale seems to support giving rights to CSIS that the Courts denied them making fights over C-51 antiquated. It already ended for human rights activists as selling citizen-crushing machines to brutal dictators became unavoidable in bureaucratic doublespeak. From the stall on electoral reform, to the laissez faire on TPP and the claw-back of public pensions… the reasons for buyer’s remorse are broad and all-encompassing.

Cazart, indeed.

Naturally, we are seeing the same thing here in BC, and it extends far beyond this pipeline (that we know Christy Clark is coyly equivocal about, as she schemes to assure its development as long as she gets a tidy deficit-reducing revenue cut). The same failure to lead / failure to dream leaves us in a place with an economy that is ostensibly the Greatest on Earth, except for the shocking number of homeless, the working poor being made destitute, then the destitute dying of addiction or violence with no apparent support or escape alongside the creeping failure of our public education, public health, and public transportation systems. Even the financially stable are seeing the cost of living creep up through faux-taxes hidden in the costs of basic services while local governments are scrambling to find the funds to putty over the cracks in the social net that has made us a civil society – if not the Best Place on Earth.

It’s an election year, so casual political observers are going to forget about disability claw-backs, about the past-critical housing crisis, about forgotten promises to make schools safe, about privatization of public assets to meet short-term budget goals, about feet-dragging over regional transit funding, about tax breaks for private schools and forgotten promises to provide family doctors. Instead, we are going to hear a few populist news stories about how the Liberals are claiming a lead in housing or education or health care (“It is time to invest”) and we are going to be distracted from the abject failure to provide not only those things for the last 15 years, but any form of public good through their neo-liberal trickle-down economics. Some of us might be convinced they care about us and a brighter future is just around the corner…

That’s the winning formula when winning the job is more important that doing the job. How long until they, too, disappoint us? Will we say “Cazart”?