Regional Vision(s)

With a busy schedule at the city, and so much election-related angst and chatter and tension and fluff, I found a way to be inspired and challenged in the most positive way on Thursday.

The City Program at Simon Fraser University and the SFU Centre for Dialogue hosted a constructive dialogue on the topic of the Regional Plan, or more on the very topic of regional planning in a Metro Vancouver context. The guiding questions for a compelling 4 hour conversation were:

Is this vision of “Cities in a Sea of Green” still appropriate? Will it sustain us for the next half century? What are the issues our vision must address if it is going to continue to serve the region?

In the room were about two dozen regional leaders from academia, activists and community conversation leaders, planners new and old, and a couple of elected types, both new and old. I would love to list resumes, and attribute quotes (there were many great quotable moments), but the program was run under Chatham House Rule, in order to facilitate freer dialogue. There will be reporting out via the City Program, but what that looks like probably depends on where this new dialogue leads.

In as short a summary as I can muster, my read of the feeling in the room was that the vision and the resultant Regional Plans have served the region well, even as the populations rise, the economy boomed and busted, our economic drivers shifted, and public transit replaced freeways as the ideal connector between city centres. However, there are many flaws in its applicaiton, and many of the current crises challenging the region (affordability, transportation, increasing social alienation) have at least partial connections to the vision itself. The consideration of keeping this vision or developing a new one needs to be measured against its ability to adress our new pressures. There was a broad consensus that this is the time for the Region to be having this conversation, as the pressures right now feel large enough to shift the region in pretty fundamantal ways. I was driven to think about our beautiful, admired, and unique region as being on a precipice.

Instead of trying to summarize the entire diverse conversation here, I would like to touch on just a few points that really hit me.

The conversation we prefaced by a report by a small group of grad students from SFU that looked at the history of regional planning in Greater Vancouver, and the pressures on the current plan:

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The historic timeline was interesting. A few burgeoning communities collaborating on water and sewer systems in the first half of the last century prefaced an initial dabbling in regional landuse planning driven by the disastrous flood of 1948, but the first comprehensive regional growth strategy emerged in 1966 (where the vision “Cities in a Sea of Green” was first codified). This vision was still of town centers (Vancouver, Surrey, New Westminster, Langley, etc. separated by greenspace and agricultural lands, tied together by freeways, as was the ethos of the day.

The complex history since this time has involved complex relationships between the province and the local government leaders – and there were great forward moves (The 1973 establishment of the ALR, formation of the GVRD, the 1975 Livable Region Plan and 1996 Livable Region Strategic Plan, the 1998 formation of TransLink) and equally important slips backwards (Bill 9 in 1983, which abolished the regional planning function, the 2007 stripping of local governance of TransLink). Tried as I might, I couldn’t correlate the emphasis on regional planning with anything (resource industry boom-bust cycles, global economic shifts, housing prices, Canucks playoff runs) except with the name of the party forming government in Victoria.

That is part of a larger theme that became common: any plans made by the region for the region exists in a larger context of federal and provincial politics and how larger forces look at the purpose of our region.

It was noted that when Simon Fraser introduced the idea of the river that bears his name to the European colonist social media, there were more than 20,000 people living along its banks between Musqueam and Kwantlen. In a very literal sense, he was the first Gateway project planner. His goal was to push a route for hinterland commerce through to the coast, occasionally stopping to seek the permission of the people living there, but not overly concerned with whether that permission was granted. Two hundred years later, the Gateway has other leaders, but the mandate is little changed. As such, the story of the region can be told as a long series of carpet-baggers pushing past the locals for profit. The livability of the region, the ecology that supports it, the local food web and cultural values of the residents are no more important now to the National Enterprise of getting hinterland resources to tidewater than they were in 1808.

It would be ridiculous to equate our current planning frictions the centuries of cultural genocide that took place in North America; the point is only that the fundamental pressures have had similar vectors for a couple of centuries, even at massively shifting scales. There is no reason to asume that founding narrative will change now, and the best laid local and regional plans will fail if the important decisions that shape the region (Port Mann and Massey Bridges spring immediately to mind) are driven by different people working on a completely different plan.

In the end, the strongest feeling I had coming out of this event was (I sure hope @MsNWimby isn’t reading this) a desire to go back to school. To be sitting in a dialogue with people much smarter than me, bringing disciplines together and sharing compelling ideas that force me to shift my own assumptions about a topic so close to my heart was the most fun I have had in a few years.

Why can’t Facebook be like this?

Disgusting (updated)

At some point, a pander to one group of electors goes beyond cynical, and becomes an abdication of responsibility and an offence to the idea of governance.

The BC Liberals platform apparently includes a promise to create a “cap” on bridge tolls – where no driver pays more than $500 per year, regardless of how often they avail themselves of extremely expensive and not-yet-paid-for infrastructure. A great election promise to “put more money in the pockets of hard working British Columbians”, or some such bullshit, but I have to go bullet point to condense my anger about how bad an idea this really is.

  • It completely undermines the Mayor’s Council and the regional transportation plan that they developed. The province has put roadblock after roadblock in place of that plan, while shoveling money to vanity road projects that won’t solve the problem. Just last week they wrapped themselves in benevolent support for the plan with some commitment of financial support of a couple of it’s components. However, it has been clear all along that road pricing and Transportation Demand Management will be major components of the next phases. This cap is a pre-emptive strike against the Mayors, delivered with no warning.
  • This isn’t saving anyone any money. The tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge still need to be paid, because Golden Crossing General Partnership still needs to get paid. Similarly, the tolls on the Port Mann are still owed to TREO, and are already not bringing in anywhere near enough revenue to meet the business objectives of that White Elephant. The Province is going to have to top up these agreements from general revenue – potentially costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, because use of the bridge above the cap – the tolls taxpayers will have to cover – are actually encouraged by this scheme.
  • This undermines the business plan for the Massey Bridge. We don’t know much about the business plan for the Massey replacement, because the province redacted it to the point that none of the business risk was disclosed. However, the Ministry has been clear through the planning and the Environmental Assessment documents that the 10-lane bridge will be tolled. Tolling was not just a major component of the finances, but was fundamental to the traffic forecasts and environmental impacts for the project. This tosses all of those best-laid plans out the window.
  • It undermines the terms of the MOU for the Pattullo replacement. The stakeholders for the Pattullo have an agreement in place that underlies the ongoing project: a 4-lane tolled structure. Tolls are not just there to pay for the bridge, but to balance the traffic demand between crossings and reduce the impact on residential neighbourhoods of Surrey and New Westminster. A commuter cap on tolls shifts this balance, and sets back a decade worth of progress and partnership on this project, just as we were crossing the goal line.
  • It is counter to basic economics. We are taking a scarce and valuable resource, road capacity, and encouraging its increased use to save money. Simply put – the more you use the bridges, the less you pay. It is insane, and contrary to all Transportation Demand Management best practice across the industrialized world. It is separated from reality. It is deranged. Do I need to get out a thesaurus to make my point here?
  • It is not being offered for any alternatives. It will now, once again, be cheaper to drive a car across the Port Mann Bridge than to take transit across it. Just as the province has been dragged reluctantly into bringing expanded light rail to South of Fraser , they are creating a quick incentive to discourage its use, and undermine the entire model, shifting growth patterns in Surrey for a generation, at the most critical point of its growth.

Now, I am writing this about an hour after this information leaked out, so there may be devil-in-details I am not aware of here that will arrive with the official announcement, but that speaks to the point that there has been no consultation with the Mayors of communities affected, no public engagement over a plan that will re-shape the region and undermine so much of what the region is trying to achieve in livability, sustainable development, greenhouse gas reduction, and transportation. How do you recognize electioneering replacing governance? It is a surprise announcement completely disconnected from any other policy, program, long-term planning, or previous action by the government.

This is a flip of the bird to the regional plan (to the very idea of regional planning!) and to every resident of the Burrard Peninsula. It is a cynical pandering to a few ridings South of Fraser, and low-information voters across the province who likely won’t realize they are going to have to now pay through their taxes for infrastructure built on the promise that users would finance it. Not surprisingly, Jordan Bateman is taking a pass on criticizing this specific tax increase, being the original champion for the Port Mann fiasco.

And people will fall for it, of course. Congratulations, BC Liberals. You have raised the art of disgusting panders to a new level.

UPDATE: I was in the room when John Horgan announced out of nowhere that he would end all tolls on the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges if elected. The closest thing I have to a response was what James Gemmill made succinct on Twitter:  holdmybeer

Gong show

The Minister of Transportation plans a “groundbreaking” ceremony for the Massey Tunnel Replacement, complete with big yellow getting-things-done machines. The fact this “groundbreaking” is not related to any actual work being done on the Massey Tunnel Replacement and the main contracts for the construction work have not yet been awarded is apparently not important, in this exciting pre-election time. Nor was the fact the “groundbreaking” in front of big yellow getting-things-done machines was held 9 km away from the actual tunnel. This “groundbreaking” was going to require some pretty long shovels, but I guess it is long shovel season.

There were protesters at the event, but not many. The “groundbreaking” was early in the morning, pouring rain, in the middle of nowhere and announced with only a few hours warning, so I’m surprised any made it at all. They were irritating enough that the cops were called and the “groundbreaking” had to be moved indoors (read that again).

Quoth Minister Stone:

“We absolutely respect the views, the opinions of folks who do not support this project and we respect their rights to make those views known.”

The Minister reiterated that, despite a few protesters, the project is widely supported, based on three years of consultation with First Nations, Local Governments and other groups. However, noticeably absent from the “groundbreaking” were 21 of the 22 mayors of the region, or anyone representing the City where half the project is located. Even the MLA for the riding on the south foot of the tunnel was absent.

Coincidentally (?), many of the mayors were only a few kilometres further away from the “groundbreaking”, as they were assembled at King George Station announcing that they want people to think about the real regional transportation crisis when they vote in May – long term and secure funding of transit improvements to match the region’s vision for transportation in the decades ahead. Perhaps they feel less “consulted” about regional transportation issues than the Minister suggests, becasue 21 of 22 Mayors in Greater Vancouver are opposed to this project. The Mayors of this region are a notoriously disparate group of characters, and rarely agree on major policy issues or investment priorities, especially when it comes to transportation. We have Mayors who are former NDP MLAs and former BCLiberal MLAs. We have Mayors who are strong supporters of the federal Conservative Party, and those closely aligned with the Federal Liberals and NDP. Despite this, the Mayors (excepting one – which makes me expect if Mayor Jackson was a dentist, she would be that one-in-five recommending sugary gum) are aligned on this issue – they have a clear vision for the region for which they are responsible. They all agree that this massive expense by the province is a bad idea.

They have been “consulted”, they said no. Yet here we are.

I’m not sure if this “groundbreaking”event was paid for by the Ministry of Transportation or the Liberal Party (Ministers are having a hard time telling the difference these days) but the Minister made it clear that this was an election announcement, and that the only way to stop this $4 Billion (and counting!) boondoggle that is not supported by the Regional Growth Strategy, the Regional Transportation Plan, The Official Community Plans of adjacent communities, the Mayors and Councils of the region, or (so far!) the Federal government, and flies in the face of all good public policy in regards to sustainable transportation, climate change, regional land use policy or protection principles for the Fraser River and adjacent RAMSAR protected wetlands, is to vote to get him removed from the job of standing in front of yellow tractors for TV cameras to create the illusion that he is getting-things-done.

As a contrast, here is a clear and principled position of someone ready to help our region define and achieve its goals:

“I think the Massey replacement is a vanity project that is not a priority for the region, it is not a priority for the local mayors… The region wants their regional projects to go forward.” – John Horgan.

The choice is clear.

RED Talks 2017

A few of us from New Westminster attended the RED Talks event in Vancouver last week, and I was pleasantly surprised by the content of the evening. Red Talks are a local rip riff off of the Ted Talks format, put on by the local development community – RED stands for Real Estate Development. However, it wasn’t developers touting their projects or contributions, it was a conversation about building better cities.

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The organizers were cheeky enough to create a bit of a faux-protest motif for the event, whose theme was “Confronting Consensus”, but the talks actually brought a nuanced conversation about development, housing, and the role of consultation as a discussion between the public and decision-makers. There were probably an equal number of jibes at the Real Estate industry as there was at elected officials, and everyone seemed to acknowledge that the current housing situation in Greater Vancouver isn’t sustainable, or even desirable in the shorter term.

I wished that the folks from Yes in New West were there to be inspired by two of the speakers in particular.

Seth Rogen’s academic brother?
Seth Rogen’s academic brother?

Paul Kershaw has his Generation Squeeze pitch down solidly, and has criticism for pretty much everyone involved in creating a housing market where an entire generation is feeling completely squeezed out. His economic stats were pretty compelling, demonstrating how today’s young professionals are in an entirely different economic universe than their parents, with home ownership being well out of reach for even the most responsible savers.

His call to action is pretty simple: Generation Squeeze has got to get organized, then get active, not just to demand better, but to give decision makers (elected officials, for the most part) the information and vocal support they need to make the sometimes difficult policy decisions that are required to shift our land use.

A perfect example of this call to action was personified in Sonja Trauss of BARF (Bay Area Renters Federation), who is taking a pretty active approach in San Francisco:20170330_192115
San Francisco has, arguably, a bigger housing affordability issue than Vancouver, and faces serious challenges increasing housing stock because of resident push-back against any form of density. The simple truth Trauss realized is that traditional public consultation, when it comes to housing development, completely misses the target. People who will live in new housing never go to the public hearings to support that housing, so the only voice heard at public meetings is that of the people who already have housing near the site of the development. In what other instance do we ask the only cohort who do not want a product to comment on the form of the product?

Her organization tries to break this cycle in San Francisco by organizing active feedback by renters and underhoused people to pretty much every development project in the Bay Area, arguing that rapid increases in regional housing supply is much more important than the (inevitable) parochial concerns.

The talks were rounded out by Nick Buettner of the Blue Zones Project and Steven Levitt, the Freakonomics guy.

The Blue Zones idea is familiar to most urban planning geeks – there are places in the world where combinations of built form and behavior results in longer lifespans and higher quality of life. It is intriguing to learn what lifestyle commonalities may be behind the gerontology anomalies of Okinawa, Sardinia, and Loma Linda, California.

Finally, I may have been the last person on earth to have read Freakonomics, which I did over the Christmas break while on vacation. I found Leavitt in person very much like I found the book: Interesting, but slightly frustrating. Leavitt has a bewildering combination of pattern-seeking insight and intellectual laziness. He finds new ways to pull insight out of noisy data, but then seems to lose interest in the complex interactions that may underlie these patterns – he seems to rush from correlation to causation with reckless abandon, which rubs us in the non-dismal sciences the wrong way. Worse, he response when being called out on this tenancy is essentially to say “Meh”.

All in all, an interesting evening that had me buzzing with OCP energy:

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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.