Governance & Politics
August 20, 2007


After the GVRD announced a change of name to Metro Vancouver, editors assigned reporters to another story on that old chestnut: the amalgamation of the region’s municipalities into a megacity, a la Toronto and Montreal.
Jeff Nagel at Black Press did the most comprehensive piece here.

This region now has a spiffy new name – Metro Vancouver – replacing the clunky old Greater Vancouver Regional District.
Could the name change approved this summer be just the first step towards a mass merger of the 21 member municipalities into one giant megacity like Toronto or Montreal?
Not likely, according to a sampling of politicians and experts.

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August 15, 2007

Given the person, the place and policy, this is an extraordinary statement :

“It’s a very major matter that threatens Canadian unity,” said Lougheed, who seldom speaks out on public policy matters.

While Ottawa, Alberta and the oil industry have historically clashed, Lougheed predicted that the bubbling battle “will be 10 times greater than in the past” because the public is more engaged than ever before.
“I’ve been worried about this confrontation growing and growing,” said Lougheed. “It’s just been boiling with me over the last few weeks.”

Peter Lougheed is speaking of climate change, and the Alberta tar sands.   I went to the Calgary paper to see how his remarks were treated.  From the Calgary Herald:

Alberta ground zero for green battle

On one side is the Canadian public, deeply worried about climate change, putting pressure on the federal government for strong environmental protection legislation that will lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other side is the province of Alberta, which has constitutional power over its non-renewable resources, including the oilsands around Fort McMurray, which have been dubbed “Alberta’s Runaway Train” because they are the fastest-growing source of greenhouse emissions in the country.

Look, it’s a moral issue.  We can continue to make ourselves rich and secure by mining the tar sands – so long as we are prepared to ignore climate change, discount our environment, both local and global, and, to put it most bluntly, write off the planet for our short-term advantage. 
Lougheed looked into the mirror:

Now 79, the elder statesman who led the province from 1971 to 1985 remains an Alberta icon. He already sounded an alarm last summer over the oilsands, calling for a slowdown as the industry seeks sustainable solutions to cap pollution and the strain on the water supply.
Lougheed’s concern was sparked by a helicopter ride over the oilsands in June 2006.
“When you actually see the magnitude of it by helicopter, it just gets you,” he told reporters. “I was appalled by what was happening there.”

In three weeks, $38 billion was invested in the tar sands by just three firms.

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Read this story – Road Kill: Why are we so worried about terrorism when so many more people are dying on our highways? – and then ask yourself:

Why will the Provincial and Federal governments not legislate against the use of cell phones while driving?

Not allow the use of photo radar?

Not limit the horsepower of vehicles?

These actions will save lives, by the tens of thousands, and yet we are adamant as a society (since there is almost no pressure on legislators to do any of the above) that we will not take these actions.  

A relatively small number of deaths by terrorism will change laws, restrict freedoms and redirect billions of dollars.  Thousands of deaths on the road mean, essentially, nothing.

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By, in this instance, the Washington Post:

Vancouver’s Olympic Challenge
City Faces Pressure to Fulfill Social Pledges That Helped It Win 2010 Winter Games
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 23, 2007; A11

VANCOUVER — Rob Skish is looking forward to the 2010 Winter Olympics. A “binner” who plumbs garbage containers to fill his shopping cart with food for his stomach and cans for the recycler, Skish figures that when the Olympic crowds come to town, the pickings in the bins will be good.
“They’ll be full,” said Skish, 40. “But there will be a lot more people picking. They will come from all over the world.”
Skish’s prediction is the stuff of bad dreams for Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.
When the Winter Olympics open in Vancouver, visitors will find one of the most alluring cities in North America, a green and vibrant port to Asia brimming with diversity, skyscrapers and West Coast cool. But if they take a wrong turn, they will enter Downtown Eastside, a 16-block area teeming with drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes and panhandlers.
The side alleys are open markets for crack cocaine and crystal methamphetamine. The streets reek of urine. Rates of AIDS and hepatitis C are at Third World levels. Those who don’t have rooms in some shabby flophouse sleep on the pavement. A U.N. report last month called the area “the trouble in paradise.”
To win the Games, Vancouver and the provincial and federal governments made some of the boldest promises of any Olympic bid. They promised to add 800 new housing units a year for four years. They promised to cut homelessness and to ensure that people living on welfare and disability checks aren’t ousted from their hotels for higher-paying guests.
The city had already seen that happen once. Thousands of low-income residents were dislocated for the 1986 world’s fair, Expo 86. Olaf Solheim, an 88-year-old former logger with a long white beard, starved to death, disoriented and confused, after being evicted from his home of more than 40 years at the Patricia Hotel in Downtown Eastside. A welfare housing block is now named after him.
“I believe the Downtown Eastside will be the legacy of this Olympics. It will be a lot different,” the mayor said in an interview at City Hall. “We want every investment we make to leave a legacy that is needed by the city.”
Full article here.

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Mayor wants transit ‘terrorists’ banned, said the headline in the Surrey Leader. The ‘terrorists,’ according to Maple Ridge Mayor Gordy Robson, are those annoying Bus Rider Union orange-shirt types.
In his blog, Stephen Rees dissects the problem with closing board meetings to those annoying types – and the problem with the proposed TransLink structure:

I thought it was very significant that when Marvin Hunt was talking about the proposed new Translink, he detected a flaw in the arrangement. “Who are the Bus Rider’s union going to talk to?” he asked. I am fairly certain that Marvin has very little in common with the BRU, but he is an able politician and he recognised what Gordy (Robson) doesn’t. The BRU needs to be heard. And they will be heard one or another, so it might be better to let them in and put up with a bit of jeering now and then because the alternative could be much worse.

Much worse.

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The Sun reported on the Premier’s speech to the Board of Trade conference “A Climate for Change” – another indication of the green shift that has occurred in the last half year – but they left out the passion.   Campbell, when he gets going, can take on the demeanor of a televangelist, with very much the same message: you have the power, you can change society.  If you believe!
Imagine the cynicism.
In the sessions afterward, reference to the ‘religion’ of environmentalism came up all right – but not in a dismissive way.  Business people are quite aware of the public shift in attitude because they’re aware of their own – and their kids’ – change in perception. Twice during the conference school children were given time to speak, sometimes in stage-managed way, but with messages that Campbell took as his own: if we can change our own behaviour, we can make a difference.
While it is ever so easy to dismiss all this as political greenwashing, that would be a misreading.  From what I’ve heard, and from what I know, Campbell is convinced of the urgency to address climate change.  He has not only affirmed that in the last Throne Speech; he has set a target – 33 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 – and has demanded serious plans from government ministries.
I’m told that few civil servants took it seriously when he laid out a plan for government to be carbon neutral.  But they do now – now that there are targets aligned with a vision, and a leader who pushes the politics.  That’s how Gordon Campbell led the city when he was mayor, and why Vancouver underwent the transformation it did.
There’s still room for cynicism, of course.  Every time Gordon Campbell acknowledges the success of downtown Vancouver – its lack of freeways, its compact fabric – I wonder why he so far cannot change the framework for the Gateway Project.  Gateway is about building out the Valley around the car and the truck, about keeping the traffic moving, about reinforcing the sprawl.
At some point, Gateway will have to be reconciled with the Premier’s vision, or the vision will have to revised.  Given the Premier’s passion, I’d hope for reconcilation.

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Do you have to be rich to be green?
Sustainability, it seems, is associated with affluence – at least if the projects proclaiming their green-ness is any indication. And it isn’t just because the cost of green technology is that much greater. (Indeed, if a project is well planned from the beginning, recent research indicates, there’s no necessary surcharge to be a LEEDer.)
At the Gaining Ground conference in Victoria last week, developer David Butterfield gave a stirring talk on his Loreto Bay project – a vacation spot in Baja California. He was rightfully proud of its commitment to sustainability, and also aware of its paradox: most people will fly there, many to their second homes. By any standard, this is a project available to only a minescule fraction of the world’s population, whose carbon footprint will be comparatively gigantic.
How many times is it pointed out that Al Gore flies around the world to give talks on global warming? Having flown to Australia myself to speak of sustainable urban development, I’m aware of the 8.5 tonnes of carbon allocated to me as just one passenger (and the $154 Australian dollars needed to mitigate it.) But I’m rich enough to afford it. – and aware that the rest of the world would like my options. I know what is more sustainable, and it’s not mitigation and carbon credits. It’s staying at home.
It may be that at this stage, the rich will lead the way by modifying their high-consumption tastes, and thus provide a model for others. But the trend so far seems to be to modify the technology, to spend even more to buy the Prius, than to do with less. The tough choices are thus avoided.
Phillipe Starck, possibly the world’s most high-profile designer of luxury goods and interiors, spoke, well, starkly, about this dilemma the other day in Milan, according to Reuters:

The designer, who decorated the private apartments of former French President Francois Mitterand, said people should only buy essentials.
“The most positive action is to refuse…to buy. But if you need to, the minimum is ethical. To go back to the essence of things and ask myself: do I need this?” he said.

He still designs luxury yachts, even as he speaks to their uselessness. But he is “keen to turn other accepted views of what is luxurious on their head.”

“In the future, there will be two choices: luxury as it exists, mostly linked to the crazy rhythm of fashion, and also new brands with … time value considerations, based on ecology, progress, timelessness.”

Presumably, the value added for these new brands will be expressed in the price. But is this really any closer to the solution?

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Are you better off? Cascadia Scorecard 2007 gives British Columbia its annual check-up.
Sightline’s annual state-of-the-region report finds some big wins in the Pacific Northwest, but shows that we still struggle when it comes to energy efficiency, economic security, and curbing sprawl.

See how BC stacks up in the 2007 Scorecard.

Here are some of the Northwest stories you’ll find in the Scorecard:

  • Northwesterners ease off the gas. We’re using less gasoline per person than we have since the late 1960s, and we’ve cut back almost 10 percent since 1999. Find out about our energy use.
  • We’re adopting smart policies that can improve life here now and in the future. From ambitious climate policies to increased insurance coverage for low-income children, Cascadia is making some good choices. Learn about local solutions.
  • Measuring what matters helps us decide where to put our attention and energy next. The Scorecard shows that the Northwest needs to improve economic security for middle- and low-income families, and that electricity use in our home and businesses remains stuck in high gear. Knowing where we stand today helps us choose the right solutions for tomorrow. More from the Cascadia Scorecard 2007.

Download a free pdf of the report
Tell a friend about the Scorecard

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 My Business in Vancouver column this week:

Leaders need to view sustainability as a policy of national defence
More than ever, politicians are confounded by the Gap. And I’m not talking jeans.
Between the outer edge of what is politically possible and the inner edge of what is necessary, that’s where you find the Expectations Gap.
Leaders, of course, have always been aware of the difference between what people say they want and what they’re prepared to do.  A good illustration was the Vancouver Sun poll on how British Columbians would personally respond to the challenge of climate change. Over three-quarters said they’d be prepared “to make significant changes in lifestyle”; less than half would pay an extra hundred dollars a year in income tax.
Because taxes are the sincerest form of commitment, few politicians want to be that sincere. But not much is left, after the lightbulbs have been changed, that would make a difference. Still, damn it, nature didn’t get the memo. And now that planetary systems are becoming less predictable, the Expectations Gap could narrow too, in unpredictable ways.

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No doubt the Minister of Transportation, Kevin Falcon, would like to thank all those who criticized TransLink for its failings and lack of accountability.  That provided the necessary cover to ‘reform’ an organization which had few defenders.  And to turn it over to an unelected board dominated by business interests.
Though there’s not been a lot of coverage in the major media, the proposed governance model is not going uncriticized.   Most effectively, Johnny Carline, the CAO of the GVRD, weighed in with a report that was affirmed by the Board.
You can read the whole report here.  But here’s the critical thrust:

… the Panel Report recommends that the new TransLink Board be composed of appointees with a strong emphasis on business expertise. That expertise is important in any governance model. It is usual to assume that senior staff will bring many of these skills to an organization and that it is desirable that a body of elected officials on a governing body includes business expertise amongst its skill set.

But to make ‘business expertise’ the central focus and overwhelming emphasis of what will be the effective governing body for transportation within the region is to take a dangerously narrow view of transportation as a ‘business’ divorced from its broader, vital public policy role.

If, however, it is to be argued that the new business Board will in fact be responsible for making the public policy decisions centrally involved in urban transportation decision making, and that having an ‘expert’ board unaccountable to the electorate is an appropriate model for such a role, then it would appear that far more than amending the governance of TransLink may be happening. The whole concept of what is considered to be politics and democracy versus what is considered to be business may be under reconstruction.  (My emphasis.)

In other words, the new TransLink is fundamentally undemocratic.  To turn the future of this region over to those whose allegiances will be suspect doesn’t pass the smell test. 

But will people in this region raise a stink?


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