Governance & Politics
June 16, 2017

Liberals Say Economy At Risk with Massey Tunnel Rethink


More hyperbole regarding the rethink of the Massey Bridge has emerged as reported in the Delta Optimist. The newly minted Delta South MLA, former Delta Councillor Ian Paton had previously said at an all candidates meeting that he could not figure out why the City of Vancouver did not “clean up” the Downtown Eastside and said that such a situation “would not be allowed” in Delta.  This time Mr. Paton takes aim at the other  politicians questioning the tunnel replacement, despite the fact that this project is not supported by Metro Vancouver or by the Mayors’ Council, is overbuilt and will cost $12 billion dollars with carrying costs, will take away the best farmland in Canada, and will be built on a sensitive floodplain.
“Our economy is at stake and the agreement between the NDP and the Green party to kill infrastructure spending for the sake of pursuing their own political interests is putting the province’s future at risk. The fact is that after years of consultation, we need a tunnel replacement urgently, and if you are sitting in traffic daily, you want a solution ASAP. By tossing aside years of consultation, planning, and design work Horgan is essentially saying he is not interested in representing folks in Delta, or B.C. for that matter.”
This is all interesting as it has been a rather one hand clapping kind of consultation, and if anyone with the government actually read through the studies you could see that there is a bit of a bias and a lot lacking in those consultative reports.  Couple that with “congestion” that could be ameliorated by simply running Deltaport 24 hours a day like every other port in North America and limiting truck traffic at peak times in the tunnel. Those solutions would not cost billions of dollars. As well all of a sudden the tunnel is not seismically sound, despite previous reports suggesting otherwise, and the fact the same tunnels are in use in Europe with anticipated long lifespans.
The BC Liberal Caucus decided to make the sensible Massey Tunnel rethink issue even a bigger conundrum, saying on twitter that “the NDP’s opposition to the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project puts the economy at risk”.  This is the same government that insisted on a transit referendum for Metro Vancouver, and after that failed, offered no solution. Not championing public transit accessibility in the region puts the economy at risk. Rethinking a multi-billion dollar expenditure that appears to be a pet project by one political party, in the wrong place for the region? Not so much.

 

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Responses to the Price Tags Initiative to End the Referendum (more here) in the order received:
 
June 6, 2017
SAM SULLIVAN – Liberal, Vancouver-False Creek
Speaking personally, expediting new transit service is a much higher priority than a new referendum. I would be in favour of removing the referendum requirement if an agreement for funding the Mayor’s plan can be achieved among the three levels of government.
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June 19, 2017
SPENCER CHANDRA HERBERT – NDP MLA for Vancouver West End:
As an MLA who represents a community where 70% percent of us bike, bus, or walk to get to work I know the benefits of strong investments in public transit, and transportation infrastructure.
To answer your question – a BC New Democrat Government will get rid of the referendum requirement that has delayed progress on fixing lower mainland traffic congestion, and improving our transit system.
We will also work with Metro Vancouver municipalities to develop a new Translink governance model that provides the structure, the funding model and the certainty to make good transportation decisions to manage the system well, and most importantly, to get people to and from home, work and school faster.
Thank you for your continued work, and passion for a livable region,
 
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Bill Holmes added an important comment to the announcement post on the Price Tags Initiative to the End the Referendum Requirement.

Actually, there is no referendum requirement. The referenda provisions of the relevant legislation – the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Referenda Act – have not been brought into force. Even if they had been, the holding of a referendum would not be mandatory. The legislation leaves it up to cabinet to decide in each case whether to order a referendum. Hence, the questions to MLAs should be worded differently, i.e., not based on there being a legislated requirement for a referendum.
It’s a mystery why the government enacted legislation that was not brought into force or used for the vote on the 0.5% sales tax. …

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Helpful clarification, Bill – but it’s also important to note that the Liberals, in responding to the Mayors’ Council survey of all parties prior to the election, indicated this when asked about supporting completion of the 10-year vision:

Legislative requirement that any new source will require holding a referendum.

So unless we hear otherwise from the Liberal MLAs, Price Tags is assuming they would impose the referendum using whatever legislation they have.  We’d like an unequivocal statement that the requirement would be removed, whether legally required by legislation or decided by cabinet.  The most sincere expression from all parties would be a vote to remove the enabling legislation.

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Alex Botta thinks this comment from Geoff (also on his blog here) should be brought forward:
Regardless of whether there will be another referendum, I think it would be wise to communicate with the public as if there will be. Strong public support would make many of the political problems we have seen simply go away. I think the #CureCongestion slogan is counterproductive. I have been developing some thoughts about an alternative approach.
Values are the foundation of a powerful message. It is critical that people believe that your values are sincere, so that they will be open to the rest of what you have to say:

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ENDING THE REFERENDUM REQUIREMENT IN METRO

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The Mayors’ Council has released a “90-Day Action Plan for Metro Vancouver Transportation.” Among its five priorities requiring government decisions by the fall is this:

  • Eliminating the referendum requirement on Metro Vancouver transportation projects.

Price Tags wants to help!  The lesson of the last election should be clear: Don’t take Metro Vancouver for granted or disregard its needs.  Get behind solutions, don’t get in the way.  And the referendum requirement gets in the way.
Every MLA in the region, regardless of party, should now get behind getting rid of it.  So we’re going to ask every MLA in the region, regardless of party, exactly that.
This letter will be sent to them all, as well as the Green Party members on the Island:

Price Tags is a blog devoted to urban issues generally and Metro Vancouver in particular.
In the lead-up to the transportation referendum in 2015, we polled every Metro MLA.  The results are here.
We are now undertaking a poll to determine the position of each Metro MLA on the referendum requirement itself.
The Mayors’ Council has released a “90-Day Action Plan for Metro Vancouver Transportation” to all parties and all newly elected MLAs in the region.  Among its five priorities requiring government decisions by the fall is this:

  • Eliminating the referendum requirement on Metro Vancouver transportation projects.

We believe the referendum requirement is wasteful and an excuse for inaction.  It could prevent moving ahead on rapid transit, funding the Pattullo Bridge, and pursuing options for mobility pricing.
What is your position on removing the referendum requirement.

  • I support removing the referendum requirement and will vote to do so.
  • I support maintaining the referendum requirement.
  • I support an alternative, which I outline below.

The results will be published as we receive them.  We will follow up to ensure we have everyone’s reply.

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Metro News and reporter Jen St. Denis reports on Toronto economist Paul Smetanin who has ascertained that if an elderly couple in Vancouver are living in a house with over one bedroom, they are overhoused. Of course those elderly that live in a house with more than one bedroom would be wealthier too. Smetanin estimates that 70 per cent of people living in Vancouver have “800,000 spare bedrooms.”
“In Smetanin’s analysis, a co-habiting couple living in anything more than a one-bedroom home is considered “over housed.” Homeowners who are wealthier and older are most likely to be over housed. The number of empty bedrooms is equal to 15 years of construction at current rates, said Smetanin, who has used data from Statistics Canada and other sources to create a broad set of data about housing needs in Canadian cities.
The numbers are similar for Toronto, and policy-makers from the United States to the United Kingdom to Australia are struggling with the demographic shift. ”
Gene Balk, a columnist at the Seattle Times has calculated that the number of empty  bedrooms in Seattle has increased by 50 per cent in the last 16 years. Local real estate developer Michael Geller has suggested that seniors may be delaying going into condominium  housing forms to avoid strata councils, and a range of different housing forms is needed.
The ability for seniors to defer property tax and the fact that there  are no capital gains on the sale of a home may encourage seniors to age in place. There are also compelling financial reasons to stay in the home you raised your family in: homeowners don’t pay capital gains tax when they sell their principal residence and make a profit, and some argue it makes more sense to stay in the home and leave the total appreciated gain for your estate.
Geller does see a change where seniors are now interested in supporting new forms of housing for the post-house phase of senior life. “These baby boomers are the ones who are often opposing townhouse and apartment developments in their neighbourhoods for the last 30 years,” he said. “Now that they’re ready to perhaps move into a new housing choice, I think there’s a greater willingness to accept sensitive infill development.”

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Rob Shaw’s article today in the Vancouver Sun does not pull any punches-and finally there is some truth-telling in the Provincial government’s ranks about what was REALLY going on with the lack of co-operation at supporting accessibility and good public transportation in Metro Vancouver. Kevin Falcon who used to be minister in the Liberal government said the party “lost considerable urban ground to the NDP because ethical issues chipped away at their credibility, and because of the lengthy political dispute over funding Lower Mainland transit projects…lack of  progress over transportation projects, and just a little too much politics and not quite enough initiative”.
There’s been a lot of drama-the Province insisted that the Mayors Council put forward their proposed way of funding transit to a 2015 plebiscite. The Province also “nixed or delayed potential local funding sources for transit, such as a vehicle levy, road pricing or carbon tax expansion, and the result has been a multi-year fight with local politicians over money.”
And that’s not all. At the end of the campaign the Province announced that the Mayors Council would have to hold another referendum for new revenue resources to fund things like the Broadway subway or Surrey rapid transit.
Nobody in government is perfect,” said Falcon. “But I think it’s a mistake to say we’re going to force a referendum before we make any major transportation decisions. At the end of the day, the public hates that kind of politics. What they want to see is leadership in action.”
Of course the bridge tolls, the lack of Uber or ride share and the need for taxi reforms also didn’t help to smooth things over either for Metro Vancouver. And the Massey Bridge, overbuilt and in the wrong place to support regional growth and industry became a Port project, completely against the principles established by Metro Vancouver and the Mayors Council-supported only by  the  Mayor of Delta with the Port in the backyard.
It’s a new day.
 

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Price Tags is blessed with an educated base of very informed readers, who richly  contribute to the comment section. Price Tags editors want to share the following comment from reader Alex Botta, who writes comprehensively and coherently about the challenges ahead in navigating a Provincial boat potentially helmed by three different skippers.

The urban-rural divide is now clearer than ever, and Christy helped widen it. Many of the comments following posted CBC and Globe & Mail news stories about the election results indicated absolute disdain for Metro Vancouver from the hinterlands. Several pointed out that city dwellers do not know much about rural areas. Maybe so, but I also read a huge amount of ignorance about the city and how important it is to the provincial economy. The next government must find ways to bridge that divide.
The overlap between the Green and NDP platforms is quite remarkable. I believe they have the basic working foundations of a coalition already in place. Andrew Weaver was interviewed on The National last night. I had to watch part of the following National broadcast to make sure I heard him right. He reiterated with passion that the deal breaker issues to the Greens backing another party were: i) to take the money out of politics; and ii) and to not allow more bitumen tankers in our waters. Redirecting LNG into renewables and a number of other issues on housing, instituting proportional representation, and raising the carbon tax are also on the table. He also said he will not be bribed with a cabinet seat, and said he didn’t leave his career as a climate scientist at its pinnacle just to be bought by the promise of a place in cabinet. The interview with Weaver starts about 10 minutes in:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/thenational
For the life of me, I really don’t see Christy Clark agreeing to any of these negotiating points. If she does work something out with Weaver she will obviously be doing it as a temporary measure, all the while wielding that million watt instant fake smile of hers and issuing unbelievable comments about what a good environmentalist she is, and maybe purchase a couple of green sweaters for photo-ops in front of green trees while hugging bunnies. Meanwhile, she’ll keep the curtain closed on the bursting closet of her policies on fossil fuels, biding her time until she can stab the Greens in the back and try for another strong majority even though 59% of the vote this week went to the progressive side of the ledger.
Keep in mind when the final votes are counted she may form a very slim majority of one or two seats and cancel the need for an agreement with Weaver et al, which could collapse if a couple of MLAs get the flu and miss a crucial vote. The same applies to an NDP-Green government. It may be wise for both parties to hand out vitamins and surgical masks at the door to every meeting.
If the Greens and NDP are really serious about bringing the BC economy into the 21st Century they would negotiate a two or three-term agreement to stop competing with each other in every riding and run one candidate against the Liberals in key locations, therein likely attaining majority status until proportionality is fully realized. Three terms as a BC NDP-Green coalition government will potentially change the entire nation for the better by creating hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs in renewables (potentially over 150,000 in wind power alone), in construction around greatly expanded urban transit, lowering emissions remarkably, fostering innovation labs through directed educational institute funding in partnership with industry, and so on.
Lastly, the Libs record as supreme debt creators is unsurpassed. Moreover, they are masters at hiding it beyond the reach of annual budgets. In other words, the Libs do not care one whit that their grandchildren will be saddled with the enormous burden of paying it down, probably at much higher interest rates than today. The NDP of the 90s look like fiscal conservatives by comparison. I suggest that an NDP-Green government must also address debt reduction, even if that means enacting a dedicated debt reduction tax. If they can manage to create thousands of additional jobs in the renewable energy and construction sectors and value-added measures in sustainable resources like forestry,

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This just in from Business in Vancouver and Nelson Bennett, reporter. Documents leaked to and by the NDP Party show that while “replacing the George Massey Tunnel with a bridge would cost $3.5 billion to build, but another $8 billion in debt servicing”.

“The party says it filed freedom of information request several months ago to obtain information on the project’s financing. The documents released had financing details redacted, the NDP press release states. But the party then received leaked documents that detail the proposed bond issues for the project. It released those documents Friday May 5, along with a press release that states, “financing costs for the bridge will add another $8 billion in costs that British Columbians will be paying for the next 50 years – bringing the total bill to nearly $12 billion.
“The two-page document shows the province proposes to raise the capital for the bridge through the issuing of 18 bonds, at $200 million to $525 million each, with various maturity terms.”

“During the construction phase, the government would issue seven-year term bullet bonds with a 3.15% interest rate, as well as 30-year bonds at 3.57% to 3.9% interest rates.The total provincial interest costs on the bonds between 2017 and 2047 would be $5.2 billion, “prior to federal assistance.” In other words, that’s how much the interest from the province would be without federal money.”
“The total interest costs between 2017 and 2068 – when the debt would be retired – would be $8 billion.
The Premier was asked about the $8 billion dollars in interest repayments but responded “It’s going to come in on budget, it’s going to come in on time, and we’re going to get it done like we said we would.”
But the Transportation Minister of B.C. Todd Stone said the interest payments would be  spread over 50 years the same as a mortgage on a house.
As an example, if you bought a home for $750,000 today and pay it off over a 35- year period, you’ll pay nearly $1 million in interest. You wouldn’t say you paid $1.75 million for the home. It’s the exactly the same principle for the Massey Bridge – and the reason we’re doing it is to keep toll rates low for commuters.”

 
 

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One of the great things about the readership of Price Tags is that the readers are a well-educated bunch who readily share information. Here is  some of the dialogue regarding the Massey Tunnel debacle that is by informed readers concerned about this multi billion dollar overbuilding of a simple conveyance that could be easily handled by a direct twinning of the tunnel.
It has been suggested in this letter to the Delta Optimist and documented in the thorough blog written by Stephen Rees that there are other underlying factors that make the Massey Bridge look like a very expensive concept that needs to be rethought. From the letter to the Optimist written by Frank Suto:

I have some reservations about the proposed new bridge to be built atop the George Massey Tunnel. As a part of the planning process boreholes were drilled to depths over 1,000 feet on both sides of the river. It turns out the boreholes, as reported about three years ago, revealed nothing but sand and silt. At some depths it was so mushy that cores could not be retrieved.  .  . The plan, as I understand, is to build two concrete towers, 500 feet or more high, to support a bridge deck 10 lanes wide on nothing more than waterlogged sand and silt. One can’t help but think about the possibility of two leaning and sinking towers. . I suspect another tunnel with four (possibly six) new lanes while retaining the proposed Highway 99 roadway/transit improvements could be designed and built in less time and at less cost versus the proposed bridge.”  .  . As Stephen Rees notes on his blog and picked up by Price Tags reader Alex Botta: . “Stephen also posted information previously on the ground conditions below the bridge site. There are apparently no firm bearing soils even 330 m below the surface, which was one of the top considerations that led to building a tunnel decades ago. In addition to the above issues, this bridge could literally and figuratively sink.”  .  . Price Tags reader Clark Lim further notes: … I cannot see how such a large bridge built on questionable soil requiring so much height leading into one of the most dense networks of signalized roads can be a good thing… . If we want to keep things simple and much more cost-effective, then there is a solution that can solve congestion not only at this water-challenged part of Hwy 99 but all through into downtown and all other destinations using the tunnel. And it would cost only a fraction of the +$3.5 billion. It is called transit and carpooling … in this case the numbers show evidence of possible latent demand for these modes. And eventually if needed, more tubes can be added, but we may not need them if we can max out existing infrastructure with more cost-effective “first-principle” solutions.”  . “First-Principle solutions”. How do we even have this conversation if this ten lane 3.5 million dollar bridged boondoggle is a so-called “done deal” with little transparent process and no way for the public to learn more or influence this sinking decision? Read more »


Sandor Gyarmati in the Delta Optimist reports that the Premier knows what is good for you and the Massey Bridge will “make a huge difference in the lives of those who live south of the Fraser”.  Now that is kind of strange thing to say when you are defending the expenditure of $3.5 billion dollars (projected to go over budget according to many sources).
There are other alternatives that would have made a huge difference in the lives of everyone north and south of the Fraser River, including placing this bridge in an area to the east that is not impacting the most arable farmland in Canada. They could have seriously looking at other alternatives to the bridge such as twinning the tunnel, and simply doing some things that are done globally in other “congestion” situations, such as limiting truck traffic during peak times, or getting the port to operate on a 24 hour basis, like every other port in North America. Under the thin veil of talking about “jobs” and “congestion” it is assumed that citizens are not smartly analyzing the lack of public process and the wrong-headed direction which right from the start has nixed the tunnel. And no one is saying the real reason for the tunnel being taken out, which is for the Port (a federal not provincial agency) to dredge and industrialize the Fraser River for deeper, bigger boats carrying coal and liquid natural gas to Asia. It is all a very 20th century approach. A $3.5 billion dollar 20th century approach.

But never mind that, here is the Premier’s response last week in Delta. “I would argue, even more importantly, you can cross the river on the bridge and know you’re doing it safely with your kids in the car. It (current tunnel) so desperately needs seismic upgrading, I worry about people using that tunnel now. I think that will be a big improvement for people in South Delta”. 
This is all a little weird as the previous Minister of Transportation stated that the tunnel was good for decades. But now it is the “s” words, safety, seismic, to go with “jobs” and “congestion” and spending $3.5 billion dollars for a bridge determined by the Mayors’ Council to be in the wrong place. But back to the Premier. “I promised that we would do this four years ago before the last election. We have spent four years with the scientists and geotechnical people and consulting with the community, and four years later we’re getting on with it..When I promise to do something, we get it done.” 
You can take a look at the document list and the skinny public process here. This is one of those projects where the end, a bridge, was kind of foregone conclusion. There’s been a couple of meetings here and there, but no active dialogue or response. And in terms of addressing the fact that all the Metro Vancouver mayors except for the Mayor of Delta did not want a bridge located here? Nothing.

But on to the “benefits”.  The Premier states you  will have “reduced congestion” (which could be solved by more transit and eliminating trucks at peak periods in the current tunnel). You will have “improved safety” (of course you also have ten lanes of traffic). And my favourite-there will “13,000 fewer tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions”, because instead of idling at peak times all those vehicles will be proceeding at speed. There’s no factor for the increased emission resulting from the induced vehicle demand a new bridge will bring. And strangely, no comparison to the Port Mann bridge, or whether this is really worth $3.5 billion dollars.
Sometimes when you promise to do something, you have to make sure it is the right work, not just doing the work right.

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