Bob Broughton's Blog about British Columbia politics

Political alternatives to the Gateway Project

Look out, here comes argument number 223 in favour of implementing proportional representation in British Columbia.

Both the Green Party of BC and the Democratic Reform BC parties have spelled out alternatives to the government's Gateway Project. The Green Party's is at http://www.greenthink.net/, and DRBC's is at http://www.drbc.ca/download/DRBC-Gateway.pdf.

Both proposals call for revival of light rail transit east of Surrey. The DRBC proposal is more specific about this and other transit improvements. It also contains a novel proposal for a rail and truck bridge in the Port Mann vicinity. This deserves a lot more public scrutiny; the Fraser River rail bridge (next to the Patullo Bridge connecting New Westminster and Surrey) is 100 years old, and needs to be replaced soon. (Yes, there are safety concerns.) This is going to be an expensive project.

In the tradition of holism, the Green Party proposal also addresses the effort by the provincial government to pave over Eagleridge Bluffs and the Larson Creek wetlands, which the Green Party opposes.

Neither of these parties are currently represented in the Legislative Assembly. This is yet another example of why this should change; opening up the Legislative Assembly to more voices will ultimately give us better government.

A related article that I wrote: Eagleridge Bluffs and Olympic sustainability

How George W. Bush really feels about the War on Terrorism

I learned at a young age that talk is cheap. U.S. President George W. Bush learned this sometime during his life as well, but Bush has made radically different use of this awareness.

The most prominent example of this is Bush's talk of hunting down Osama bin Laden. There's the saber-rattling directed at the United Nations and defiance of the Geneva Convention and various other treaties. Then, there's this War on Terrorism we keep hearing about.

This week, we got an unpleasant and under-reported example of how Bush and the people who pull his strings are the wrong people to be entrusted with this effort. You can read about it in the Feb. 17, 2006 issue of the New York Times: Despite Fears, a Dubai Company Will Help Run Ports in New York (You need to register to read this, but there's no cost.) The story is, there's a British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., that manages the Port Newark Container Terminal, and five other port facilities in Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. This company was recently bought out by another company called Dubai Ports World.

This arrangement got some scrutiny from the Commander in Chief of the War on Terrorism. Dubai Ports World is controlled by the royal family of the United Arab Emirates, and they are not nice people. Their banks were used to transfer money to the hijackers of the 2001 World Trade Center attack. They did not cooperate with the U.S. Department of the Treasury's effort to track down bin Laden's bank accounts. They were one one of three governments in the world that recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. You can read more about it on the Think Progress and Daily Kos sites.

Ports, especially container ports near large centres of population, are a very attractive terrorist target. Any objective person would conclude having such facilities under foreign administration is a bad idea, and having them administered by a company like Dubai Ports World is an extremely bad idea.

The Bush administration saw it otherwise. A committee of White House officials, including Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld approved this arrangement and asked few questions about it.

Appalling, yes, but not a surprise to those familiar with the Bush family history. Prescott Bush, George W.'s grandfather, was a shareholder of the Union Banking Company, which was seized by the U.S. government in 1942 for trading with the enemy. Prescott said that his involvement with the Union Banking Company was a “courtesy to a client”. Given the Bush family's involvement in the oil industry and their ties to various oil princes, I suspect that the approval of the Dubai Ports World deal is another example of the same sort of courtesy. Here's a sobering thought; suppose that someone like George W. Bush had been President of the U.S. during World War II?

Satan, the War in Iraq, and Richard Land

On Saturday, November 12, I was driving south on Interstate 5 in California. I found this program on an AM station in Fresno, Richard Land Live!. Land was responding to phone-ins, talking about a speech that George W. Bush made on Veterans' Day (that's what they call Remembrance Day in the U.S.). He said something that made my jaw drop: the effort to impeach Bush and withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq is the result of “Satanic influence”. He wasn't kidding, either.

Now, it would be easy to dismiss Land as just another nutbar with a radio program and a web site, along the lines of Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Pat Robertson, or Rachel Marsden. (I was in San Francisco the day after O'Reilly invited terrorists to attack the place. Fortunately, the only invasion I noticed was USC fans who came up for a football game at the University of California the next day.) This would be a mistake, because Land's credentials are much stronger. He is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and has been a lobbyist in Washington for the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the second-largest religious organization in the U.S. Land is also pro-higher education, and seems to have some appreciation of baseball.

I would like to ask Land some theological questions. How does rewarding Halliburton with fat contacts fit into Christian teachings? What would Jesus have to say about torturing prisoners? Specifically, I heard another radio commentator, Randi Rhodes (http://www.therandirhodesshow.com/), say that by threatening to feed Iraqi civilians to lions, the Bush administration has become the very thing that Bush and his supporters profess to oppose. How could an official of the Southern Baptist Convention be a sycophant for the Caligula, or at least the Nero, of the 21st century? (Try substituting “rearranging your hair and rolling up your sleeves for the camera while Hurricane Katrina victims are drowning” for “fiddling while Rome burns”.) Doesn't Mammon have far more adherents in the U.S. than Christianity? Does Land and/or the Southern Baptist Convention share Rev. Jerry Falwell's belief in "Dominion Theology", which advocates turning the United States into a theocracy?

Inside the City Lights Bookstore
Inside the City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco
Changing the subject... I mentioned that I was in San Francisco. One of the tourist things I did there was a visit to the City Lights Bookstore. I was in the “beat poets” section, and I saw this elderly gentleman on a ladder, fetching something from the top shelf for a customer. I recognized him as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, proprietor of City Lights and America's most prominent living poet. When he finished taking care of his customer, I introduced myself to him, and we shook hands. He asked me where I was from, and I told him. I asked him some questions about some books of Jack Kerouac collections that I had been perusing. He wasn't familiar with Good Blonde & Others (which I ended up purchasing), and suggested a couple of other items, including a collection put together by Ann Charters. (No, this was not the biography that she is known for.) He then told me that he regards City Lights as a library first and a bookstore second, and suggested that I have a seat and do some reading before making a purchasing decision.

Parking meters in BC's provincial parks

The Western Canada Wilderness Committee has learned from a Freedom of Information request that the parking meters that were placed in many provincial parks in 2003 by the Liberals have actually cost the government more money than they have brought in. They have also caused a million fewer visitors to the parks. Here's the Wilderness Committee's press release: Parking Meters in Parks – A Comedy of Errors.

Prior to the introduction of the meters, Joyce Murray, former New Westminster MLA and Minister of Water, Land, and Air Protection at the time, told the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce that "a government's primary job is to provide value for all its citizens." (Murray is now a candidate for the federal Liberal nomination for New Westminster-Coquitlam.) Well, B.C.'s provincial parks and crown land represent value that already belongs to us. Being able to go for a picnic or set up a tent in a provincial park or a Ministry of Forests campsite may not be legally defined as a right of British Columbians, but it should be.

To reinforce this, I can tell you that the meters have become a major target of civil disobedience. On most of the occasions when I've gone to parks where the meters are present, someone who who was getting ready to leave kindly offered me their parking receipt. I quickly got into the habit of passing these receipts to someone else when I leave.

One other thing: The Western Canada Wilderness Committee is having its 25th anniversary celebration on Friday, November 4, at the Roundhouse Community Centre. This will be the Lower Mainland's social event of the year. You can read all about it by clicking here.

Western Canada Wilderness Committee
Protect BC's Parks The Wilderness Committee's campaign page about privatization and commercialization of provincial parks

"Mr. Floatie" disqualified as candidate for Mayor of Victoria

Mr. Floatie, a walking, talking piece of human feces, has been disqualified as a candidate for Mayor of Victoria.

The grounds for disqualification were obvious. Only human beings are allowed to be on election ballots.

However, Mr. Floatie has succeeded in his objective, which is to draw attention to the fact that Victoria still pumps untreated sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

James Skwarok, the local activist who took on the role of Mr. Floatie, didn't take exception to the ruling. "Of course I'm not a real person. I'm a big piece of poop."

Skwarok's campaign should be of interest to voters in the Federal riding of New Westminster–Coquitlam. One of the candidates for the Liberal nomination there is Joyce Murray, former Minister of Water, Land, and Air Protection.

In 1992, then-Premier Mike Harcourt and Washington Governor Booth Gardner signed the Environmental Cooperation Agreement, which committed the state and the province to work together on transboundary environmental problems, including Victoria's sewage. In 2003, Murray, in effect, broke this agreement by approving a Liquid Waste Management Plan put forward by the Capital Regional District. This plan postpones any secondary sewage treatment for at least ten years.

Murray lost her MLA job primarily because of her failure to keep Saint Mary's Hospital open. Murray also gave us parking fees in provincial parks, closures of campgrounds in provincial parks, and inaction on salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago. Mr. Floatie serves as an effective reminder that as Minister of Water, Land, and Air Protection, Murray failed to protect the water in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If the Federal Liberals nominate her in New Westminster–Coquitlam, it will be a blatant case of rewarding failure.

Update on Nov. 18: Mr. Floatie has teamed up with two Green Party candidates in Victoria's municipal election, Philippe Lucas and Sonya Chandler, to fight for sewage treatment in Victoria.


Strait Talk, July 2003, newsletter of the Georgia Strait Alliance (PDF); see “Sewage Sorrows”, p. 13

Light rail for Surrey and Langley

I made my second run for the Green Party in last spring's provincial election for two main reasons: gambling expansion (which both the Liberals and NDP support) and the Port Mann Bridge/freeway widening project (supported by both the Liberals and the NDP a year ago, but the NDP has backed away from it a bit).

I regard stopping the Port Mann project as a survival issue. I grew up in the eastern U.S., and witnessed the degradation of quality of life resulting from the construction of One Big Freeway from Boston to Petersburg, VA. I also spend a lot of time in the Seattle area, which is a monument to the futility of using paving as a method of dealing with traffic congestion.

I've been involved with the Livable Region Coalition since its inception, and I attended a public forum that they organized in Surrey in October. It was interesting and well-attended, but, unfortunately, unconvincing to those in the audience who depend on commuting across the Fraser River in order to earn a living.

The message I heard from these people is, “we have a serious traffic congestion problem, and we need a solution to it now.”

OK, I heard you. Now, let's get real. Even if construction on the Port Mann project started tomorrow, it would take at least five years to complete it, so it's not a “now” solution anyway. And here's a couple of other things to consider. During the course of that five-year construction period, there will be constant lane closures and detours. Conjure up an image of what the Cape Horn interchange will look like during this period. If it's a short-term solution that you want, the Port Mann/freeway expansion project will make things worse. Then, take a look at how much your last tank of gas cost you. What do you think a litre of gasoline will cost in 2011?

Another complaint I heard at the Surrey forum was about a massive traffic jam that had taken place a couple of days earlier, a result of an accident on the Port Mann Bridge during rush hours. I contend that if you want to solve this problem, the last thing you want to do is put more eggs into the Port Mann Bridge basket. It would be far better to provide some alternative ways of getting across the river.

There's already one alternative on the drawing board: the Golden Ears Bridge that will connect Fort Langley and Maple Ridge. The people of Surrey and Langley need at least one more, and the one I'll put up for discussion is a bridge that already connects New Westminster and Surrey; the bridge that the Skytrain runs on.

This bridge is capable of carrying far more trains than it does now. What we need is a fast, convenient way for people in Surrey and Langley to get to it.

MAX train in Portland
Portland's MAX train
I was in Portland recently, and rode the MAX train several times. The Portland suburbs that the Hillsboro line travels through are similar in a lot of respects to Surrey and Langley, but the similarity that matters is that a grade-level (as opposed to elevated or underground) system would work.

There are already railroad rights-of-way that connect the Scott Road Skytrain station to Port Kells, Clayton, Cloverdale, Langley City, and Abbotsford. A complete replacement of the trackage, in addition to stations and overhead wires, would be required to run MAX-style light rail on this route.

How much would this cost? Let's find out, but it's certain that the billion dollars which the government proposes to spend on the Port Mann/freeway expansion project would be substantially more than a down payment. Both the federal and provincial governments are getting windfalls from gasoline taxes, and it's entirely sensible to spend this money on projects that reduce our dependence on gasoline.

What I'm proposing here should be classified as “mainstream”. Much of the route was used by the Interurban trains that ran from New Westminster to Chilliwack from 1910 to 1950. The Vancouver Sun ran a two-page article last winter about existing trackage in the Fraser Valley, accompanied by speculation about how it could be put into service for commuter rail.

There's another benefit, beyond the reduction in air pollution and noise, in building a light rail solution now instead of later. Urban sprawl is a bad thing, and all you have to do is travel south on 200th Street in Langley to see that the shopping malls are popping up already. Transit stations invite density; they can become areas where people can live, and have schools, stores, and restaurants within walking distance. Now, how can developers and city planners make mini-communities like this happen, if nobody is going to know where the transit stations are for another 15 or 20 years? Surrey and Langley will be much better places to live in the future if sensible development decisions are made now.

What needs to happen now is for local governments, the GVRD, and the Ministry of Transportation and Highways to take a greater interest in this. In particular, MoTH should put some of their bureaucrats to work pricing out alternatives to the Port Mann project such as this one. To get this happening, ask Kevin Falcon and Gordon Campbell if they really want to be remembered for wasting a billion dollars on a highway project that will be obsolete before it's completed.

Michael Campbell, Tobacco Industry Sycophant

Yesterday, I received the 100th telephone solicitation to subscribe to the Vancouver Sun, and I turned them down for the 100th time.

I came to the realization 12 years ago that, whatever the Sun's target market is, I am not a part of it. I came to this realization because the Sun ran not just one, but two articles detailing predictions from astrologers on what was going to happen in the coming year. (One of the predictions was that Gordon Wilson would become the leader of the federal Liberal Party.)

By coincidence, my decision to not spend any of my hard-earned money on the Sun was validated yet again by a column by Michael Campbell that appeared that day (October 4, 2005). Campbell's writings are as silly as those of any astrologer, and his economic analyses have only slightly more depth than those of Chance Gardiner, a character portrayed by Peter Sellers in the film "Being There".

The column I refer to has the title "Smokers have known for years it could kill them."

Campbell's claim is factually incorrect, and easily disprovable. All you have to do is go to the "supressed facts" area of the smokersrightscanada.org web site, where it says that "not one single death has ever been etiologically assigned to tobacco."

Or, you could go the the discussion area of the mychoice.ca site, which is administered and paid for by the tobacco industry. Someone there who calls himself "fxr" wrote, "Where did you get the idea smoking has been proven to be harmfull (sic)? The only proof has been theoretic research. I have seen no indication of any physical proof of this harm." Or, there's this statement from "thepest": "FACT: TOBACCO AS (sic) NEVER BEEN FOUND TO BE CAUSING LUNG CANCERS OF ANY KIND."

Now, we should ask why it is that in 2005, there are still people who believe such things. Denial is obviously part of it. However, it's a fact that for many years after the release of the Surgeon General's report in 1964, the tobacco industry's PR people made persistent efforts to downplay the findings of the report, even while their own scientists were confirming the toxicity of cigarettes.

This is one of the many reasons why people whose lives have been damaged by cigarettes are entitled to have their day in court. Let's give the tobacco industry the opportunity to answer for this and many other things they have done over the years, and allow judges and juries to determine the appropriate level of guilt.

Campbell's piece also included this gem: "It's just that I find the self-righteous attitudes of the anti-smoking Gestapo so obnoxious that, despite being a lifelong non-smoker, I'd consider starting... just to get under their skin.  But what do I know?  I'm still trying to figure out why so many rabid anti-smoking activists also push to make smoking marijuana legal."

In his use of the term "Gestapo", Campbell uses the same cowardly tactic as his fellow sycophant Terence Corcoran; as long as you don't attach any names to the people you accuse, you can't get sued by them. (Corcoran learned this lesson the hard way; he slipped up and named Garfield Mahood of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association in one of his columns and found himself, and his employer, being sued for libel.)

Campbell now has the opportunity to prove that I'm wrong. Michael, if there's some anti-smoking assembly around that arrests people and interrogates and tortures them with no regard for warrants or habeas corpus, you have a responsibility as a journalist to give us their names and the location of their headquarters. Don't hold back on the details.

The Fraser Institute: Economic think tank or front for the Tobacco Industry? A paper published by the Non-Smokers' Rights Association