I received a press release today from Transport 2000, an organization I've belonged to for a long time. They have awarded the Lemon Prize to former Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day, and Suzanne Hurtubise, Deputy Minister responsible for the Canadian Border Services Agency.
Here's the story: Amtrak currently runs one train in each direction per day between Vancouver and Seattle. This service is funded mostly by the Washington State Department of Transportation. An announcement was made in March, 2007 (see Good news about Vancouver-Seattle passenger trains elsewhere on this blog) that WSDOT and the government of British Columbia would put up the money for track improvements required to support additional trains, and that a second train in each direction would start running sometime in 2008.
The required track improvements were made and paid for, and WSDOT was ready to go in August. That was five months ago, and still no second train. What went wrong? A meddling Federal cabinet minister.
The Canadian Border Services Agency decided that they would charge $1,500 to clear each northbound train though Customs. Their justification for this is that expanded service would require a "new facility". This is nonsense; Customs already has a clearance facility at the Pacific Central Station on Main Street.
This is just another example of how Stockwell Day and the Conservative Party of Canada shines the shoes of the petrochemical industry at every opportunity, even if it means cancelling out investments made by British Columbia and Washington State taxpayers. There's a major reconstruction project under way at the Peace Arch border crossing. For automobiles. Who is paying for it? We taxpayers. Will the users of this improved border crossing be assessed a fee? Only the NEXUS users.
While Day and his Deputy Minister were hard at work being an obstacle, Day was unable to come up with a budget figure for security for the 2010 Olympic Games; the best he could do was "more than $400 million but less than $1 billion". That really narrows it down, doesn't it?
Day's first appearance on the national scene was as the accidental Leader of the Canadian Alliance Party, which eventually merged into the present Conservative Party of Canada. The smart money was on Tom Long for this job, but it turned out that Long wasn't actually a Canadian citizen.
After the 2000 election loss, it came to light that during Day's tenure as Treasurer of Alberta, the Alberta government was sued for libel by Lorne Goddard, a Red Deer school trustee, because Day said that Goddard supported child pornography. The suit was settled out of court, at a cost of $792,000 to Alberta taxpayers. Day later reimbursed the Alberta government for $60,000 of this.
Day was moved from Minister of Public Safety to Minister of International Trade after the 2008 election. This takes him away from responsibility for Olympics security and border crossings, but it means that he is now the point man for for whatever disputes take place between Canada and the US over "made in US" trade policies, such as for steel. How effective is Day likely to be at reminding the Obama administration that NAFTA is supposed to work both ways? Heaven help us.
The lesson we can learn from this is that PM Stephen Harper's policy toward cabinet ministers is to reward failure. It says elsewhere on this blog that Harper must go; his attempt to eliminate public financing of political parties proved that there's no telling what Harper might do when our backs are turned. It also seems that the only way to get Stockwell Day out of Cabinet is to get a different Prime Minister.
Update on Feb. 6: A report published by the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University makes the case that a second Seatlle-Vancouver train would bring in $750,000 in GST revenue alone, far more that the $550,000 that Day's "drive or fly to Vancouver" tax would bring in. You can click here to read the actual report (PDF).