Editorial – The TransLink Referendum
A key plank in the BC Liberal election platform was the holding of a referendum on how to finance TransLink, the transportation authority of Metropolitan Vancouver. The following was the basis of my July 8 Legislature remarks on this matter.
This morning we are debating an important election promise of this government: a referendum on how to finance TransLink.
This is no small question. On Friday, Ian Jarvis, TransLink’s CEO, told a group of us that over the next 30 years Translink’s outlays on maintenance, roads, transit, bikeways and pathways, will be a cool $23 billion. (To put that into perspective, it’s almost half the size of our current provincial debt.)
Metro Vancouver mayors are pressing the provincial government to abandon the referendum. Our own Transportation Minister has emphasized there will be one – to coincide with municipal elections.
Nervousness abounds, both here and at city hall. We made fundamental mistakes in the way we introduced the HST and in the way we responded to that referendum. It will be important to learn from those mistakes and get this one right.
The referendum must be carefully constructed. Transit policy is extremely complicated. It is critical that government engage closely and publicly with the Mayors’ Council in drafting the question.
Metro mayors have been creative in suggesting various financing options, including an annual vehicle levy, diversion of a portion of the carbon tax, or a regional sales tax. They have also displayed some enthusiasm for road pricing. On the other hand, they appear resolute in opposing higher real estate taxes.
We, at the provincial level, have not revealed our favoured financing options – although we have an inclination to public-private partnerships which mobilize private rather than public capital – and I find myself in that camp as well.
I do not think the public will easily wrap its mind around complex funding alternatives. Here are some straws in the wind: Letter to the editor, Vancouver Sun, July 3: “TransLink, as BC Transit before, has squandered tax monies on three (soon to be four) prestigious and ultra expensive mini-metro lines that have done little to alleviate congestion and gridlock. The well paid transit bureaucrats want even more money, through road pricing, and continue to do more of the same. I think not! It is time for regional taxpayers to say adios to politicians who support this road pricing nonsense and maybe its time to say adios to TransLink as well.” (unquote) Hmm. I guess I will mark him down as undecided.
Meanwhile, the need to move people around my region is growing more rapidly than TransLink is currently funded to accommodate. Most of us realize that we cannot realistically expect to pay for all of this expansion through cash collected at the fare box. The tax man cometh. Choose your poison.
It seems to me both levels of government recognize the inevitably of higher taxes. However, each partner on the dance floor hopes the other partner will step out and take responsibility for the decision. As these pirouettes continue, ridership continues to grow.
Let’s face it: how and when to price a bond issue to move people around our region, and the collateral which will support it, is a question best left to capital market participants, not to the people. Therefore, it is clear to me the referendum should be focused more on governance than on choosing a specific funding model.
I believe the referendum question should advance the proposition that mass transit for Metropolitan Vancouver is primarily a regional responsibility, not a provincial responsibility – in all respects. What do the citizens of Cranbrook or Prince George care about Metro Vancouver bikeways, roads, or transit – except to be assured the bulk of its financing burden will be carried regionally rather than provincially. And if you do not have much transit in your riding, you will instinctively favour blacktop.
So I think the referendum question should simply ask whether it is time for the province to cut the TransLink apron strings — financially and operationally. We must allow Metro Vancouver to grow into adulthood.
Regional mass transit should be regionally planned, regionally governed, and regionally paid for, with the province playing a helpful participatory role, but certainly not being the decider. It is how those of us living in the Vancouver area provide our water and collect our trash; why should mass transit be any different?
We should simply admit, “We find ourselves much too involved in how you choose to move people around your world, and plan to dis-engage. Good luck Metro Vancouver!”
104 Years of Engineering
When Ed Richardson, P. Eng., earned his engineering degree at UBC only 81 years ago, during the Great Depression, he luckily obtained a job piling cordwood at Cariboo Gold Quartz mine near Barkerville. Fast forward eight decades. When I had coffee with him recently, he observed that mines unfortunately tend to run out of ore and lay off their workers, and that is what happened to Ed. Having been promoted to claims surveyor at $5 per day job plus room and board, he was now unemployed.
Moving back to the city in 1940, Ed realized that with the completion of the Lions Gate Bridge, real estate development was rescuing West Vancouver from its previously parlous financial state. He was hired as West Vancouver’s one-man engineering department in charge of land surveys, roads, water, parks, and garbage collection. Ed hired a dozen labourers to dig ditches for water mains – accomplishing perhaps 15 feet a day. When Ed suggested a mechanical digger could do the work faster, he was told by the Reeve (the mayor), “You cannot lay off these men; they live in West Vancouver, they include a couple of bank managers, and they have no other job to go to!”
Engineer Richardson had visited a friend in Carmel, California, a model community he much admired. He resolved to replicate Carmel’s charm in West Vancouver, with roads lined by grassy lawns and swales rather than sidewalks and ditches. He took satisfaction in being able to consolidate “poky” 33-foot lots into lots 66-feet wide. In surveying these lots, he used chain and transit and computed distances using logarithms – techniques unknown in today’s engineering world. Recently he gave his engineer’s slide rule to a great grandchild, who found it a great curiosity.
At 104 years old, Ed is still smart and spry (104 years appears to be the new age 65). He proudly wears his iron engineers’ ring, lives in the same house he and his wife purchased on Mathers Avenue in the 1950s, drives his own car around town, and does not take kindly to suggestions from his (elderly) children that he might consider moving into a longer-term care facility any time soon. He plans to stick around and closely monitor civic developments.
Saving the Capilano River
What is there to “save” about the Capilano River? When we cross its bridges it is always there, steadily flowing, trickle or flood. There must be fish because often fisher folk dodge freighters and cluster around its mouth. I even see the occasional steelhead angler park their car next to my office on Clyde Avenue and head down to the riverbank. How many persons in this world can claim to hold office about 100 yards from steelhead fishing?
Streamkeepers are ecstatic that pink salmon are now spawning in great numbers (1,000 possibly, all salmonids combined) in Brothers Creek past Cap Care, past Keith Road, past Har El, all the way up the hill beyond Steven’s Drive – thanks to Streamkeeper’s work and half a million dollars in culvert and fish ladder investment by British Pacific Properties. But those intrepid salmon have transited the Capilano only a short distance. It shows the fish will come back if we give them half a chance.
While there is some good news, there are also problems:
- The sport fishery off Ambleside is one of the best opportunities remaining in the Strait of Georgia Strait for anglers to take home Coho salmon. The Chinook fishing from an introduced stock can be very good as well, both thanks to the DFO hatchery on the Capilano built in 1971. However the wild Coho stock is very low and cannot support a fishery.
- Capilano steelhead stocks are at the Extreme Conservation Concern (very low) level with catch and release angling also supported by hatchery stocking.
- Capilano Water flows especially in summer are totally inadequate for supporting wild steelhead and Coho production below Cleveland Dam. This massive dam impedes upward spawning migrations of Coho salmon and steelhead and downward replenishment of the sand and gravel which is the lifeblood of any spawning friendly river. The priority of the day when the dam was constructed in 1954 was to provide a significant share of Vancouver’s potable water, governed from Burnaby by our collective municipal thirst, not by the environmental preferences of the river.
- However a recent Joint Water Use Plan conducted by Metro Vancouver Regional District recommended that flows be increased when a power project is implemented on the Capilano – perhaps as soon as 2021 if a new water license is approved by the Water Comptroller in Victoria and Metro Vancouver can come up with the capital cost. In the meantime flows and stream temperatures will remain lower than they should be until the new facilities come on line.
- Water that is drawn off well below the surface of the reservoir is much too cold to be friendly to the fish growing in the river below. (The new power project will have a surface intake which will improve that situation somewhat but only when it is operating.)
- The biological balance is out of whack. A productive stream is home to microbes and bugs which support the vertebrate food chain. The Capilano is largely sterile.
- When the Coho salmon and steelhead return, DFO trucks them around the dam and allows them to spawn in the river above Capilano Lake. But on the way back down to the sea, their offspring swim over the dam and most are dashed to pieces on the rocks 300 feet below. For the past five years Metro Vancouver has been operating a pilot trapping program to capture young Coho and steelhead before they go over the dam but it has not been very effective.
- Grebes enjoy the meal. I find it strange that the Greater Vancouver Water Board shows grebes feasting on the stunned and mangled fish coming over the dam, on its website as evidence of its environmental stewardship.
- At low low water, youth are known to blockade the river with shopping carts borrowed from Park Royal and set on their side, trapping the fish for their own purposes.
- And let’s not get into the tax consequences of Metro Vancouver’s billion dollar project sending Capilano water through many kilometers of tunnels under Lonsdale, under Lynn Valley Road, all the way to the banks of the Seymour for an engineering massage, before being pumped back again. The fish are screened out so they don’t go along for that ride, but their fate does depend on healthy river flows being left in the Capilano River.
However help is on the way. The Greater Vancouver Water District has commissioned the BC Conservation Foundation to examine alternatives to the present trap and trucking system which has been great for getting adult fish up above the dam, but not very effective for intercepting juvenile fish going to sea before they plunge over the spillway. This work is being led by Al Lill, a former manager and Chief Engineer of the Salmonid Enhancement Program at DFO along with Don McCubbing of Instream Fisheries Consultants and locally-based Northwest Hydraulics Consultants (NHC).
Derek Bonin of Whistler is a water and forestry expert employed at Metro Vancouver’s head office in Burnaby, and he is committed to improving the trapping program and restoring the biological balance of the Capilano with injections of phosphorous-rich struvite (see our last newsletter).
Let us wish Lill, Bonin, McCubbing and NHC well! They expect to be reporting out late this year. As governments, let’s support their work with necessary funding. Our namesake river depends on it! Nonetheless, I don’t think the hydro-electricity license will be forthcoming until they figure how to stop killing the fish.
Seniors! Get Out Your Track Suits and Shuffle Your Decks!
The Seniors Games are coming to North Vancouver! What are they? Well, in less than 24 months, five thousand competitors, age 55++ will descend on a variety of venues to show their stuff in:
- archery: compound, recurve, and longbow,
- cards: cribbage, whist, and bridge,
- cycling, mountain and regular,
- dragon boat racing,
- equestrian: reining, driving, dressage, and trail (no separation between men and women),
- bowling: 5-pin, lawn, and carpet,
- curling: floor and ice,
- hockey: ice
- Racquet sports: regular tennis, table tennis, badminton, and pickleball (which combines elements of all three.)
- slo-pitch (baseball with a bigger ball and a smaller diamond)
- swimming: freestyle, breaststroke, individual medley, medley relay,
- track & field: high jump, triple jump, discus, javelin, shot put, hammer throw, weight throw, pole vault, pentathlon, weight pentathlon, power walk, relay, mixed relay, medley relay and power walk relay.
Hmm. There’s simply got to be something here where I can win a gold medal. But the games are no pushover. Here are the B.C.Seniors Games minimum standards for entry into triple jump:
Age Group (W) (M)
55-59 4.50m 8.00m
60-64 4.25m 7.50m
65-69 4.00m 7.00m
70-74 3.50m 6.00m
75-79 3.00m 5.00m
80-84 3.00m 4.50m
85+ 3.00m 4.00m
Let’s see now, I figure jumping 4.5 metres is well over 12 feet. I think I should practise a little bit in the back yard, before submitting my triple-jump application. Or .. can I borrow somebody’s horse (unlikely) or prep my 5-pin style (now THAT I can readily do!)
In truth, I have already been recruited by the North Vancouver Slo Pitch team. Whether they will relegate me to water boy remains to be seen.
It sounds like a lot of fun, a good workout, an excellent incentive, a chance to meet like-minded persons 55 and older, and that’s the whole idea. Our provincial Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development finds this cause worthy of significant support. And incidentally, we also need about 1,500 volunteers. Contact:
BC Seniors Games Society
203 – 2453 Beacon Avenue, Sidney, BC V8L 1X7
Tel: 778.426.2940 Fax: 778.426.2941 Email: email@example.com