Friday, January 18, 2008

Funding and new transit announcements

Earlier this week, British Columbia announced a massive new public transit plan including over $10 billion for rapid transit lines in my new home of Vancouver. It has raised much excitement but also many questions about who will be paying for it all.

A couple days later, the Globe and Mail reported that Canada will copy the new and relatively meaningless US vehicle mileage standards. Today it rather ignorantly reports the move will increase automobile prices by thousands of dollars (even if it were true that costs have to go up to meet the standards, it would happen regardless of the Canadian decision because prices are driven by the US market).

You get the feeling that Canadians are concerned only about cost of transportation, not the efficiency. For the foreign readers of Maribo, it is important to understand that thanks to Canada's unique federalist system, 95% of the political life in Canada is spent arguing over which level of government should be paying for things. We tend to roll out massive public spending programs or new federal regulations without having secured any of the funding. With programs like the BC transit plan, the hope is that by generating excitement, the level of government announcing the program can guilt the other levels into coughing up some money.

Most of the time, guilting the province or the feds fails. So Canadians are quite skeptical of grand proposals for things like expanding public transit, building new inter-city train lines, etc. If you want to raise the ire a Torontonian, just ask about the waterfront redevelopment plan (the response will begin with "which one?").

On the odd occasion, the guilt approach actually works. We Canucks are, after all, generally apologetic people who hate to disappoint others.

Is this one of those odd occasions? Perhaps we've reaching this nexus of voter concern about climate change, oil prices, urban air pollution and traffic congestion that the every level of government will find a way to contribute at least a decent proportion of the requested funds for the BC transit plan, for Toronto's light rail plan, etc. Don't expect the SkyTrain all the way down Broadway to UBC to appear anytime during, say, the current millennium. And don't expect the auto manufacturers in Ontario to suddenly embrace new fuel efficiency standards. But I can guarantee you no one, at any level of government anywhere in the country, wants to look like Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, who toured Washington this week trying to deny the environmental impact of oil sands operations*.

* The argument: large facilities are required to "reduce the intensity by 12 per cent." This while they plan to triple production. So if intensity is the emissions per unit of production, that means the emissions would multiple by 2.64. Canadians do understand fractions.

1 comment:

EliRabett said...

The auto industry in Canada and the US are tightly integrated, so willy, nilly. . .