Wednesday, October 11, 2017

My Tax Dollars Hard at Work or Hardly Working? A Quick Analysis of the Recent Moonglo Zoning Decision

OK, so I’ve read the recent Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) decision about the proposed change in zoning in the Moonglo neighbourhood.  What a gong show for the City this whole exercise proved to be.  And as a taxpaying resident of the City of Greater Sudbury, I have to question just what my tax dollars are going towards supporting.

The Board was presented with uncontradicted expert evidence that the zoning was in keeping with provincial planning policies and with the City's own Official Plan.  The City tried to have their hired-gun planner approved by the Board as an expert witness, but that was challenged by the appellant, and the Board ruled that former City Planning Director of Development, Mart Kivistik, could not provide “expert testimony”.  And that’s a big deal in front of the Board.  Expert evidence is given more weight than that of lay-people.  Kivistik’s problem was a big one – it wasn’t so much that the Board didn’t believe what he was talking about (he has years and years of land use planning experience), it was that he was involved in opposing the rezoning application in front of Council.  In short, he had already demonstrated a bias, and therefore could not be considered to be in a position of providing the board with unbiased expert testimony.  The City should have been aware of this taint before trying to get their so-called “expert” qualified in front of the Board.  The Board has really been cracking down on ‘planners as advocates and experts’ in recent years.  They should have turned to another planner who was not involved in the matter and let that planner come to their own independent conclusion.  Of course, maybe they tried that – and couldn’t find a planner to support Council’s position, so they were left with Kivistik or no one.

Remember: the City had to hire someone from outside of the City to give evidence here, because municipal planning staff supported the application.  Mauro Manzon, a municipal planner, actually appeared under summons to give evidence to the Board in support of the development proposal.  From my taxdollars point of view, I in part paid for Mr. Manzon and the City’s Planning department to give evidence in contradiction to Council’s decision – and I then paid again for a hired gun planner to give evidence in favour of their decision.  That’s bad enough, but I get it, sometimes it happens – municipal planners aren’t always right, and sometimes when Council makes decision in opposition to their professional recommendations, it’s Council’s decision that the Board ultimately sides with – often with the assistance of the hired gun planner.  But in this case, the City’s hired gun came unequipped with ammunition – he was not qualified as an expert – which leaves me scratching my head with regards to just what did the City pay for.  My tax dollars don’t seem to have been used to their highest and best ability here.

It gets worse.  Kivistik pretty much hung his hat on the notion that the City’s Official Plan suggests that medium and high density development ought to locate along arterial roads (and Moonrock is not an arterial).  Further, he suggested that the building did not fit in with the neighbourhood, which is primarily low density.  The appellant’s planners and designers made a case that the design of the building was put together in such a way as to minimize visual impacts with the surrounding neighbourhood.  They stated that they had satisfied all relevant policies in the Official Plan, including the ‘neighbourhood compatibility’ one.  Kivistik had a weird interpretation of what the OP says about ‘compatibility’ – almost suggesting that the policies are there to protect the stability of low density residential neighbourhoods – which is completely beyond belief for anyone somewhat familiar with the City’s Official Plan.  The Official Plan sets out only two residential designations – Living Area 1 and Living Area 2.  Both permit all forms of low-density residential development, subject to policies (including neighbourhood compatibility).  All of Moonglo is within Living Area 1 – which in the former City of Sudbury actually permits ALL forms of residential development as of right – low, medium and high density.  Kivistik argued that at 25 units per hectare, which exceeded the 9 units per hectare currently found in most of the rest of Moonglo, that the development was medium density and incompatible with the low density neighbourhood.

The Board sided with the developer’s experts on neighbourhood compatibility, and stated clearly that compatibility isn’t ‘stability’ – essentially that the OP contemplates change occurring, subject to policies. The use fits in well with the existing neighbourhood, due to buffers, design, etc.  But it was on the notion of low vs. medium residential that the Board gave Kivistik a major knock – by pointing out that based on Kivistik’s own testimony that the development would have a density of 25 units per hectare, that it should be considered “low density”, not medium – because the City’s Official Plan caps low density development at 36 units per hectare.  How no one on the City’s side caught this before Kivistik presented his evidence is, shall we say, very odd.  When you hire an expert – even one that ultimately gets disqualified – a review of testimony and evidence being presented should really occur first in order to avoid actually presenting evidence that supports the opposition – particularly evidence that you are making the cornerstone of your argument.  Again, my tax dollars appear to not been hard at work here.

The appellant’s traffic engineer presented these facts, which were undisputed by any expert at the hearing: that the seniors complex would generate less traffic than the previously approved plan of subdivision; that Moonrock Avenue is operating only at 20% of its current capacity; that the design of the road is more than sufficient to accommodate the additional traffic load.  Again, this expert’s evidence was uncontradicted by any other expert.  Although the Moonglo residents raised significant concern with traffic issues, and having a copy of the traffic study in their possession for at least a year in advance of the hearing, they themselves did not hire an expert to contradict the findings of the appellant’s expert.  The City did not provide any expert witness to contradict the appellant’s witness – likely because City staff had already accepted the findings of the traffic report and even though the residents believed traffic was going to be an issue, there was no legitimate case that could be made in support of opposing the traffic report.  Keep in mind, Council was in part swayed by the resident’s concerns about traffic when they refused the zoning proposal – and yet the City did not mount any defence based on traffic.

With regards to transit – or more specifically, the lack of transit to service the development – the Board, in a kind of backhanded way, took a bit of a swipe at Moonglo residents, although they may not perceive that happened from the anodyne language used by the Board.  First, let me back up for a moment.  Kivistik and many area residents told the Board that the location for this development was less than ideal because the closest transit services were about 1 kilometre away.  I have to admit that when I was following this proposal from afar, I too expressed concern about the lack of transit services.  Kivistik and residents gave evidence that a senior’s complex should be located in proximity to transit – which kind of seems sensible, right?

Well, the Board didn’t buy it.  First, there are no policies in the Official Plan that direct senior’s residents to locate in proximity to transit.  While higher density development is encouraged to locate along arterials (which are more likely to have transit access), that’s just a “should” in the OP and not a “shall” – and this specific development proposal is not considered “high density”.  Still, there are provincial policies which the Board considered when it looked at transit.  The Board, while acknowledging that seniors are unlikely to walk a kilometre to catch the bus, essentially said that those active transportation policies were all fine and good, it was likely that seniors living in this facility would be car dependent.  Goodness knows with a 1.5 parking spot per unit requirement – leading to over 250 parking spaces on-site, people living in this development will have ample space to park their cars.

So that’s the swipe at Moonglo residents.  Do you see it?  The Board essentially said, “Look, residents: you live in a neighbourhood that is car dependent – almost completely devoid of transit.  Yet somehow you manage.  Why should you hold other future residents to a higher standard, and expect them to be transit-dependent when they make a decision to live in a neighbourhood where you need a car or two to get around?  Why these people – and not you?”

I get the Board’s argument here – although I still hope that the City decides to provide transit to this new development and throughout Moonglo.  Anyway, the Board was right to call out the double-standards of area residents, even if it did so in an opaque manner.

There are a number of lessons here for others to learn.  The first is: if you oppose a development proposal in the City, DO NOT rely on the City to advance your cause for you.  We saw this play out slightly differently with the recent OMB decision over the Keast subdivision, where the City changed its mind at the 11th hour and entered into a settlement with the appellant that saw many of the good planning principles put into the subdivision approval at the request of residents completely discarded – despite what Council had publicly conveyed to residents when making its decision.  By changing course at the last minute, residents could not mount a proper defence, even with experts hired and on hand who might have.  In the Moonglo case, I find it very difficult to understand why the residents wouldn’t have got together prior to the hearing, formed some kind of organization, petitioned the Board for Party status (which they almost certainly would have received) and hired their own experts to oppose.  That’s what you do if you’re serious about a neighbourhood issue.  I can only conclude that either the residents seriously didn’t have a clue about any of this (and the participation of Mart Kivistik, a former City Planning Director suggests otherwise), or they were somehow hoodwinked by the City – perhaps with a suggestion along the lines of, “don’t worry, we’ve got you covered”.  And maybe the City really did think that.  They tried to get Kivistik qualified as an expert. But ultimately they failed - and they should have realized that they were likely going to have a problem with Kivistik in the first place.  Anyway, I am speculating here, I really don’t know what happened, but it seems to me that if any group of citizens could have got their act together, the good residents of Moonglo would be high on that list – especially with an ex-City Planning Director leading the opposition.

The second one is that when Council bends to the will of residents and makes a decision that is not supported by planning rationale, actual facts and evidence – and instead bases its decision on conjecture, rumour and made-up nonsense – we taxpayers pay for it.  Several times over.  Thank goodness the developer isn’t going after the City for costs on this one – because I think that they could have mounted a credible case to the Board that the City was really just fooling around and pretending to mount a credible case.  The lack of experts suggests that didn’t happen – and the lack of any intention to ever give evidence contrary to the developer’s traffic report (with traffic being the crux of the argument made by the residents) would have bolstered a case for costs.  So we taxpayers dodged a bullet there.  Anyway, we would not have been in this position had Council listened to evidence and not made a political decision in substitution of a land use decision.  This kind of thing happens too often.  Sometimes, it’s warranted – there really are facts that are in dispute when the matter is in front of Council.  This clearly wasn’t one of those times – no hard evidence was ever presented to Council. Those opposed hung their hats on ‘neighbourhood compatibility’ – forgetting that the Official Plan was deliberately designed in a way so as to accommodate a wide range of densities just about everywhere – even in Moonglo.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Jagmeet Singh's Leadership Success Points the Way Forward for Electoral Co-Operation Between Greens, NDP


Bramalea-Malton-Gore MPP Jagmeet Singh has been elected leader of the federal New Democratic Party, with a convincing first ballot win (53% of votes cast – more than 33 percentage points over second-place finisher, Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus). Singh's election to the position of leader of Canada's third party has captured the attention of the national – and international media, with many comparing Singh favorably to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
(from the National Post)


Of course, comparisons to Trudeau have long turned off many New Democrats – especially those I follow with my social media feeds. I was surprised to log into Facebook yesterday to discover many of my New Democrat friends publicly expressing only half-hearted congratulations for Singh. Of course, most of my NDP friends have long been members of the party – and it's quite likely that the members that put Singh over the top on the first ballot were not mostly those who have been in the Party for years and years. With 47,000 new members signed up (according to the Singh campaign), getting just a small percentage of existing NDP member votes was likely all that Singh needed.

Expectations for Singh 

Is Singh going to be a fair-weather New Democrat, like Bob Rae? Or perhaps someone who is going to push the NDP even further to the right in an attempt to corner that infamous Canadian middleground that the pundits claim is needed for any party to govern? Or will Singh prove to be a true hollow man, running on looks and charm rather than policy or integrity? These are questions that I've seen again and again from New Democrats in my social media feed.

Certainly time is going to tell – but I would suggest that based on the evidence that we've seen from the leadership race, as well as Singh's two terms as an Ontario MPP – New Democrats have little to fear about either Singh's commitment to the Party, or his depth as a politician. Further, the policies and positions that Singh will ultimately embrace will be the ones that New Democrats themselves decide should be priorities for the Party. Singh is already out in front of the NDP membership in a number of key areas, including (of interest for me and those who may be following this blog) climate change. Throw in some of the best ideas from the Angus, Ashton and Caron campaigns (and the NDP will do just that at their next policy convention), and Singh will turn out to be a formidable leader at the head of a New Democratic Party that is finally engaged with Canadians on a complete suite of issues – rather than the populist buffet of (often contradictory) platform planks offered up by the NDP since Jack Layton became leader (yes, I wrote Jack Layton).

Sure, the NDP is likely to focus-group both Singh and party policies and package both up for voters in advance of the 2019 federal election. The NDP is a political party, after all – they are in it to win it. And should Justin Trudeau and his Liberals falter, the NDP under Singh might just be able to step in and grab a minority. Maybe. If a lot goes right.

Battleground BC

One of the things that could potentially go wrong for the NDP has to do with my party – the Green Party of Canada. The NDP is going to be aiming at taking out a number of Liberal-held ridings in B.C.'s lower mainland. Right now, B.C. voters are keeping a critical eye on Andrew Weaver's Green Party of British Columbia, which achieved a very modest breakthrough during the spring provincial election, sending 3 MLA's to Victoria – including party leader Weaver. With a supply and confidence agreement in place with John Horgan's NDP government, the Greens have committed to keeping the New Democrats in power for 4 years – while holding them accountable to voters on issues where the Greens and the NDP are not quite in discord. At the heart of this agreement is a desire on the part of both parties to reform B.C.'s antiquated first past the post electoral system. A referendum will be held in 2018, and it is quite likely that the next time British Columbians go to the polls, they will be participating in a more democratic system of electing representative governments.

Of course, proportional representation has long been a key policy of the federal NDP. Provincially, New Democrats have often paid electoral reform lip service, but when push came to shove with NDP governments in power in Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, B.C., and Alberta – nothing happened – until now in B.C., anyway. It's no wonder, really, that so many PR and electoral reform champions have given up on the NDP to actually do anything about changing Canada's electoral system – and perhaps why so many turned to Justin Trudeau's Liberals in 2015 as a way of remedying that mistake.

Oops.

Anyway, if anyone thinks that Singh won't take electoral reform seriously, I would suggest that with the recent experience in B.C. (likely to be in the rear-view mirror come 2019), Singh will act on his pledge to move forward with reform. It is, after all, one of the 4 key pillars that he has highlighted again and again – and one that doesn't require New Democrats to enact any new policies.

The Green Party

The Green Party of Canada will also be aiming to take down Liberals in the lower mainland of B.C. - and New Democrats on Vancouver Island. With what is likely to be but a few exceptions elsewhere in Canada, those really are the only regions that the Greens will be able to project an electoral force in by 2019. Everywhere else (with a few exceptions – although I have no idea what those exceptions might be today) is going to be a write-off for the Greens, much as it was in 2015. And in 2011. And even in 2008, the year that the Green Party received its biggest vote share ever.

Of course, in 2008, the Party was led by its dynamic new leader, Elizabeth May – who after not being invited to the federal leadership debate nevertheless stormed that debate, and made herself appear completely at home at the highest echelons of power in this nation. It still wasn't enough to elect her or any other Greens to parliament in 2008 – but by 2011, with a Party committed to doing all that it could to win just one riding – we were able to celebrate May's victory in Saanich-Gulf Islands as a success – even though she found herself sitting in the upper corner of the House, facing off against a new majority government under Stephen Harper.

With the NDP and Greens planning to mix it up over those coveted B.C seats in 2019, the success (or lack thereof) of the Green Party has to be a part of the NDP's electoral caluculus. Elsewhere, Greens won't matter. In B.C, Greens sure will matter – especially should Horgan's government fall between now and 2019 and a new B.C election return Weaver, Fursteneau and Olsen along with a number of other Green MLA's – something which is completely within the realm of possibility.

Green Preferences - Singh v. Trudeau

Of course, once all of the ballots are counted in 2019, whatever Green MP's are elected to parliament will be able to work with whomever, right? Well, unless it's a majority situation – in which case, it won't really matter whether one or two elected Greens vote with the governing party or the opposition – the outcomes aren't likely going to change. And the bold policy initiatives that we Greens would like to see enacted will remain pipe dreams for another four years. And as we know, time is running out for the nation's of the world to take real action on climate change. Trudeau's government has been a disaster for the planet – in the opinions of many Greens, including myself. Putting a price on carbon is a good idea, but the lack of a national program is going to be incredibly problematic going forward – and Trudeau's commitment to doing even the bare minimum on carbon pricing is constantly being called into question. Throw in pipeline and LNG approvals, running rough-shod over indigenous rights and not eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and it's easy to see – from where I sit anyway – how dangerous and out of touch with reality Trudeau and the Liberals are.

Of course, it's not just me and other Greens who have noticed that reality. Jagmeet Singh has been talking about these very issues for the last several months, and indeed he's made these issues key policy planks for a Singh-led New Democratic Party (see: "NDP leadership hopeful Singh brings his love-and-courage campaign to Nanaimo," Nanaimo News Bulletin, September 9, 2017).

Seriously – do you think Singh was joking – or just saying what he though New Democrats wanted to hear – when he talked about the need to get serious on climate change and indigenous rights? And if you think he was being serious about those two pillars, why not throw in electoral reform as well?

I for one believe Singh. I believe him because the future is pointing the way. It is inevitable that the NDP would up their game on these important issues, because public opinion is forcing their hand.

Doing Politics Differently

Singh has talked a lot about doing politics differently. During the campaign, like it or not, he did just that – and yes, I understand that his cockiness turned off a lot of my New Democrat friends – and to them I say, 'First Ballot Victory'. Really, it's no surprise to me, because as a former resident of Bramalea-Malton-Gore, I've been following Singh's career since before he was elected MPP – during a time in which I knew for certain that a New Democrat could NEVER represent that riding. And I wasn't the only one who knew this fact for certain.

Sure, Singh – like all human beings – has had a number of missteps. But really there is no questioning his sincerity. Is he a policy light-weight? Maybe a little – but really, does that matter? He's certainly capable of explaining policy positions to voters. And with the NDP upping its policy game, really it's not all going to fall on Singh's shoulders to come up with key policy position after key policy position. As leader, he only has to sell those positions to voters. And sell he will.

Singh will not be taking the New Democrats further to the right, politically speaking. Instead, he's going to take them to a place that is going to be very uncomfortable for Greens – he's going to take the NDP forward. I wrote earlier that I believe the NDP is on its way to becoming a 'green' party – when I hear Singh speak, that's where I see things going.

Evolving the New Democratic Party

Almost certainly, Singh is going to have to some challenges. When I recently spun the idea that Greens need to take a resurgent federal NDP seriously, what I heard from many of my Green friends was their continual disillusionment with the NDP as a party that engages in full-on partisanship and values winning over everything else. In fact, that's long been my own major criticism of the NDP – and I've used much stronger terms in the past to express my opinion of the New Democratic Party – like the 'Party of Hypocrisy'.

Another criticism of the NDP also has to do with their culture of perpetual partisanship. The NDP tolerates no dissent from its elected officials – which frankly is the very antithesis of democracy. Greens are familiar with the story of former Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Bruce Hyer, who left the Party after not towing the party line in a whipped vote. Former Sudbury MP and now Ontario Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault also chaffed under the NDP's intolerance for differing points of view, notably over the long gun registry. And in 2015, numerous potential NDP candidates were told they couldn't run for the party because they had written or said something in support of the BDS movement – which even today remains a third rail for New Democrats.

Partisan discipline is clearly an issue for me – and for many Greens. It's one that we often use point to in efforts to differentiate ourselves from the NDP. It's very important to us that elected officials remain, to a degree, free agents – beholden first to the voters that put our elected officials in office, and only then to the Party. I continue to suggest that this kind of grassroots democracy is dearly important to me.

But let's face it – most voters don't care. Most voters don't understand (or are interested in understanding) these inside baseball nuances. They just want to see action on issues that are important to them. When they are engaged, they are more likely to ask themselves why individuals who want to see the same or similar actions can't get their acts together to support one another, out of some strange and misdirected adherence to partisanship.

Singh actually has a chance to start changing the NDP's culture – right now. Whether he expends any of his (now considerable) sum of political capital on doing so remains to be seen. Certainly, it's not going to be a priority for him – and you can't blame him for that, given the number of other priorities that he is going to have to face. But going down the road, it may be within reason to think that Singh might loosen the grips on his MP's – especially since he's not likely going to be sitting in the House any time soon – but also because it really doesn't seem like mindless partisanship is what Singh wants or desires in a party that is moving to embrace the challenges of the 21st Century.

Keep an eye on what Singh says and does about these matters going into the next NDP policy conference. I'll bet that we'll see some movement – because it's not as if the formular that the NDP have been using has led to much in the way of electoral success in the past.

Singh's Big Problem - the Alberta NDP

Another significant challenge that Singh is going to have to face at some point is around what he is going to do with Alberta and (to a lesser extent) B.C. New Democrats who continue to be wedded to a fossil fuel-based economic paradigm that he appears to be at odds with. My bet is that he will do nothing to rock the boat – but New Democrats are going to have to something to say at some point that may lead to a kind of unacknowledged break. Rachel Notley in particular is going to be a problem for Singh and for New Democrats who opposes fossil energy projects.

Singh should keep in mind that while the Premier of Alberta is an important person – and a very important New Democrat – she and her provincial party are on the wrong side of history on this issue. The Alberta NDP are also likely going to be swept away by 2019, so it may very well be that the matter will have decided itself by the time Singh hits the campaign trail. And finally, even if not for that, Singh should keep in mind that both he himself, and his vision for a new NDP is much bigger than Rachel Notley – and ultimately far more important to Canada and the world than a desire to simply doubly tar sands output, as Alberta New Democrats have vowed to do.

Same goes for B.C. over LNG. The sooner that Horgan tosses LNG onto the trashbin of history, the sooner he can stop worrying about Andrew Weaver's B.C. Green Party. OK, that's an oversimplification – but LNG is a loser. At least for Singh, it's largely a provincial issues, unlike Notley's pipelines or tar sands expansion effort.

Looking for a Way Forward for the Green Party of Canada

Back to the Green Party for some final comments. Fellow Greens, I continue to share your concerns about the NDP's culture of political expediency and I am adopting a wait and see attitude with regards to where Singh will take his party on those matters. But I suggest that, as we did back in 2012, we begin to think ahead with regards to our own political calculus. In 2012, at the urging of our members, Elizabeth May reached out to the NDP in an effort to ascertain whether there might have been any interest in electoral co-operation of some sort. We all know how that turned out: Tom Mulcair's partisanship – which at that time found him and his party almost completely refusing to verbally acknowledge the existence of the Green Party – led to a complete rebuff of that effort.

Times have changed. Now we have a New Democratic leader who agrees to appear in joint news conferences with his Green colleague. We have a federal NDP leader who is talking about his priorities – which are many of the same sorts of things that Greens have long talked about being our priorities. With new leadership, the NDP is ripe for a bit of a cultural shift – and I believe that New Democrats will be pushing for just that. The grassroots is restless. The motivation to move forward towards action is real and palpable. As Greens, where are we going to find ourselves in light of this reality?

We have some options, for sure. We can continue to build our movement – something we have had little success with over the past decade on the federal scene. We can contest each and every riding in Canada, as we have done in the past, even if only half-heartedly just about everywhere.

Time for Electoral Co-Operation Between Greens, NDP

Or maybe we can get serious about 'doing politics differently' – that catch-phrase that I've heard so many times from my fellow Greens – and to which I myself have long subscribed. Maybe it's time that we ask ourselves whether Canada – and the Green Party of Canada would be better off with four more years of Justin Trudeau (or – gasp! Four years of Andrew Scheer!) leading to four more years of inaction on climate change and electoral reform – or whether what's needed right now is a government led by Jagmeet Singh and the New Democrats – a government interested in taking action on climate change and proportional representation.

I am coming to the conclusion that it may not be in the best interests of my Party to continue to do what we have done – and what has not worked for us, for many reasons – and instead to try something different – to truly do politics differently, in order to benefit Canada. I still believe that the Green Party has the best suite of policies on offer of any political party in our nation – but I am no longer willing to hold out frustrating the very good for the sake of the very best. Simply put, we don't have the time any more – and for the sake of my family, I know real action is needed. And we won't be seeing that under the Liberals or the Conservatives.

By all means, Greens, let's continue to build our list of contacts and create good will in our communities towards the sorts of policies that we want to see implemented. That's what building a movement is all about. But behind these good works, Greens, I think it's time that we sit down and question our electoral calculus. With that in mind, I fully expect to see some kind of motion presented to the membership in 2018 with regards to electoral co-operation with the Jagmeet Singh's New Democrats.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

One Green's Thoughts on the NDP Leadership Contest

I’ve been putting off writing this blogpost for far too long.  In part, my procrastination stems from a general feeling of boredom related to the subject matter – even though the subject matter is important.  I had been hoping that I might be turned on at some time over the past several months – turned on enough to write a real rah-rah piece about one of the contenders for the NDP’s leadership.  I’ve been following the contest fairly closely – I even attended the “debate” that was held here in Sudbury on May 28th.  But I’ve been unable to muster much interest in writing – and I fear that this piece will suffer as a result of my ‘meh’.

In all seriousness, I had hoped for the kind of leadership race that might prove to be inspiring – inspiring in a way that led to the election of Jeremy Corbynn as Labour Party leader in the U.K. – and inspiring in the way that led many to take a very close look at Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during the U.S. Democratic Party leadership run.  I know I wasn’t the only one looking for something that none of us should be surprised just wasn’t in the cards.  The situations with the Labour Party and the Democratic Party are quite different than with Canada’s New Democratic Party.  In the U.K., Labour has been trying to wake-up from the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown era, and ultimately turned to a life-long socialist to re-invigorate the Party.  In the U.S., many have long felt (with plenty of good reason, in my opinion) that the Democratic Party is not all that different from the Republicans.  In both cases, significant space had been created for the right personality (er, actually a personality of the left) to step in and force change.

But Canada’s NDP hasn’t really ever been in that situation.  As much as it has drifted to the right of the political spectrum since Jack Layton took over, the NDP have remained a relatively progressive party – especially when compared to Canada’s Conservative and Liberal parties.   Here I’m talking more about the policies that NDP members have approved, rather than the way in which the NDP has approached elections and platform creation.  One of my own biggest issues with the NDP has to do with the way that the Party behaves as a populist political animal – playing politics rather than staying true to its principles and policies. I know that I’m not the only one who is turned off of the NDP because of their tendency to be hypocritical.

Leadership

But how much further to the left would any candidate have been able to take the NDP while remaining serious in a way that Sanders and Corbynn were?  Because the NDP’s policies are already progressive, it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise that just about all of the candidates in the race to replace Tom Mulcair have stood up and said, more or less, the exact same things as one another.  With only a couple of exceptions, Guy Caron, Niki Ashton, Jagmeet Singh and Charlie Angus have all been singing from the same song sheet.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, because it’s a pretty good tune in my opinion.

Fact is, any one of these 4 will make an excellent leader of the NDP.  What I’m less certain of is whether any of them can make voters want to cast their ballots for New Democrats in the face of Justin Trudeau, who I continue to believe will remain a formidable force in 2019 with his faux progressive values.  What can any of the NDP contenders offer the public that’s new – besides more progressive policy?

And that’s got to be the key to this whole leadership discussion.  Which of the 4 leadership candidates can be the best salesperson for the job of selling Canadians on the superiority of the NDP’s policy approach to progressive Canadians?  If that sounds pretty shallow on my part, so be it.  But remember: under Jack Layton, the NDP won 103 seats.  Under Tom Mulcair, the NDP took just 44.  Sure, Layton was up against Harper, who was no Trudeau – while Mulcair was steamrolled by a slick campaign with a happy face.  But politics today really is mostly just a sales pitch – albeit one that clearly includes the ability to package and showcase key pieces of policy.

Which is why Trudeau and the Liberals will win another majority government in 2019.

The NDP: Now An Existential Question for Greens

But back to the NDP.  So, what does it matter to me, a member of the Green Party, whom I think would be the best leader of the NDP?  It matters a lot – because this decision of New Democrats actually represents an existential dilemma for my Party.  What the 4 NDP leadership candidates have been talking about out on the campaign trail (yes, the same stuff generally met with yawns from the mainstream media and the wider Canadian public) has been the same sorts of stuff that Greens have been talking about for years, for the most part.  In some respects, the NDP has moved ahead of where we Greens are at on issues that we have considered fundamentally our meatless-meat and potatoes.  Whomever emerges leader of the NDP is likely to embrace many of the policy positions of his or her rivals – and if not directly, you can bet that grassroots New Democrats are going to continue to push their party to adopt the truly progressive policy planks of defeated leadership rivals.

I’ll come back to all of this in a little bit.  Right now, let’s take a look at the four candidates – and what I think New Democrats ought to do.

Guy Caron

Caron started the leadership contest pitching a Basic Income policy very similar to the one that the Green Party has long advocated.  I happen to like the idea of a Basic Income – and so do many New Democrats.  To my surprise, however, there has emerged on the left serious opposition to any sort of Basic Income.  Mainly this appears to be out of fear that a Basic Income could lead to the state reducing services that promote equity. I get it, it’s not all about money, and certainly a poorly designed Basic Income would not be a benefit to the nation.  But Caron wasn’t pitching a poorly designed version.  Nevertheless, Niki Ashton felt compelled to oppose Caron on this – and she was wrong to do so.

When the dust settles from the leadership contest, Caron will not emerge victorious.  But his Basic Income policy will be a big winner with New Democrats – and you can bet that the Party will continue to push for promoting a Basic Income, to the chagrin of what I predict to be an unmotivated minority (meaning, a small number of extreme leftists in the party who won’t get all that worked up about this particular policy).
 
What, in my opinion, completely disqualified Caron from becoming the next leader was the position that he took on the rights of people, especially women, to wear what they want to wear vs. the rights of the Quebec Assembly to legislate racist laws that prohibit people from wearing religious symbols – laws that can’t possibly stand up to a Charter of Rights challenge.  Caron had the opportunity to defend Canada’s Charter, but instead he opted to defend what he views as Quebec’s right to give the Charter the middle finger.  Sorry, Caron – but that was clearly the wrong choice.  I know, I know – I’m over-simplifying the issue.  But really – not by much, not from where I sit in Sudbury, Ontario.
Not only would I not recommend Caron as leader of the NDP, but I think that most New Democrats are going to see things the same as me – and Caron will be the first one eliminated on the ballot (or receive the fewest overall votes on the first ballot).

Niki Ashton

Ashton really really tried to be Bernie Sanders.  She figured out a way to (mostly) talk the talk of the truly progressive.  But unlike Sanders and Corbynn, there has always been something about Ashton’s authenticity – and it’s not just because of the habit that she developed during the campaign of acquiescing and clarifying her position, leaving everyone with a muddled opinion of just where she stood on a good number of issues.  Rather, the lack of authenticity reminded me of Kellie Leitch.  Ashton appeared to wake up one morning and decided to put on a suit of clothes she never wore before in order to become someone she wasn’t.  Same as Leitch, whom I know is not as bad a person as she made herself out to be during the Conservative Party’s campaign.  Ashton became an actor – and never really looked all that comfortable.

And that’s too bad, because the real Niki Ashton does have a tremendous amount of authenticity when it comes to connecting with younger voters.  To make these connections, she didn’t have to go full lefty radical – and I think she and her campaign would have been better off.  Rather than channelling Bernie Sanders, she should have tried to channel Jack Layton.

Ashton is going to continue to be a strong asset for the NDP.  I just hope she puts away the faux radical and decides, instead, to be herself and build on her truly natural strengths of connecting with people.

I hope she decides to do an about-face on her Basic Income stance.  Her initial waffling on the Quebec religious garb issue was problematic, but she recovered – I get what was going on there, too – Ashton sees Quebec as an opportunity for herself for when Caron drops off the ballot, so she did what she thought was best to appeal to Caron’s voters for their second place preferences.  And who knows – it may have worked.  I do expect a lot of Caron’s people will move to Ashton – but not enough to see her make it through the second ballot.

Ashton will be the second leadership hopeful exiting the contest (or she’ll receive the second lowest vote count on a first ballot victory of another leadership contestant).

Singh and Angus

So that leaves Charlie Angus and Jagmeet Singh – two candidates who actually exhibited a little bit of a less-than friendly rivalry during the leadership contest, which is very uncharacteristic for the NDP.  But you know what?  I really think these two got underneath each other’s skin.  Singh’s jab about Angus not really caring about seniors was completely over the top and frankly not in keeping with reality.  Angus, probably realizing whom his real competitor was going to be early on, took jabs at Singh’s lack of commitment to universality for social security – and was right to do so, given the NDP’s long history here.  Perhaps Singh was thinking ahead to when he was going to have to face a broader electorate – and not just New Democrats.

Anyway, Singh doesn’t appear to have been harmed by these true missteps.  If Angus represents the Party’s historic core, Singh represents what the Party aspires to be – and if he really has signed up 47,000 new members, it’s quite likely that Singh will find himself leading the NDP when all of the ballots are counted.

Angus has a lot of passion, and I hope that Singh can find a way to reconcile himself with the MP from Timmins-James Bay.  Singh and Angus will make a great one-two punch for the NDP – and if Singh wins, he would be foolish to try to dim the light on Angus.

Of course, if Angus wins, it’s doubtful that Singh is going to stick around federal politics – not when there’s a provincial election coming up in Ontario in 2018, which is likely to be Andrea Horwath’s last as Ontario NDP leader.  In many respect, it’s really too bad that Singh is leading the provincial party right now.  But I digress.

Charlie Angus would make an adequate leader of the federal NDP – but his rumpled approach to party politics isn’t going to make much headway against Justin Trudeau.  I like a lot of the things that Angus was saying during the campaign – but I think that the NDP would be making a serious, albeit not fatal, mistake if Angus was selected as leader.

Gotta Go With Singh

Clearly, in my mind, the NDP has to go with Singh.  He may be the most lightweight candidate in the running (from both a policy and politics perspective), but if any of these four have what it takes to motivate voters, it’s Singh.  Look, I understand the fears about Quebec – and I suspect the New Democrats will take a hit in that province with Singh as leader (but I also expect they’d take a hit there with Angus or Ashton or Caron as leader, too), but Singh’s ability to connect with people can’t be overlooked.  He’s the only one that can out-selfie Justin Trudeau.

But that’s not the only reason that New Democrats ought to select Singh over Angus.  Angus has, quite frankly, just been too wishy-washy on a number of issues of growing importance to New Democrats – specifically on climate change and pipelines.  Don’t misunderstand me – I like Angus’ carbon budget – but it’s just not a winning policy when Angus is caught leaving the door open to pipelines (in a way that Singh has refused to do).  That might play well in Alberta – but it’s a problem in Quebec, and more importantly, in B.C.  And B.C. is ground zero for the NDP in 2018 – the lower mainland will be one of several primary battlefields where the NDP has a real chance to knock off some incumbent Liberals.

Why I Prefer Angus

So, as a Green, I’m rooting for Angus – because I believe that Angus will be the best choice the NDP can make (besides maybe Caron, which isn’t going to happen) for the Green Party to really grow our support. Angry Angus from mine-living Northern Ontario who won’t say no to pipelines will play well for Greens in B.C.

And it’s why a Jagmeet Singh-led NDP scares me, as a Green.  Remember: in 2014, Greens went into the election targeting maybe 20 ridings across the nation.  Just about all of them were on Vancouver Island or in the lower mainland.  And we got our hats handed to us –not by Justin Trudeau, but by the NDP.  When the Liberals were steamrolling New Democrats east of the Rockies, the NDP made gains in B.C. – in those very ridings that Greens thought we could figure out a way to win in.  And that was under a cautious, uninspiring Tom Mulcair.  What chance are we going to have in B.C. with Singh leading the New Democrats?

And that’s why the NDP’s leadership contest might be a bit of an existential question for Greens.  If the NDP has some (mostly) really good and progressive policy, why should we continue to fight them? I mean, ok, maybe the NDP has to do a bit of a reckoning with carbon pricing – but perhaps Singh could see the wisdom on revenue neutrality (especially if he continues to question universality of old age security).

The NDP: a New Green Party

What I saw during the leadership campaign were a group of people more than willing to turn their Party into a Green Party.  Maybe not exactly what the Green Party of Canada is today – but certainly something very recognizable to Greens.  And I think it would be incumbent on the part of we Greens to figure out whether we should be continuing to put our efforts into opposing the NDP – and ask ourselves if our time and resources might be better spent doing something different.

Since the massive disappointment of the 2015 election, I’ve stayed with the Green Party out of optimism that when Canada’s electoral system was changed, Greens might be able to figure out a way to have more influence – not to punch above our weight class, but instead to have influence equal to the will of the electorate – something Greens and Green supporters have been denied for too long, thanks to First Past the Post.  So the only saving grace coming out of 2015 was Trudeau’s promise to reform the electoral system.

Tough Conversations Ahead

With electoral reform off the table, where does that leave the Green Party?  Especially in the face of the NDP becoming a green party, likely led by a dynamic and likable leader who connects with voters, who surrounds himself with a strong team of former leadership candidates and a few others.  While I still don’t think that the NDP is going to be able to topple Trudeau from power in 2019, I see gains (and yes, likely some offsetting losses in Quebec – but enough gains to make the NDP more than viable come 2023.  And I see yet more nothing for a Green Party that has almost completely disappeared from the public consciousness outside of British Columbia.

I hope that my fellow Greens are following the NDP leadership contest as closely as I have been.  I think it’s time that we all had a bit of a discussion about our collective future.  We may not have seen a Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbynn emerge from the ranks of the NDP - but maybe we will see a Jason Kenney - someone who has the ability to make a case to his own Party that it's time to extend a hand of friendship, welcome and - dare I say it - love - to political rivals who perhaps shouldn't be.

And I suppose that’s yet another reason why I’ve been putting off writing this blogpost – because thinking about change is scary. It’s draining.  You don’t know where things are going to end up, you lose control. Who wants that? 


But ultimately, the one constant in life is that change is inevitable.

And maybe change is just what Canada needs right now.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Promoting Bigotry, Racism and Misogyny in Greater Sudbury, Part 2: Time to Talk About Taxpayer-Subsidized Discrimination

Promoting Bigotry, Racism and Misogyny in Greater Sudbury, Part 1: The Ever-Changing Public Realm

Is there a place for the expression of bigotry, racism and misogyny in Greater Sudbury?

No. There isn’t.

Yes, we tolerate these hateful sentiments among us, because we understand that people have the right to express themselves, even when their expressions are hateful and hurtful. As long as what people are expressing doesn’t cross the line into hate speech, it’s something that we have to live with.

But giving those who promote racism, bigotry and misogyny a public podium to promote their hate-filled agendas is something that we really ought not to be doing – not if we truly believe that we should be aspiring to creating a culture of that champions diversity and inclusivity – and especially if we belong to an organization that has a mission statement that lays that all out.

Our media has long had to grapple with finding a balance between permitting people to say what they want to say, and restricting access to the public realm because sometimes what people want to say is hateful, hurtful and harmful.   I know that editors often think long and hard when they encounter a piece that comes close to the line – to print or not to print? What is in the public’s interest?  Generally speaking, our media has been reluctant to provide a public podium to those who engage in the most egregious forms of bigotry, racism and misogyny – even when a letter to the editor is clearly not “hate speech” as defined by the law, but rather just “full of hate”.

I characterize it this way: Believe what you want and say what you like. If you’re not engaging in hate speech, those are your rights under our Charter.  But don’t expect me to hand you a microphone. You are not entitled to that.

Municipalities throughout Canada have adopted various policies wherein they iterate a desire to deliver critical public services to community members in a manner that is free of discrimination and harassment.  The City of Greater Sudbury has a Diversity Policy wherein it is described that the City values diversity, equality and inclusion.  Barriers, unintended or systemic, that prevent participation in municipal activities, need to be addressed.  It’s a pretty good policy. I think that municipal leaders need to dust it off and start taking it seriously.

The times are clearly changing. We don’t live in a static world.  Instances of bigotry, racism, intolerance and misogyny are entering the public realm like never before.  Even before Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville this summer, instances of hate – especially hatred directed towards Muslims – were becoming more common (see: “Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada up 60%, StatsCan reports,” CBC News, June 13, 2017).  In large part, blame is being laid on the doorstep of right-wing political ideologies that have mainstreamed bigotry and hate.

Here in Ontario, other cities, like Kingston and London are leading the way to ensure that their public spaces are free of discrimination and harassment.  In Kingston, in response to a hate-filled video posted on social media, the city is launching an anti-discrimination and anti-racism campaign.  Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson writes, “I want to state emphatically that hatred, discrimination and insults based on a person’s race are absolutely unacceptable in our city. Eliminating racism is a community wide effort and will take all of us working together.” (see: “Taking a Stand against Racism in our Community,” Bryan Paterson, August 10, 2017).

In London, in response to a rally organized by the racist group Patriots of Canada Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), City Council under the leadership of Mayor Matt Brown adopted a motion of Council, “That civic administration be directed to prepare the necessary formal council policy to confirm the prohibition of activities of organizations whose ideologies is contrary to the City of London are not permitted in civic spaces, and/or facilities and spaces.”  The motion hasn’t been without controversy – but the City of London is under no legal obligation to hand out what amounts to a microphone to those promoting racism, bigotry and misogyny (See: “Policy advocate criticizing London council’s emergency motion as an “attack on free speech,” Global News, August 23, 2017).

Greater Sudbury Councillor Gerry Montpellier and others with Sudbury SOO Chapter members, August 2017 (Facebook)

And in Greater Sudbury, we have a member of our municipal Council posing for photographs with members of the anti-Muslim Soldiers of Odin (SOO) wearing their regalia.  Unlike Greater Sudbury Police Services Chief Paul Pedersen, who also posed for a photo with the SOO, Councillor Gerry Montpellier hasn’t (to my knowledge) publicly disavowed the photo or the Soldiers of Odin.  It’s not like he wasn’t given the chance – when contacted by local media, Montpellier appeared to laugh it all off, stating “I just don't know what to say because it's kind of a funny thing. … What do I say? … We pick up needles. We help seniors. We'll run the soup kitchen. We'll hand out hamburgers. Well, of course I want your help.” (see: “Sudbury police chief apologizes for photo with Soldiers of Odin,” CBC News, August 24, 2017).

Councillor Montpellier’s actions and subsequent pseudo-endorsement of the SOO hasn’t sat right with many in the community, including me.  But what’s clear to me – and perhaps less so to others in our community – is that our City just isn’t taking the presence of extremist groups in our community particularly seriously.

Since the late-August media blitz about the SOO in Greater Sudbury, a number of things have come to light.  SOO members have publicly indicated that they have been volunteering at the Blue Door Soup Kitchen.  On the surface, that certainly seems like a worthy thing to do.  But right-wing extremist groups are known to target the most vulnerable in our communities as a way of recruiting new members, while donning a veneer of public acceptance of their presence.  Whereas many other organizations around the City do good deeds without trumpeting their actions on social and mainstream media, it works to the SOO’s advantage to be associated with good public works – it helps mainstream their organization.

Of course, so does writing blogposts like this.  Keep in mind Oscar Wilde’s famous words about PR: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”  But sometimes, we just have no choice – we’ve got to talk about these things, because the presence of groups that are founded on the principles of hatred just cannot be tolerated in our communities.   There is no place for them here.

I’m not going to get into all of the specifics about what SOO chapters across Canada have been up to. Others have been documenting the SOO for longer than I’ve been aware of their existence.  If you want to know more, here’s a good place to start – and you can read some other articles at Vice too (see: “Tracking the far-right,” Vice News Canada, February 2, 2017).  And yes, I understand that the Sudbury Chapter of the SOO takes a very typical Sudbury approach by claiming it’s different, and that the SOO has changed, and that they didn’t change their name because people had spent a lot of money on patches and stuff.  I’ve had the misfortune of interacting with a number of Sudbury SOO members on social media, and I know these people are not nice.  They use falsehoods to smear their critics, they lace their diatribes with misogynistic language and profanities, and they engage in the tactics of intimidation. Those are hardly the sorts of things that a harmless civic-minded support organization would do.

Earlier this summer, I sent a letter to Chantal Mathieu, Director of Environmental Services for the City of Greater Sudbury, alerting her to some of my concerns about SOO members using the City’s public spaces as part of their PR campaign to mainstream their organization (see: “Open Letter to the City of Greater Sudbury Regarding Anti-Muslim Soldiers of Odin in Our Community,” Sudbury Steve May, July 19, 2017).  I’ve followed up with Chantal Mathieu twice since July, looking for a response from her to the concerns that I initially raised.  I copied my local member of Council.

I haven’t received any response from the City on this at all.  Nothing.  Crickets.  Not even an email acknowledging receipt of my email.

As a member of the Green Party in Sudbury and Nickel Belt, I understand that the City has a policy in place which restricts the use of municipal facilities by political parties, based on the understanding that taxpayers’ money should not be going towards helping out partisan political organizations.  I fully support this policy.  It’s absolutely fair for the City to restrict the use of its taxpayer-supported facilities to some groups.  Again, the City does not have any responsibility to hand the Green Party, or any other political party or candidate, a microphone.  And I’m pretty sure that Conservatives, New Democrats, Liberals, Communists and others who pay taxes in this City are pleased to know that their tax dollars aren’t supporting the Green Party’s vegan pot-lucks.

I think it’s time that the City of Greater Sudbury follow the lead of the City of London, and expand these taxpayers protections to include other organizations. The City of Toronto took a little flack lately when it was revealed that former members of the odious, racist Heritage Front had booked a room in a library for a wake for a dead lawyer who did “some good work” for neo-Nazis (see: “Memorial for lawyer who represented holocaust deniers creates controversy for Toronto Public Library,” CBC News, July 12, 2017).  Clearly, the time for a conversation about this is Right Now.
And yes, I understand that a municipal park isn’t a library meeting room – but it’s still a restricted municipal facility that’s maintained by the City.  It is a public facility, and the City has the ability to restrict the use of parks through by-law. And it does. There are restrictions on timing, restrictions on open fires, even restrictions on smoking. The goal is to make the public facility a safe place for all users, and to limit liability to the City. The safety of users must be paramount.

Allowing the public to be exposed to messages of hate at a City-run facility decreases safety for all users.

Based on London’s experience, the conversation is going to be an uncomfortable one – when what are perceived by some to be seen as competing sets of rights going to head-to-head, it can certainly make some people nervous – me included.  But this isn’t about competing rights. No one in the City of London or elsewhere is suggesting that people shouldn’t be able to engage in hateful speech if they want – they’re only saying that perhaps its time we got serious about our municipal values of diversity and tolerance, and stop offering our taxpayer-funded municipal facilities to organizations that are promoting bigotry, racism and misogyny.

Public tax money pays for the maintenance of our municipal facilities, including parks.  Public tax money goes into municipal service delivery.  Our City has partnerships with organizations and businesses that deliver services.  What the SOO’s coming out party this past summer has shown me is that it’s now past time for the City of Greater Sudbury to get serious about Diversity and Inclusivity and the use of taxpayer funding to hand hate groups a microphone for their recruitment efforts.
If you agree with me, please let your Council member know.  It’s very important that we start this conversation in our community, because the SOO are here and unless we, as a community tell them emphatically that their presence here is not welcome, they’ll remain here.  Our City can’t be tacitly supporting the SOO through any means – and most especially by allowing the SOO to use taxpayer-funded municipal facilities and services to promote their anti-Muslim organization.

Is there a place for the expression of bigotry, racism and misogyny in Greater Sudbury?

No. None. Never.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Promoting Bigotry, Racism and Misogyny in Greater Sudbury, Part 1: The Ever-Changing Public Realm

Is there a place for the expression of bigotry, racism and misogyny in Greater Sudbury?

The answer, of course, is clearly, “Yes” – there is plenty of space, on the sidewalks, in our restaurants and bars, and especially on local social media sites.  I see and hear these expressions of bigotry, racism and misogyny every day.  While I like to think that maybe I could be that guy that challenges those who express these views with facts and information in an attempt to get people to change their minds, or at least to stop saying and doing things that promote racism and misogyny, I know that I lack both the courage and the energy.  There’s just so much of it happening in my community, it’s almost as if bigotry, racism and misogyny were institutionalized (can someone write with tongue and cheek? ‘Cuz I think I just did).

This isn’t to suggest that my community is somehow uniquely blighted by bigotry, racism and misogyny. I don’t believe it is. Sudbury isn’t unique in this respect by any means.  Perhaps we’ve been seeing a little more intolerance bubble to the surface as the result of the shameful identity politics Canada’s right-wing politicos have been playing lately, along with the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency.  And of course, the coming out party that our local media uncritically threw for the Soldiers of Odin recently has had a little something to do with allowing some to feel free to express themselves in ways that others would condemn as bigoted, racist and misogynistic.
Hey, it’s all a part of free speech, right? If I don’t like it, I can just close my eyes and ears or block people from my social media feeds and go on about my day. Because ultimately, people’s ability to utter racist and misogynistic comments online and in the real world trumps my desire not to see and hear them or, more correctly, not to have had them said and written in the first place – because ideally, I’d really like my kids to grow up in an environment where people really aren’t bigoted, racist or misogynistic, rather than just pretending not to be.  But I have my doubts that’s going to happen.

So there you go – not only is there a place for bigotry, racism and misogyny in Greater Sudbury, it’s one that I – a keen supporter of free speech and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms – should embrace.  Well, I guess this is going to prove to be a short blogpost after all.  I’ll just have to live with it.  Just like society learned to live with slavery.  Just like we learned to live with denying women the right to vote.  Just like we learned to live with pretending that one’s sexual orientation made some people sub-humans.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with any of that because, you know, free speech.

Ah, but it’s not my responsibility to police these sorts of things, right?  We’ve got hate speech laws in place that are policed by the police.  When someone steps out of line and incites violence against an identifiable group of people based on their gender, sexual orientation, skin colour, religious or cultural practices, well, the Law will do its job and protect us, ‘cuz hate speech isn’t free speech.  The Law is always courageous and efficient, after all – why should I worry?  It’s not my responsibility to clean up this town, to keep our public spaces free from abuse so that all users can feel safe when accessing municipal facilities, whether in the real world or online.

No, it’s not my responsibility. But it surely is the City of Greater Sudbury’s responsibility to provide services to the public which are free from discrimination and harassment.  The City has a number of policies about this – so although it’s quite easy to find expressions of bigotry, misogyny and outright racism throughout the community, you’re not going to find them at City Hall – or at any of a number of public facilities under the City’s administration, like arenas, libraries, community centres, fire halls, etc.  You can expect that when you interact with representatives of the City that you will not encounter any form of discrimination.  Our City, in my opinion, does an excellent job of ensuring that public services are delivered in a way free of discrimination, and that public facilities are accessible to all in a manner free of prejudice and harassment.

It’s 2017.  Do we expect anything less than that?

Of course, public services weren’t always delivered this way.  One of the best known of many examples of the delivery of discriminatory public services took place in Toronto in the 1920s, where Sunnyside pool, a public facility, limited the number of people of Jewish origin who could swim in the pool at the same time (see: “5 things you probably didn’t know about Toronto,” Alan Parker, Toronto Sun, July 19, 2009).  But sure, that was almost 100 years ago.  Times have changed. Sure, people hated Jews back then and maybe the haters had the upper hand.  But there’s been a slow evolution away from discrimination and towards inclusivity, and today there are still people who hate Jews, but they don’t get to dictate public policy.  Just look at where we are now.

Just look at where we are now.  Undeniably, things are a lot better than they were in the 1920s.  But it’s not like we’ve yet arrived at some sort of discrimination-free public realm nirvana.  We’ve still got a long way to go to overcome a lot of forms of discrimination in the public realm – including in our municipal facilities.  Recently, the City of Victoria, B.C., grappled with deciding whether or not to move forward with creating a transinclusion policy for the City, to protect the rights of transgendered and gender non-conforming individuals (see: “Media: Victoria votes to create first trans inclusion policy,” June 6, 2016).

Hmmm…is it right for me to compare the rights of Jewish people to the rights of transgendered people?  Haven’t those transgendered folk been in the news a lot lately, running around, stirring up hate, promoting a gay agenda?  And if not in the news, haven’t you seen a lot of posts on your friends’ Facebook wall about bathrooms and trans people?  I mean, you’re not a bigot, and you probably have some gay friends – but those memes about trans people in our bathrooms are kind of scary, right?  It’s not really discriminatory to believe that we should all use the bathroom based on the equipment that we were born with, right?  That’s not like discriminating against Jewish people, by telling them they can’t go for a swim, right? (or discriminating against Muslim women, telling them they can’t go for a swim, right? See: “Muslim Woman Denied Access to Public Pool Due to Attire,” 40AthleticBusinesses, October 2014).

The answer to the question of whether it’s right to compare the battles fought by Jewish people throughout the last century to achieve equal rights and the battles being fought by transgendered people today – the answer to that question can be answered by another question: Are Jewish people and transgendered people people?  If you believe that they are people, the question is answered in the affirmative.

And that’s good news, because Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects groups of people from experiencing discrimination on a number of grounds, including their religious beliefs, their skin colour, their gender, their sexual orientation, etc. If you’re people, you’re protected. That’s why they call them “human rights”.  The law, of course, is there to protect us all from discrimination.

A city, like Greater Sudbury, is a municipal corporation.  If it didn’t uphold our laws when delivering services, it could quickly find itself in all sorts of trouble, to varying degrees.  In Ontario, the City of Cornwall is currently being challenged for a policy in that municipality which at least one person believes to be discriminatory – and yes, it has to do with swimming pools.   Now some might think that the woman who is taking the City of Cornwall to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal over a policy which the Mayor of Cornwall has called “discriminatory and gender-based” that prevents her from swimming topless in municipal pools might be akin to what some call a First World problem (see: “Cornwall, Ont., reviewing topless policy complaint,” CBC News, July 11, 2017).  But I’m not one of them.  Discrimination is discrimination – and a municipality has a legal obligation not to discriminate when it comes to public service delivery.

And clearly, combatting discrimination continues to be a moving target.  Again, we’ve not yet arrived in a discrimination-free nirvana – not when it comes to our public spaces and facilities.

Which brings us back to the question that I kicked this blogpost off with: Is there a place for the expression of bigotry, racism and misogyny in Greater Sudbury?  In Part 2 of this series, despite having answered “yes” at the outset of this blogpost, I’ll offer my opinion on why a City like ours and our elected and public officials need to get their collective acts together to combat bigotry, racism and misogyny in our public realm.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hurricane Harvey A Poignant Reminder for Why We Must Decarbonize Economy

The loss of life and property damage from Hurricane Harvey has been a very real human tragedy for those living along the U.S. Gulf Coast.  For the rest of us, the impacts from Harvey have largely been felt at the gas pumps.  With Harvey shutting down almost a quarter of U.S. oil refining capacity and several critical transport pipelines, filling up our cars has suddenly become more expensive.  Here in Sudbury, over 2,500 kilometres from Houston, the price of gasoline has spiked by about 10 cents a litre in just a week and a half (see: “Hurricane Harvey: US petrol prices rise as key pipeline shut,” BBC News, August 31, 2017).

We understand how supply and demand works. What we sometimes forget is that globally our governments are using our taxes to subsidize the fossil fuel sector to the tune of $325 billion annually (see: “World Energy Outlook 2016,” International Energy Agency, November 30, 2016). Further, the price consumers pay at the pump for gasoline does not cover the true costs of carbon pollution – costs like those accumulating thanks to a weather system super-charged by the addition of fossil heat to our atmosphere (see: “With “True Cost” Of Emissions Factored In, Gasoline Would Cost $3.80/Gallon MORE Than The Pump Price,” James Ayre, CleanTechnica, March 8, 2015).  Our broken marketplace is contributing to the climate crisis.

We can’t stop the planet from warming, given all of the carbon pollution that we’ve already put into the atmosphere (see: “Ex-NASA Scientist James Hansen: There is a Clear Link Between Climate Change & Stronger Hurricanes,” Democracy Now! August 30, 2017).  But we can try to slow things down by holding global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius.  That’s what the signatories to the Paris Accord resolved to do – although international commitments made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions still have the world tracking for up to 4 degrees of warming by the end of this century (see: “Earth Almost Certain to Warm by 2 Degrees Celsius,” Scientific American, August 1, 2017). The world our children and grandchildren inherit from us will be one unrecognizable to us.

We know what we have to do to minimize the negative impacts of a warming planet: stop burning fossil fuels.  However, the political will to take aggressive actions to decarbonize our economy is clearly missing.  In Canada, our federal and provincial governments pay lip service to the climate crisis while continuing to champion new fossil fuel infrastructure, like pipelines for expanded tar sands production.  Earlier this year, our own Prime Minister told a group of Texas Oilmen, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” (see: “'No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them': Justin Trudeau gets a standing ovation at an energy conference in Texas,” Jeremy Berke, Business Insider, March 10, 2017)  And yet leaving fossil fuels in the ground is what we know we will have to do if we are going to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change – and ultimately save the Texas Gulf Coast from being permanently wiped off the map.

In 2015, scientists, faith leaders, indigenous rights advocates, and social justice and labour movement leaders came together to create the Leap Manifesto – a document that provides a clear and equitable roadmap for societies to confront the climate crisis in a way that reduces wealth inequality, bolsters democratic institutions and ultimately has a positive impact on global economies (see: “The Leap Manifesto,” LeapManifesto.org, 2015).  Ending fossil fuel subsidies and putting a progressive price on carbon pollution are market-based tools recommended by Leap to help aggressively decarbonize the economy.

Economists have long seen the value of ending fossil fuel subsidies and pricing pollution to create a more level marketplace for renewable energy and conservation initiatives (see: “Poor Vic Fedeli,” Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, January 4, 2017).  Prices have to be high enough to shift consumer choices away from fossil energy.  The public, however, won’t buy into any scheme where all they see are rising prices and no relief (see: “The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has its Head in the Sand,” Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, December 26, 2016).  That’s why carbon pricing initiatives like Ontario’s Cap and Trade program are doomed to fail.  To offset rising prices, revenues collected from fossil energy sales must be returned directly to consumers through a fee and dividend approach to carbon pricing (see:“What Glenn Might Be Saying if He Understood,” Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, December 3, 2016).

Hurricane Harvey provides us with a poignant reminder of why we need to quickly decarbonize our economy – and shows us how we can use the marketplace to accomplish that very task.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

An edited version of this post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as ""May: 'Harvey' reminds us why we must decarbonize," online and in print, September 2, 2017 - without hyperlinks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

4-Laning MR 35 and the Multi-Million Dollar Costs of Convenience, Part 2


In Part I of this series, I questioned some of the reasons that Greater Sudburians are being told by elected officials and others that we must 4-lane MR 35 between Azilda and Chelmsford, at an estimated cost of $38 million. I identified that, despite being told that 4-laning is needed for safety, 4-laning MR 35 will make the road less safe.  I provided rationale in support of the notion that bigger, wider roads with faster moving traffic are less safe environments for all road users (unless physical barriers to divide traffic moving in opposite directions are present – and that's not contemplated for MR 35).

I also questioned the need for this road, in light of the data available from the City and the Ontario Ministry of Finance which shows only very modest population growth in Greater Sudbury over the next decade to decade-and-a-half. The Hemson Study of 2013, commissioned by the City, shows growth of just 10,500 people expected by 2031. Out to 2041, the Ontario Ministry of Finance projects just an additional 4,500 people. I indicated that, according to the City's own numbers from the Transportation Master Plan of 2015, used for the Orwellian-named “Sustainability Focused Alternative”, which will see major new roads (Maley Drive; the Montrose extension between Notre Dame and Lasalle through the Ponderosa wetland with a connection to Attlee) along with the widening of existing roads (4-laning MR 35; 6-laning MR 80 to the Valley), our massive road-building scheme is expected to lead to shifts in population between the former City of Sudbury and the outlying areas. I provided an analysis with regards to why this shift is not in the City's economic interests.

In Part 2 of this series, I'll be taking a very close look at what the City's Transportation Master Plan really has to say about 4-laning MR 35 and the 'Sustainability Focused' roads-building alternative, in support of my hypothesis that 4-laning is not needed, will not make the road safer, and will ultimately work against the sustainable, long-term economic interests of our City.

Greater Sudbury Transportation Master Plan

First, a few words about the Transportation Master Plan (TMP). Work began on this plan in 2012, and it was ultimately adopted by Council in 2016. It had been the subject of considerable public consultation – a lot of which was generally ignored by the City. Some of the bigger issues brought to the attention of the City by the public prior to adoption of the Plan included: the desire of residents to meander Montrose south of Maley Drive so as not to create a Southview Drive-like through street (partially addressed by the City prior to adoption); reliance on more up-to-date data (not addressed; the 2016 TMP continues to rely on data that informed the 2005 Transportation Study Report – the issue with stale data is that it may no longer be relevant, and should be used cautiously when projecting trends out to 2041); the need to include a Transportation Demand Management paradigm that would look at programs to offset peak-hour traffic flows (not addressed in the TMP, although there is a commitment in the plan to do a separate TDM plan); the incorporation of transit into the TMP (again, not addressed in the TMP, but there is a call for a separate transit plan); the need for a Complete Streets strategy (partially addressed through policy, however constructing truly 'complete streets' will remain difficult in an environment that is likely to be even more auto-focused than it is today, thanks to a massive street building initiative); and the need for cycling and pedestrian transportation routes to be identified and, in many cases, created (somewhat addressed in the TMP – although many of the routes identified are not the ones the public was advocating for; the timeframes for construction are lengthy; and there is no desire to create a 'minimum grid' – something that the City heard a lot about from cycling advocates).

The TMP is a vast and comprehensive document that looks at a number of different engineering standards for roads and intersections. It also includes baseline traffic data (presumably a 'snap shot' of the situation on the ground today – but really not quite that, as data from 2005 was used, massaged somewhat by updates). For the purpose of this discussion related to the widening of MR 35, I will take a look at the baseline assessment, followed by a look at data from the TMP regarding expected road use under various conditions.

TMP: Three Alternatives for Development

The TMP offers three different scenarios for road development. They are the “Do Nothing” alternative in which no investments at all are made in transportation routes of any sort, and traffic just continues along its merry way as today; the “Auto Focused” alternative, which envisions the implementation of a massive new road building and widening scheme; and the “Sustainability-Focused” alternative, which envisions a massive new road building and widening scheme only somewhat less in scale than the Auto-Focused alternative. Seeking to find an apparent middle-ground between doing nothing and all-roads all-the-time, the Sustainability Focused alternative was selected by the City as the one to pursue. The projects that it identifies are largely in keeping with those identified in the 2005 Transportation Study Report, with a few exceptions (notably, the Barrydowne Extension is not included in the 2016 TMP – although the TMP does call for the 6-laning of MR 80 from Lasalle to and through Val Caron).

MR 35 - Primary Arterial

The TMP identifies MR 35 as a primary arterial, and notes that it is 4-lanes from the Elm Street/Big Nickel Road junction heading northwest to Azilda. At Azilda, the TMP refers to a 'pinch point', where MR 35 drops down to 2-lanes. Between this point and Chelmsford, MR 35 is 2-lanes – almost until it runs into Provincial Highway 144 – a road that the City of Greater Sudbury has no jurisdiction over.

Primary Arterials are described in the TMP as roads that connect communities (like Chelmsford, Azilda and Sudbury), with right-of-way widths in rural areas (such as between Chelmsford and Azilda) being between 45 and 90 metres – quite a range. Daily traffic volumes also have a large range – between 10,000 and 50,000 vehicles a day are expected to use a primary arterial.


Figure 1 - From TMP Table 3 - Primary Arterials
Peak Flow

Table 4 from the TMP provides information about existing traffic volumes in the City during the peak PM period – the time of day that traffic engineers like to design all roads for, given that it's the time of day when maximum use usually occurs. Keep this in mind as the discussion continues – the assumption here is that it makes any sense at all to build roads to meet the needs of a peak travel period, which usually lasts about an hour – while leaving the roads 'underutilized' for the remaining 23 hours. Putting aside whether that's a sensible assumption on which to build – and pay for – roads, let's take a look at some of the other caveats the City builds into its numbers – numbers that it uses in the Alternatives to determine traffic flow out to 2031 (the assumptions do not change).

Baseline Data

First, as mentioned, the starting point is data from the existing 2005 Transportation Study Report. Already, what we're seeing emerge isn't a 'snap shot', but some sort of data-massaged amalgam. That's not necessarily a negative, but it does raise some flags – it's clearly not a count of traffic as it existed in 2011 – or in 2016 for that matter.

The TMP also assumes an auto-occupancy rate of just 1.178 people for vehicle. That means that for every 5 single-occupancy vehicles on the road, there is just one 2-occupant vehicle. Well, no – it doesn't mean that – as there will also be multi-occupant vehicles, but generally speaking, the ratio of single-occupancy vehicles to multi-occupancy vehicles will be no larger than 5:1.

Is this 5:1 starting point a realistic portrayal of vehicle occupants during peak PM times in 2016? Let's assume that it is. But let's ask ourselves whether assuming that the same rate of single-occupancy vehicles in 2031 based on today's rates makes any sense – especially when evidence points to an aging population in the City (seniors drive less – especially at peak periods) impacted by macro-level trends towards fewer vehicles in private ownership, higher gasoline prices and vehicle maintenance costs, along with shifts to other modes of transportation by current users. It also leaves out any incentives that the City might offer in terms of car-pooling and initiatives to encourage multi-modal transportation.

With these assumptions and others, the 2016 TMP projected that total trips increased by 20% of between 2005 and 2011 (see purple-underlined text in yellow box, Figure 2). What could have accounted for this (fairly substantial) increase? Certainly, an expanding population could. Did that happen between 2005 and 2011? 

Well, in 2006, the population of Greater Sudbury was 157,857. By 2011, population had climbed to 160,274 - or an increase of a about 1.5% (see: "City of Greater Sudbury," Wikipedia). So clearly this increase wasn't due to population growth. So what else could it be?

Perhaps the same number of people are driving more cars. I mean, it would have to be a lot more cars – but realistically, it might be happening, as our population continues to shift out of the former City of Sudbury (which is more walkable, cyclable and transit-supportive) to the outlying areas (which are less walkable, less cyclable and less transit friendly). Still, it seems a stretch – but we're going to have to go with it for now.


Figure 2 - From TMP, Table 4: Existing Traffic Volumes, Peak Period

A couple of things to keep in mind about Table 4 (Figure 2), which includes existing traffic volumes. Let's keep our eyes on a few numbers, going forward. First, the Sudbury to Sudbury trips – 14,551, outlined in green – represents the number of trips made just within the former City of Sudbury. Let's see what happens to that number as we run it through the TMP's Do-Nothing and Sustainability-Focused alternatives. Let's also keep an eye on the Rayside-Balfour (1,196) and Onaping Falls (315) trips (outlined in red – totaling 1,511).


Figure 3 - From TMP, Table 5, Levels of Service
Level of Service

Level of Service Designations – these colour-coded designations are used to draw attention to how well roads are operating with regards to their function and design capacity. Green roads are operating at a range well below capacity, and therefore there is no reason to worry about them; yellow roads are the ones our traffic engineers want us to keep an eye on, because they are starting to experience congestion issues at peak times. And those red roads? They're approaching capacity, or are above capacity at peak times. That means congestion - and now we're talking about additional time spent by motorists in traffic, due to high volumes on roads not designed to allow free-flowing traffic at those volumes.

Of course, there are a number of assumptions made here. Why are “green” roads best from a traffic engineering point of view? It's because they have a lower volume to capacity ratio, and are more likely to operate in a way that maximizes flow. Picture suburban roads with only a few houses on them. Alternatively, picture wide-open rural roads with few cars on them. Either way, you're picturing a lot of nothing except for roads that are over-designed to meet their needs. At the peak PM hour.

The Yellow and Red roads are having some difficulty keeping traffic flowing freely at the peak PM hour. At other times of day, the volume to capacity ratio isn't as bad, and sometimes you'll find these roads largely empty as well. But since traffic engineers are designing for the peak PM period, the size of road needed to accommodate free-flowing traffic for that hour is what engineers are striving to create.

And does that even make any sense? From one point of view, it sure does: Convenience for motorists. I mean, I drive a car – you probably do too. We all know it's lovely to drive as quickly as we would like at any time of day. But there is a cost to pay for this convenience – a literal cost, because bigger, faster roads come with higher price tags (to build them and to maintain them) and they come with higher social costs that take on many forms.

But it's clear what the traffic engineers want the public to think when they see those coloured roads on the map that show levels of service. Take a look at the TMP's existing conditions map – oh boy, all of those red roads – red is bad, right? And green is good. I think that the traffic engineers have their minds made up about this – and they want to make your minds up about this too.


Figure 4 - From TMP, Existing Conditions

MR 35 - Looking at Alternative Futures

Anyway, putting aside whether Levels of Service actually make any sense from any point of view other than to promote convenience for motorists, let's take a close look at MR 35 (circled in pink – the road actually has different colours, depending on the section). The section between Big Nickel Road and the Lasalle Extension is a red road, while the segment between the Lasalle Extension and the 2-lane pinch-point in Azilda is a yellow road. Between Azilda and Highway 144 in Chelmsford, MR 35 is a red road. The story that we're being told is that the entirety of this road is either already at or close to its volume to capacity ratio.

That's where things are at today. What can we expect to happen when we 4-lane MR 35?

Well, before we go there, let's take a look at what we could expect to happen to a few things related to MR 35 if we 'Do Nothing' between now and 2031.


Figure 5 - From TMP, Table 31, 'Do Nothing' Traffic Volumes

Let's start by taking a look at traffic volumes. Looks like if we do nothing for the next 15 years, peak PM traffic trips within the former City of Sudbury will increase – up from 14,551 to 16,279. That suggests that if we do nothing, there will be more trips made just within the former City – a part of the City that is more walkable, cyclable and transit-supportive than any other part. It also seems to suggest that the trend identified earlier of people moving to the more expensive-to-service outlying areas might be reversed if we 'do nothing'. If this is the case, we should expect to see a corresponding reduction in trips from the outlying areas into Sudbury – even taking into consideration modest population growth. And what do we see? Well, take a look at Rayside Balfour PM outflow for the 'Do Nothing' in comparison to the baseline. In the Do Nothing scenario, the number of trips have fallen to 1,017. That's quite a few less than the 1,196 fewer trips that are taking place today, or a reduction of over 17% (see Figure 2, above).


Figure 6 - From TMP, Rayside Balfour PM Outflow, Do Nothing Alternative

What do the traffic engineers have to say about this? Well, the TMP includes this interesting little tidbit, which does not appear to be supported by the data. The TMP suggests that in the Do Nothing alternative, the volume change of northwestbound (peak PM) traffic between the Lasalle Extension and Chelmsford will be 'negligible'. And that's an interesting choice of words to describe an anticipated 17% reduction of trips between Sudbury and Rayside Balfour.  When you throw Onaping Falls into the mix, it's a reduction of 450 combined trips – or about 30% of all northwestbound trips. I'm sorry, but I don't think that 30% is a 'negligible' amount. It's actually quite considerable. And we can see that by comparing travel to other outlying areas in the Do-Nothing alternative vs. the existing baseline, that there is a similar curtailment in the actual anticipated number of trips.

Do Nothing = Less Spending, Fewer Cars

So what's going on here? Could it be that the engineers are using terminology that suggests one thing, while providing data that suggests something else? Is a 17-30% reduction in trips really 'negligible', or do we have to pretend that it doesn't mean anything much as compared to today, because the Do Nothing scenario isn't the one in the TMP that the traffic engineers wanted the City to support? I mean if we can reduce the number of inflowing and outflowing trips to and from outlying areas by doing nothing – and spending no money at all – while simultaneously increasing intra-Sudbury trips in an area of the City that is the least costly to service – also by spending no money at all – why on this Green Earth would we want to do that?


Figure 7 - From TMP, Volume to Capacity 'Do Nothing'

I'm not trying to be suspicious here, but it's hard not to wonder why the traffic engineers might not want to confirm the non-negligibility of the trip-reducing data in their Volume to Capacity plot for the Do Nothing scenario. Take a look at MR 35. It's operating in the red still between Chelmsford and Azilda – but now it's in the yellow all the way from Big Nickel Road to Azilda – and that includes a segment between Big Nickel and Lasalle that is currently operating in the red. Clearly, something is going on here in the Do Nothing. And that something is less traffic from the outlying areas is traveling to and from the former City of Sudbury.


Figure 8 - From TMP, Table 38, 'Sustainability Focused' Traffic Volumes

OK, so now let's see what happens when we decide that we're going to build a lot of new roads and expand existing roads in the so-called “Sustainability Focused” alternative. Trips within the former City of Sudbury are up a little bit – now at 15,108. Trips to Rayside-Balfour and Onaping Falls have gone down by a small amount, from a baseline of 1,511 to 1,442 in total. This is still 20% more trips than in the 'Do Nothing' scenario, according to the City (see red underlined text, in Figure 9, below).


Figure 9 - From TMP, Rayside Balfour PM Movement, Expected Results

What's truly weird about all of this is what happens next. By 4-laning MR 35, traffic engineers indicate that the road will still be operating at a red level of service for most of its length – all but a small section between Azilda and Chelmsford is now red between Big Nickel Road and Highway 144 in Chelmsford (see Figure 10). So we're 4-laning a road to provide for a higher volume of traffic that will put the road back to right where we started?


Figure 10 - From TMP, Volume to Capacity, 'Sustainability Focused'
Well, actually no, because there's one unintended consequence that no one is talking about: we've now shifted the approach to the section proposed to be widened (MR 35 east of Azilda) over capacity (see Figure 10 and the orange-underlined text in Figure 9, above). Remember? That section of road was operating at a yellow level of service. In this alternative, with a 4-laned segment between Azilda and Chelmsford, we're now going to have to look at traffic relief for another section of road – and for a slightly smaller number of trips overall (see pink-underlined text in Figure 9, above). Stop the insanity, right?

MR 35 - Induced Demand Leads to Higher Costs

No, actually it's not insane at all. It's part of that documented phenomenon that I wrote about in Part 1 of this series known as 'induced demand'. It's something we actually know a lot about. I understand that it may seem counter-intuitive, but the numbers in the City's TMP are pretty clear: if we don't do anything, we'll have less traffic traveling along MR 35 than if we build and expand all of the roads called for in the 'Sustainability Focused' alternative of the TMP. At significant cost, mind you (again - $38 million just to 4-lane the section of road between Azilda and Chelmsford – and doing work to expand the capacity of the existing portion of MR 35 between Azilda and the Lasalle Extension, something the data suggests we're going to need to do because of the expansion between Azilda and Chelmsford – that's an unknown and uncosted cost).

So what are we really getting with a 4-laned MR 35? It seems to me that we are simply digging ourselves into a deeper hole – spending $38 million of borrowed money to build a road that a) will be less safe than the existing road; b) operate at the same level of service of the existing segment of road; c) cause that segment of road between the Lasalle Extension and Azilda to actually operate at a reduced level of service; d) help perpetuate a built form that is reliant on the automobile, with all of the attendant costs of perpetuating that form of development. All so that motorists traveling between Chelmsford and Sudbury can shave a few minutes of driving time from their daily commute.

Can We Afford the Costs of Convenience?

Greater Sudburians, friends and neighbours – this is the cost of convenience. And let's be clear – we are talking about convenience for a small number of motorists. Not everyone in this City has access to a vehicle, and even for those that do, not everyone chooses to drive their vehicles during the peak PM period, adding to rush-hour (rush-40 minute?) congestion. Even putting all of that aside, the data is very clear: we are going to be 4-laning this road for just 1,442 trips. At 1.2 people per vehicle, that's for 1,730.4 people – a little less, in fact, because I rounded 1.178 up.

$38 million for 1,730 people to save a few minutes of travel time. Versus doing nothing, spending nothing, and adding a couple of extra minutes (maybe) to the travel time of 1,272 people (1,060 trips in the Do Nothing alternative, multiplied by 1.2 people per vehicle).

Are we getting value for 4-laning MR 35? If you, like me, agree that we are not, than you must be wondering why the City is moving ahead with this project. Could it be that the City has a lot of extra money lying around, just looking for something to spend it on? I suspect that's not the case. Given the other numerous fiscal constraints that the City is finding itself in (upwards of $100 million for a new community events centre on presently unserviced industrial land on the Kingsway – a project that is sure to impact peak traffic patterns in and around that location, by the way – and which has never been modeled by traffic engineers or included in the Transportation Master Plan), I think we all need to ask ourselves the next logical question:

Is 4-laning MR 35, along with the massive road-building ponzi scheme called for in the Transportation Master Plan's 'Sustainability-Focused' alternative, something that we can afford at a time when only modest growth is projected, and our population is aging?

I think we all know the answer to that question.  

Now, what are you and I going to do about it?

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)