Monday, November 14, 2011

Campaign notebook

Less than a week to go until Election Day in Victoria on Saturday, November 19th.  Spend much of my afternoons and early evenings knocking on doors and stretching the campaigning into the all-candidates events sprinkled around Victoria's neighbourhoods.  Last night it was Fairfield, tonight we head for the Burnside Gorge Community Centre and Tuesday we'll be over in Oaklands.

On the doorstep and at our "trade fair" tables (a much better approach than standing up to read from your campaign brochure for 2 minutes), I've spent time talking in depth with voters about key issues.  Here's more of what I am hearing and where I stand on some of those key issues.

The bridge debate has been raised again by our local tabloid, but there is really no news.  You'll have to go back into my older posts to get some details on the issues dealt with during the referendum campaign, but suffice to say that the project has been well informed by the advice of several teams of competent engineers, bound by professional codes of conduct and some with decades of direct experience with our bridge (a key point after some critics ignored the advice of one U.S. engineer whose experience they relied upon to promote a local fiction.  They conveniently neglected to mention his advice not to use his projects as models to inform our own bridge assessment, since he had found even similar designs to be unique for every structure and every location and that we would be best served by focusing on our own bridge).

All sorts of numbers have been picked out of emails or pulled out of thin air, but again, only the reports signed off by consulting engineers should inform the discussion, and care needs to be taken to understand where those figures fit into classification systems that provide various levels of confidence and cost certainty for any major engineering project.  Along with the detailed engineering analysis of some of the specific challenges of refurbishment, the costs and logistical issues pretty clearly pointed to the choice we made and the community endorsed in referendum, to go with a new bridge.

Discussion on seismic issues havebecome almost incoherent, with some scribes suggesting that we need to be more vigilant about adhering to the most rigourous building code standards for important infrastructure, however with the exception of the bridge, since that would conflict with the personal  agenda of the publisher.  Never mind that bridges and key transportation links are critical for the delivery of emergency services and essential to recovery efforts post disaster.  Never mind that bridges are consistently at the top of priority lists for seismic upgrading and protection across the world for the purposes of emergency planning.

Earlier today I heard "greenwashing" tagged on the bridge project, exposing again a deliberate lack of understanding of how transportation systems work and the critical relationships between supportive infrastructure and the attraction to cycling and walking, important strategies for shifting transportation choices to sustainable modes.

This just scratches the surface of the issue.  More detail, as noted, can still be found in the older posts on my blog.  Next steps on the bridge project start this week:

Rapid transit is also showing up on voters' radar.  Costly projects always do and need to be approached with caution.  LRT has been endorsed as the right solution by every level of government involved in the project and, while solid funding commitments have not yet been made, our provincial minister has said consistently that we need to plan for the long term and he's confident that we've made the right choice.  The federal minister has also indicated support for cities who want to invest in forward looking transit solutions to deal with transportation challenges and to help build more resilient local economies.  Going through the next steps of a thorough business case analysis will be essential, but I don't expect that study to derail the project.  Good work has been done to date and public consultation has been open and ongoing. 

Critics on one side are targetting the project on costs and numbers, but have very little of substance to offer.  It mostly boils down to fear of costs, (ignoring that business as usual will cost at least the same, if not more, and provide few solutions to our transportation challenges in the region.  Recent comments attack the "multiple account evaluation" used to assess environmental and social impacts alongside costs and economic issues, relying again on sources from the National Post (not known for progressive thinking) and the author whose broadcast comments included an admission that he knew nothing about Victoria's transportation system design or dynamics but who is also leading a campaign against rapid transit in Waterloo, where both federal and provincial analysts have found the project to be sufficiently sound to warrant several hundred millions in senior government investments.

I've seen some other chatter about the concerns expressed on the doorstep about LRT and the need therefore to step back from the project.  Certainly it is important to listen, but there is a also a responsibility to lead.  The steps necessary to confirm the business case are embedded in the project and any thoughtful analysis should provide sufficient endorsement of the project on environmental and economic grounds to warrant continued efforts to secure the federal and provincial funding necessary to get the project on track.

Off for more mainstreeting, doorknocking and another all candidates meeting.  Hope to be back on the blog soon with more to report.  There's so much more to talk about and so much more to do.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

There's more at the door

On the campaign trail the issues echo from door to door.

Many who are sympathetic to the premise of the "Occupy" message have lost patience with the occupiers and want to take the city's Centennial Square back from what most see now as a squat.  The square belongs to the rest of us too.

The toilets have been trashed; a tree squatter apparently threw a jar or jug of urine at a city worker and drug use and addiction issues have overtaken any semblance of protest.  "Occupiers" are asking the police to enforce the laws, but only those that deal with the people they don't like, forgetting that they too are running afoul of the law.

Impatience is bubbling over in the media and across the community.  The city's response has always been measured and respectful of the rights of free speech.  "Occupy", however, are clearly not the only inhabitants of the square, and no longer in control of what is happening there.  To be fair, it belongs to everyone, not just those who have laid claim and planted their flag.  The city now has to apply the laws as they stand, fairly and with equal application to all.  That is why the notice to vacate and the application for an injunction as been made.  It would be nice to have the legitimate protests find a better means of expression than an implied declaration of independence within the square where no laws with which the occupiers do not agree apply.

We have always made it clear that the square will be needed for community events and expect those with whom we have communicated understand and respect the rights of others.  Their choice now is to demonstrate that respect and can expect that the police and the courts will follow through with their respective authorities, to apply the laws that exist to ensure that the rights of broader public access to the public realm are supported in principle and in practice.

A few other issues are showing up at the doorstep, including a few comments on the bridge.  Most are supportive and understand that it is a significant and necessary project to ensure that we have a functional, safe and durable transportation system.  More still want it to be more supportive of alternatives like cycling and walking and can hardly wait for the new project to begin. 

Our work at council, and mine in particular, will be to watch both the budget and the details of planning and design that ensure a calm traffic environment and the preservation of much needed greenspace are incorporated into the project.  Both objectives have been a theme in Vic West where many residents feel a sense of ownership over the bridge and the approaches.  It is close to home for them, but the bridge will also need to serve the rest of the community and most pointedly the users of the bridge.  Many of them will be the growing numbers of people, who choose cycling or walking for transportation. 

Many concerns have been expressed about details of access and connectivity of cycling and walking facilities.  My attention on those issues has always been pointed and focused and, notwithstanding the skepticism of some commentators, the completion of a more expansive trail piece on the bridge, on-road bike lanes, and the added traffic that can be expected from the E&N trail can be expected to noticeably increase cycling and walking on the bridge.

A few comments have been levelled at the city's finances, which are easily available and truth be told in good shape.  Parks and recreation budgets are well funded and the evidence is clearly on the ground.  Check out Fisherman's Wharf Park, Cridge Park, a new tot lot in Burnside and a bike skills park alongside Cecilia Ravine to get a sense of what has so far been accomplished during our last term.  There are no disappearing budgets in community centres and the investments in Pandora are as likely to be recovered, and then some, by the associated lifts in property values and assessments that will come with the rescue of the green.

Safe routes to school is an issue in any neighbourhood with children and schools.  The ongoing investments in traffic calming and pedestrian safety is something I expect to carry beyond current successes and apply to underserved neighbourhoods.  Kids and families across the city need a safe and appealing environment to support walking and cycling to school.  I plan on working with interested residents to audit neighbourhoods and school communities to help shape ideas that can give somefocus and detail to our ongoing work on pedestrian and cycling plans unfolding across Victoria.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

On the doorsteps of democracy

Elections are won or lost on the doorsteps, both literally and figuratively.

Connecting with constituents in the comfort of their home, rather than downtown at city hall, is often the best way to spend time talking about issues and finding out what they like, or what irks them about how their city is governed (and the same holds true on provincial and federal issues).

I've been involved in dozens of elections, most often as an organizer or volunteer in support of other candidates, only more recently as one myself. I love the connection you can make with people on their doorstep, or at the grocery store, coffee shop, or community event.  There is so much more diversity to be found than clustering within one's own community of interest that, by design, is more exclusive and less broadly democratic than the deeper pool of citizenry that is at least eligible to cast a vote in our elections for various levels of government.

It's frustrating, of course, to watch as participation declines - only 27% voted in the last municipal election in Victoria; higher, but eroding, percentages vote provincially and federally.   At the municipal level, candidates need to reach out to a shade over 6,000 residents.  That’s a lot of doors to knock on.  I can assure you that  there are so many diverse issues that people want to discuss.  One issue that has been raised lately at the doorstep in this campaign is the “Occupy” movements in Victoria and around the world.  What started out with so much energy, vitality and community support has started to become a debate over tactics and the evolving nature of the occupations themselves.   Of course some people would never find common cause with the protest.  However, it is also fair to note that even among would-be supporters, there is concern over the movement’s strategy and tactics.

The grievances are real and legitimate and the right of protest fundamental.  Unfortunately, for many, this has become a different debate – not about the “occupy” movement so much as the “occupiers”.  There is a disconnect between the ‘occupiers’ and their original support base that can be seen in the use of public space for protest.  At a certain point, one has to ask the questions about how to affect change and get beyond the simple act of protest.  It seems improbable that the path to reforming global corporatism requires the indefinite loss of public spaces for the broader community. 

On the doorsteps, I've encountered some surprisingly positive support for the city's careful and considered approach to accommodations with legitimate protests, and elsewhere, some frustrations with the apparent expansion of an occupation that is less protest than pretext.   The questions have to be raised about how to disengage so that the protest can evolve to find more productive and sustainable expression that has, at least, the hope of recruiting the real 99%. If it doesn't, the message will be lost and "Occupy" will be just another "rebel without a cause", and to the exclusion of the broader community who have an equal claim to our public spaces. How democratic is that?