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.

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