Reminder: last UBE consultation session this Thursday

This is a guest post by Reena Meijer Drees. Reena blogs about car(e)-free living in New Westminster at http://carefreenewwest.blogspot.com/.

I’ve been dutifully attending TransLink’s consultation sessions for the UBE. We’ve seen 3 so far, and the last one will be held this Thursday evening at 7 pm at the Sapperton Pensioner’s Hall at 318 Keary St, just up from Columbia. Translink will be “reporting out”, summarizing what they’ve heard from the community over the weeks of discussion. I’d encourage all citizens to come out to see what TransLink is planning to bring to New Westminster. As for me, I must admit that my attendance at these sessions has left me feeling like I’ve been pushed into owning something I really don’t want.

There has been a good turnout for these events so far, with six fully populated “breakout” groups around tables, each with a facilitator (third-party, not TransLink) and at least one TransLink staffer to help out with technical details. I’d guess the total community attendance to be 70 or more every time, pretty good considering some sessions have conflicted with hockey games.

At these sessions I have met only a single person from outside of New West (I think from Coquitlam somewhere). He told me he drives through New West; he was there to voice his opinion that New West was the “sphincter of the Lower Mainland” and was hoping for some relief. I asked TransLink if they had held any open houses on the UBE in Coquitlam – apparently only one, and attendance was so poor (the 25 people who attended were all from New West) that they didn’t have any more. Coquitlam council supports the UBE and they have plans for further (car-oriented) development along United Blvd. It is hard to have a meaningful discussion with other stakeholders when they don’t show up.

The mood in the room has not been very happy. Almost uniformly, residents do not like the idea of the UBE. Many are concerned about noise, about increased congestion, about the idea of an overpass blocking views. Others don’t like the emphasis on road building, which seems so diametrically opposed to Translink’s stated goals of prioritizing pedestrians, bikes, and transit…especially given that we are now experiencing bus service cuts here in New West. And some residents see this as the thin edge of the wedge for the North Fraser Perimeter Road, a series of as-yet-unfunded projects which will see Front St turn into a 4-lane truck route, and a 6-lane Patullo bringing more regional traffic through our City. The fear is that the UBE will be done, and then nothing will follow for years as TransLink’s budgets continue to suffer, leaving us with more congestion that we started with. Time and again people stood up and voiced that they wanted to see the entire NFPR discussed and a big picture plan put on the table before discussing the UBE. This was not really done – the discussions were pretty quickly guided into specifics about where roads should go and what mitigation features we wanted.

TransLink asked for community ideas for the connection, and created long lists of what residents saw as the problems around the current intersection. From this they created a short list of possible configurations to explore. There were two suggestions from the community, called “option E” and “option C”. Option C consists of simply closing the level crossing at Braid and Brunette and eliminating the possibility of access to the Industrial land this way. Since the lights spend about 30% of their time letting the small amount of traffic coming out of the lands, remoiving access would improve traffic flow along Brunette. It would eliminate the backups that happen when turning traffic has to wait for a train. It would stop at least one train whistle. This option was rejected by TransLink with very few reasons given. Option E, the other suggestion from the residents, was to make the road from United connect with Brunette at a new intersection to be located near the overpass over HWY1. This would move the connection and its associated congestion out of New Westminster. Translink’s objection to this idea is that it creates too many intersections in a short distance. I would be surprised if this idea were still on the list.

The only idea that passes muster with TransLink is that of a large, 4-lane overpass over the “dip” in the Skytrain between Sapperton and Braid stations. The road would flow into Brunette without an intersection – no expropriation of property this time. There are lots of details availble and lots of mitigation discussed. But I can guarantee that the consensus in the Pensioner’s Hall is that this – “option B” – is unacceptable.

TransLink has stated throughout the sessions that “doing nothing” remains an option. We will see if they recommend this course of action, which I’d hazard is the top choice of most residents. Please attend if you can, so that if TransLink attempts to make us “own” the overpass idea – the only one left standing, by their own design – we can stand up and tell them that in fact, what the community really wants is to kill the UBE and give the money to the Evergreen Line. If you can’t attend, pass your thoughts on to New West City Coucil (email: postmaster@newwestcity.ca) They need to stand up and refuse to let this monstrosity be built.

What would BC- STV do for New West?

This is a guest post by Reena Meijer Drees, who is a New Westminster resident active in the campaign supporting BC-STV. Watch for a follow-up post tomorrow on the potential impact of electoral reform on local politics. You can read more about BC-STV on Reena’s blog and STV.ca (”Yes” side) or nostv.org (”No” side). Opponents of STV are welcome to respond in the comments and/or write a guest post supporting their position.

If BC-STV were to be implemented, there would be some changes to how our elections would run. I’ve discussed these in other postings. But there would likely be some interesting consequences to those changes, which is what I’ll touch on here.

New Burnaby-New Westminster riding

BC-STV means larger ridings. The BC Electoral Commission has designed the new ridings that would be implemented. You can see them in a clickable map here. The 4 current ridings of Burnaby would been combined with the single New Westminster riding to produce the new BC-STV riding of Burnaby-New Westminster. This new riding would elect 5 MLAs – so the total number of MLAs from Burnaby + New Westminster wouldn’t change.

Preferential ballot…

To elect 5 MLAs, our ballots would change. We’d be faced with a larger list of candidates on a preferential ballot. It would be like our municipal elections are now, but instead of marking “x”s next to our chosen candidates, we would rank the candidates in order of our preference with a 1, 2, 3…up to as many as you want (even a single one is allowed).

This new way of voting would lead to some interesting changes.

For starters, it’d be stupid for the NDP or the Liberals to run 5 candidates in this new riding. Why? Well, they could never win all 5 of the seats – neither party ever gets close to 100% of the popular vote! So why run 5 candidates? It’s a waste of time and money. They would likely each run 3 candidates, at most. Smaller parties would run one, maybe 2 candidates, so maybe we’d see a Green or two, and some of the other smaller parties. I’m starting to imagine the ballot already, and how I would vote…quite differently from under the current system!

Open competition between candidates

Under BC-STV, I’d have a choice of NDP (or Liberal) candidates! Suddenly, voters would have a say in which candidates they think are more qualified for the post (instead of now, where that selection is made by the party). So, there would suddenly be open competition between candidates of the same party! I think the concept of a “safe seat” is history, in this kind of system.

Those second choices

Under BC-STV, not all candidates will be elected with only “first choices”. Most will need at least some of those “second choices” to win. If they go around slagging everyone else’s ideas, running a negative campaign, I think their chances of getting those second choices is going to be pretty slim. So, the pressure would be on to run more congenial, co-operative campaigns. Even between different parties.

More diversity

I think we might also see some changes in the types of candidates put forward. I think the pressure would be on to put forward a more diverse slate of candidates, one more reflective of the demographics of the riding. Similarly, pressure would be on to ensure that all regions of the riding were represented; that not all the candidates would be from, say, the north side of Burnaby. Why? Because a more diverse slate would probably be able to garner more votes.

New Westminster’s perspective?

Won’t that get lost if we are sucked onto Burnaby? Well, according to the argument above, it would be foolish if either of the major parties did not run a single candidate from New Westminster in their slates, or make a point of addressing this concern. But in addition to that, our “unique perspective” means that we have different priorities on specific issues such as homelessness and addiction, health, education (that danged High School!), transportation / traffic, etc. Burnaby has the same issues – just maybe not with the same priority. Under BC-STV, we would have 5 MLAs to go to on any of these issues – each of these politicians must represent us. A politician worth his or her salt, even if they didn’t actually reside in New Westminster, would listen and learn, reprioritize, and take those concerns to Victoria. And if they didn’t, you’d go to one of the others (and not vote for the unresponsive one next time!).

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Why reform BC politics?

This is a guest post by Reena Meijer Drees, who is a New Westminster resident active in the campaign supporting BC-STV. Watch for a follow-up post tomorrow on the potential impact of electoral reform on local politics. You can read more about BC-STV on Reena’s blog and STV.ca (“Yes” side) or nostv.org (“No” side). Opponents of STV are welcome to respond in the comments and/or write a guest post supporting their position.

Remember the referendum on electoral reform in 2005?

I never paid the slightest attention to electoral reform before we had that referendum here in BC. I didn’t even know that reform was possible.

After the referendum, though, I started reading about electoral systems, and the more I’ve read, the more indignant I’Ive become about the way politics works here in BC. I’ve become convinced that we need a change.

Don’t think we need a little shakeup? Check out this quiz on the bc-stv website. It really brought the issue of “fairness” to the front, for me.

Here’s a list of what bugs me about our present, “first-past-the-post” system here in BC:

  • there is almost no relationship between the popular vote, and how many seats a party wins. This means that sometimes, the wrong party wins – that is, the party with the lower share of the popular vote actually forms a majority government!
  • the usual state of affairs is that it takes only 40% of the popular vote to form a single-party majority government. What’s worse, the more parties there are, the lower this number gets. Just check out what happens federally. Please tell me why this is still called a “majority” government…
  • the number of votes it takes to get elected varies like crazy. In 2001, every 12,000 Liberal voters got an MLA. That year, it took 171,000 voters to get an NDP MLA in, and the 200,000 Green voters got nobody. This is fair to nobody – not to the NDP, not to the Greens, not to the voters. And results like this happen all the time.
  • the Legislature doesn’t reflect BC’s diverse population. It is still overwhelmingly white and male.
    political parties don’t seem very interested in working together to achieve anything. Whatever happened to our glorious history of doing things “for the people”? Campaigns are negative, attack ads and mudslinging the order of the day.
  • when it comes to voting time, I get the feeling that I’m wasting my time. I know in advance who will win in my riding, so voting for someone else is throwing my vote away. With a system like this, why bother voting?
  • my MLA doesn’t ever seem to do very much for my riding. We’ve had hospital closures, and now ongoing school issues (will we EVER get a new high school?), and our MLA doesn’t appear to me to be much of a voice for our concerns.

What causes these problems? Is it democracy itself?

Nope. Turns out that most of these things can be fixed – or at least given a kick in the pants – by changing the way we elect our representatives. There are plenty of different systems in use around the world, that we can look at and learn from! In fact, the Citizen’s Assembly of BC spent a year doing exactly this, in 2004-2005. They overwhelmingly recommended a system called BC-STV.

And as luck would have it, on May 12 this year, we get to vote again on whether or not BC should implement their recommended system.

What are we waiting for?

Coming tomorrow: Reena writes about what BC-STV would do for New West.