When is a plan not a plan?

…and when is an announcement not an announcement?

It is pretty clear the BC Liberal brand is in a bit of trouble, and the new packaging is not working out as well as planned. Premier McSparkles’ telegenic smile has not been enough cover for the general lack of direction displayed by a Government that is looking a little past its due date.

I am not a member of any political party, and usually vote based on the value of the local candidate (although, I have to admit, the Federal Conservatives could run the resurrection of Mahatma Ghandi locally, and that wouldn’t be enough to win my vote at this point). I have met both Judy Darcy and Hector Bremner, the presumed local NDP and Liberal candidates in the next Provincial election, and they both seem like good people with their hearts in the right place; I have no reason to believe either wouldn’t serve our community well.

The new Premier was an unknown coming in. In contrast to Kevin “strip it down, pave it over, sell it off” Falcon and Rich “Darth” Coleman (both who give ample reason to vote the other way), there was not enough substance to Clark to make me want to vote for or against her, despite her merging skills. In the end, it appears that apparent lack of substance was masking a much deeper and more profound lack of substance.

Yet like most people in an abusive relationship with an authority figure, I keep waiting and hoping for the BC Liberals to come up with just one Really Big Good Idea (RGBI) that will put them back in this race. And I keep waiting.

Regular reads here (Hi Mom!) will know that I am way more interested in transportation issues that is, frankly, healthy. So this week when the Premier rolled out her “Pacific Gateway Transportation Strategy” this week, with the by-line “Moving Goods and People”, I thought OK, maybe this is the RGBI. By the announcements, it sounded like they are committing a bunch of money, working with major partners, and are going to deal with the major transportation issues in our Province!

Surely (thinks I) this includes improvements to short-sea shipping, like suggested back in 2005 in a report prepared for Port Metro Vancouver, to finally remove some of the container traffic from our roads and reduce the unsustainable use of trucks to connect major trans-shipment locations. Maybe they will finally include a strategy for high-speed rail, to integrate with the west-coast high speed rail network our Southern Neighbours are planning? Maybe they will finally outline plans for rails to the valley, and upgrades to the Westminster Rail Bridge? Surely, it will include a review of TransLink governance, and a sustainable funding model for TransLink to meet its mandate outlined in Transport 2040. Maybe even (pinch me) an integrated Transportation Demand Management Strategy? A reasoned regional approach to tolls? Where is the Big Plan that shows leadership in Transportation?

Alas, like a Who on Christmas morning, I found nothing under the Christmas Tree that looked anything like Leadership. Even the lump of coal in all our stockings has already be been reduced to atmospheric greenhouse gas.

First off, there is the money committed. Transportation requires infrastructure, infrastructure costs. The plan offers “$25 Billion in total investment… by 2020, beyond the $22 Billion previously committed”. If you go the back pages of the plan document, where the numbers are, you can total up the money committed to $34.7 billion. That sounds like a lot of government investment in getting people and goods moving.

Except that more than $28 Billion (more than 80%) is private money, the lion’s share being a projected $18 Billion to be spent by mystery funders to build mythical LNG plants in Kitimat. The rest? $2.8 Billion in rail line growth by CN and CP, more than $4 Billion in Port Expansion in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, and $1.8Billion in Airport Improvements. All three of these, one should note, are federally-regulated lands and industries, so the Province has less than nothing to do with them. It couldn’t stop them if they tried. After that, private money will be used to build a smattering of privately-funded road works to improve access to mines and oil and gas fields.

OK , so what of the $6.7 Billion that is Government spending? Most of it is wrapped up in the Port Mann 2 and Hwy 1 Widening project ($3.3 Billion) and the South Fraser Perimeter Road project ($1.3 billion). Really, you are re-announcing, yet again, the PMH1 and the SFPR!? Again? This is meant to excite us? Throw in another $1-2 Billion on various ongoing already-announced and well underway highway projects (Kicking Horse Pass, etc.), and we are looking at a grand announcement of…no new investment in transportation.

Then we can look at the various uncosted parts of the announcement/plan. Things like “cap the property tax on designated ports”, and “eliminate jet-fuel tax for intern ational flights”. No indication what these moves are going to cost us, probably because cost accounting on tax cuts is really not this government’s strong suit.

Oh, and that other part of Transportation policy? The less feel-good parts about zooming trucks and vrooming planes? Strangely absent. This strategy is outlined in an 11,000-word document, but there are some words missing. Like “carbon”. In their defense, “climate” appears 7 times in the document. The only problem being that 6 of those times, it is used in the context of “building a climate for investment”. The time it is mentioned in the context of “change” is in the little sidebar about “the environment”, notable as it is also the only time the words “green house gas” and “emissions” are named. Here, they demonstrate their commitment by re-announcing, two years later, the Canada Line (a rapid transit system that was overcapacity the day it was built), and, yes, the Evergreen Line. No mention of a $30Million gap though. The word “Translink” is not raised.

But rest assured, the Environment is important. If you listen really carefully, you can hear the birds chirping over the mid-tempo rock with vrooming-and-zooming soundtrack of the splashy announcement video, right when the word environment appears. You can’t make this shit up:

Just like this big-images, low-content video, this government has once again displayed they are all about show, with no substance at all. Premier McSparkles appears to think re-announcing Kevin Falcon bad ideas and doubling down on the hating teachers is the path to success.

What should be telling is that neither John Cummins nor Adrian Dix are making too much of splash of opposing her ideas or announcements. When a government is sinking this fast and the Premier is busy bailing water onto the boat, you don’t want to risk distracting her from the task at hand

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