COLUMN: Island can learn from world events

his is a bad time to win an election says long-time columnist GE Mortimore

This is a bad time to win an election. Ten years from now, NDP-ers may feel happy that they lost this one.

B.C. Libs have gained the right to wrestle with problems that arguably cannot be solved in the present state of knowledge.

Consider fracking, dislodging natural gas locked into deep down shale by forcing chemical-loaded water 6,000 feet underground.

Will the harm to clean air and water outweigh the jobs and profits?

The governments of France and Bulgaria think so. They have banned fracking.  Both are winemaking nations. Imagine square kilometres of raw mud bubbling up among the grapes in the vineyards.

But fracking is already happening in B.C. Political pressure is on to grow it into a large export industry. Should we bull ahead and take a chance? Will there be any profits at a time when natural-gas prices are volatile, dancing up and down?

Nobody knows. Policy will be based on guesses. The worst-case outcome is a fouled-up landscape and heavier debt.

Various kinds of political-economic fancy-dancing arguably should be interwoven together, from logging and mining reorganization, to transport, to healthcare.

Good news came recently from a green-policy zone where the interconnections are easy to see. The attempt to clear traffic-clogged roads, and save money spent on road-crash policing and dirty-air healthcare, has marked a small but solid achievement in Vancouver.

Under successive NDP and Liberal governments, TransLink, the Lower Mainland transportation authority, has coaxed people to drive less and ride transit more.

The payoff for improved transit is that among young people aged 16 to 19, the number who hold driver’s licences dropped from 60 per cent to 50 per cent 2010 to 2011, and from 90 to 80 percent among those aged 20 to 29.

Finland is trying to achieve similar results. Living next to the Soviet Union, Finland learned to duck in and out of its neighbour’s cumbersome centrally directed economy, and supply Russia with fast-built items such as lightweight icebreaker ships.

Now Finland – the world’s leading tech-savvy nation – is doing a  test in downtown Helsinki of a dial-a-bus system, with new software and increasing numbers of small variable-route taxi-buses.

In 2015 we should learn how well the Helsinki system works to make people feel comfortable riding transit, cool down their love for cars, and drive for pleasure or from necessity rather than from habit.

You have to keep a critical eye on the planning. Curitiba, Brazil, has made a name as a transit paradise. Its spokes-of-a-wheel busways and smart-loading tubes whisk people around rapidly.

Transit ridership is high. Good planning and politics, right?

Not necessarily.

Some Curitiba people take a darker view. They see miserable wages and fat profit-taking by developer-politicians who own property bordering on transit routes.

Vancouver Island can learn from events elsewhere in the world.

Beyond such empty slogans as “free-enterprise government,” the job here is to make several mutually-reinforcing things happen at the same time, from lumber and mining efficiency to fair distribution of resources, to smart transit.

Vancouver has made a start. Vancouver Island moved toward its own development plan when First Nations and regional districts acquired ownership of the E&N Railway.

Could train-builder Siemens or Bombardier be invited in to manufacture and try out rolling-stock made from B.C. aluminum, Victoria-Alberni-Courtenay, while the railway is upgraded step-by-step?

 

• G.E. Mortimore is a longtime columnist with the Goldstream News Gazette.

 

 

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