By John Twigg
Leader, B.C. First Party
The latest fooferaw over bridge tolling policy is a prime example of what has gone so badly wrong in B.C. politics.
It began with the B.C. Liberal Party’s pronouncement Sunday, by Finance Minister Mike de Jong, that if they are re-elected in the May 9th provincial election, they will put a cap on bridge tolls of “only” $500 a year, saving some regular commuters about $1,000 a year but doing nothing to help less frequent users.
That the Liberals should have such a conversion on the eve of an election campaign is kind of like Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus: it reverses many years of an opposite policy. But of course, it still doesn’t address the underlying problems in financing transportation projects in Metro Vancouver and around the province, namely that the Liberals’ new quasi-privatized bridges have become chronic money-losers for the provincial government.
The ink was barely dry on the de Jong story leaked to the Vancouver Province when B.C. New Democratic Party leader John Horgan announced that if the NDP wins the election they will remove tolls entirely, though of course he didn’t explain how that move would be paid for, let alone how it would be done when there are some complex P-3 contracts in place in which the private sector ostensibly helped pay for constructing the new and money losing Port Mann Bridge and presumably would do so again on the dubious but Liberal promised Massey Bridge, replacing the Deas Island tunnel of the same Massey name, and on the long-overdue replacement of the decrepit Pattullo Bridge between Surrey and New Westminster.
The folly of the Liberals’ bridge financing model is seen in the fact that many thousands of drivers will go far out of their way to avoid the perceivably over priced tolls on the Port Mann Bridge, some of which reflect the extra costs of the P3 model imposed by former premier Gordon Campbell in order to use the still free Pattullo bridge, thereby creating an often huge traffic congestion problem there.
But now on the eve of an election the Liberals have noticed they’re in danger of losing so, like a chronic gambler, they’ve doubled down on an even more ludicrous bet and then the New Democrats double down on that.
The B.C. Green Party meanwhile signaled that their heads are in the sand too, by indicating they would retain the tolling policy, apparently, as an environmental policy designed to discourage driving to work and instead “encourage” more people to carpool or use transit, even though it should be obvious that those choices are impractical or simply not available to most commuters. But, hey, who cares when we’re supposedly saving the world from catastrophic climate change, eh?
To be fair, there should be lots of room in B.C.’s rubber budgets to find a few hundred million dollars to subsidize transportation that facilitates commerce – except, of course, that the Liberals for the last 16 years have been pillaging the Crown corporations’ savings accounts to falsely make it look like B.C. has had a string of balanced budgets and Canada’s strongest economy and many other such claims, all dubious when one digs down for the facts.
Canada’s lowest unemployment? Only because the other provinces are worse and the many discouraged workers here who have given up seeking work aren’t counted in the official stats.
Canada’s strongest economy? Again, only because all the others are turtles in the tank, and the reality is that B.C.’s economy and government have been grossly under performing for at least 20 years, i.e. since before Campbell was elected in 2001, and that’s due to a combination of factors that neither the Liberals nor the New Democrats have adequately addressed and on which the Greens are hopelessly out of touch with their extreme anti-carbon policies.
Twigg jumps to BC First party
All of which is a good reason why I decided on Friday to leave the B.C. Conservative Party and become leader of the small but venerable B.C. First Party, which will be made official later this week with Elections B.C.
As many readers will know, for the last two months I had been volunteering for the B.C. Conservatives under the job title of Director of Policy and Communications, which produced such things as my announcement of a proposed fourth ferry crossing of Georgia Strait, which would run from Gabriola Island, reached via a small new bridge to the big Vancouver Island, to a new ferry terminal on, or near, Iona Island which is near and connected to Sea Island, site of Vancouver International Airport and a Canada Line rapid transit connection to Vancouver’s SkyTrain system.
Despite some skepticism, that proposal proved to be a big hit with many people. Especially those waiting six hours to catch a ferry from Tsawwassen and Horseshoe Bay ferry terminals on the recent spring break, when one of the major ferries broke down. It got lots of media coverage too, except in the large mainstream outlets.
For some reason, the idea of a 30 minute ferry crossing and much improved foot passenger access to Vancouver had great appeal for commuters. Maybe because it just makes common sense? My proposal would have involved a request for proposal process and not necessarily a public sector only project. It would feature a similar RFP process to develop a new technology, rapid transit system, in association with the EAZEway group, that could be exportable.
Anyway, it became apparent to me at a lunch on Friday that my opportunity to advance such radical new ideas on many other issues, like bridge tolling, would have been severely limited during the campaign. So I resigned on the spot and was kindly taken in that same day by Salvatore Vetro, the president and leader of B.C. First party, whom I have known for many years.
I also considered joining the new Vancouver Island Party (VIP) and had met with its leader Robin Richardson and was pleasantly surprised to learn that their policy orientations are quite similar to mine, except that my focus is more province wide than theirs.
Nonetheless, I will be endorsing VIP candidates where they are running and I also will be endorsing the B.C. Conservative Party candidates in the 10 or so ridings where they will be running. Especially the very strong Leah McCulloch in Courtenay-Comox, whom I had personally recruited to that party.
As for me, I’ll be running for B.C. First in North Island, the largest community of which is my home town of Campbell River – assuming I get the paperwork done in time! (That’s job one for me today, now that this column is done.)
The BC First website also is still a work in progress but it is up and running at www.bcfirst.ca and for some reason, is suddenly generating literally dozens of requests for more information!
Why BC First? It was started by Roger Rocan in the 1980’s and he became a very close friend of mine until he passed away about 20 years ago. The party was used briefly by former premier Bill Vander Zalm in a Delta by-election and then its registration was maintained by our mutual friend Vetro, who lives in Vancouver. More recently, it was being worked on by Brian Thiesen of Kelowna, also a political activist, especially against so called smart meters. I am grateful to them all.
The party’s ethos is putting the public interest first in all things, with truth, honesty, integrity and good government.
But, especially for me, the focus will be on proposals to grow the economy, build B.C., create more jobs and spread prosperity to all. Which is also why I thought the B.C. Conservatives would be a good fit for me, and I joined them about three years ago when I was attracted by its former leader, Dan Brooks, who encountered problems with its board of directors, many of whom are also federal Conservatives who believe there should be a unified coalition to keep the NDP out of power in B.C., even though the horse being used to do so, the B.C. Liberal Party, has become demonstrably inept and even corrupt.
I have a list of at least 50 innovative policy ideas to improve British Columbia, many of them apparently too radical for the B.C. Conservatives’ board of directors, such as reviving the Bank of B.C. as an investment bank, not a mere retail bank, issuing a new parallel currency, (not supplanting the Canadian and American dollars), and reviving B.C.’s Treasury Branches and Government Agents services to help preserve small rural communities, among many other unique but actually practical proposals. Now, as the Leader of B.C. First, I’ll be in a good position to advance them.
C’mon along! It should be a quite interesting ride.