August 29, 2013

The Bateman Strategy: Killing TransLink – and the regional vision

Not that I want to publicize Jordan Bateman (the local spokesman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation) even more, since the media do enough of that already (and let’s face it, I get my fair share of coverage too) – but in the absence of leadership from local leaders, his strategy regarding the transit referendum may well prevail.
And what strategy is that?  Why, getting people to vote against their self-interest in order to effectively disable TransLink – and with it, the regional vision we have pursued for decades with considerable success.
Not, of course, that Metro citizens will intend to vote against more transit or a more sustainable region.  But thanks to Jordan’s strategy, that’s what will happen.
Here’s how the strategy works.
(1) First, discredit government – in this case, TransLink, and the collective goods we pay for with taxes.  Ignore the larger purpose of the organization and concentrate on the ‘bureaucrats’, whom you can dismiss contemptuously.
(2) To do that, use small examples, real or manufactured, to tar the entire organization.  Whether free coffee for staff, bonuses for executives, teething problems for Compass Cards, policing costs (or not enough policing), the installation of fare gates (or not installing fare gates), it doesn’t matter what the examples are – so long as there is a steady beat of criticism, amplified for and by the media.
(3) Maintain that any new programs can be paid for by eliminating ‘waste, fraud and abuse.’  Never give credit for any instances where that actually occurs.  TransLink has already had three performance reviews and an audit, it has already saved millions in ‘efficiencies’ (often a euphemism for cuts) – but never mind.  Always maintain that spending is ‘out of control.’
(4) Establish the bottom line as ‘No More Taxes.’  Do not ever get into a debate about the value and merit of what those taxes purchase.  Simply repeat, and repeat: NMT.
(5) Suggest that voters can ‘send TransLink a message’ by voting for ‘none of the above’ on the transit-funding referendum.  It matters not that eliminating the entire administration of TransLink (about 4 percent of its budget) would barely pay for a few more bus routes, much less a multi-billion-dollar rapid-transit line.  Insist that cutting salaries and perks is a necessary condition (though never sufficient) before discussing new revenues.  At that point, simply assert that we’re taxed out, even if we’re paying less taxes or getting new services.
By aggressively attacking the organization so that those in favour of a new tax will have to defend it before they can argue in favour of its funding, you disarm the proponents before they even begin a ‘yes’ campaign.
Want to see this strategy in action?  Go here for today’s salvo.  (And yes, I’m perfectly aware that this simply gives another opportunity for the CTF to reinforce its messaging.)
Meanwhile, time is running out – 442 days left til Nov 15 (though it’s possible that the referendum might be held in May or June) – and we haven’t even got the wording yet, much less leadership for a yes vote.
One wonders whether the CTF was instrumental in convincing the Premier to go with the referendum idea during the election since it gives them an ideal platform to pursue their agenda.  Better yet, blame for a No vote can be put on local politicians for their inability to convince the electorate.  And the subsequent cutbacks on local transit services as other sources of revenue decline will thereby justify another round of criticism of TransLink.
It just doesn’t get any better than that.



Here’s a good example of TransLink bashing, this time by some of those on the Mayor’s Council, responding to a CBC TV question regarding an expenditure on public art – a well-established policy, sometimes even in their own municipalities – with the upgrade of two of the Expo line stations.  My comments follow the story.


TL Art

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  1. A recent 10-hour plane trip gave me the opportunity to see a good film, titled “No”, about the successful campaign against Augusto Pinochet in a 1988 referendum everyone expected to be rigged or otherwise impossible to win. Despite the flimsy parallels, it did provide no shortage of inspiration.

  2. How much tax money do we spend on motordom? IN a full account analysis, is Jordan Bateman right to focus on “wasted” tax dollars at translink?

  3. Thank you for this. At risk of giving him yet more airtime, people really need to know what an opportunistic hypocrite Mr. Bateman has become.
    It is sad, because I had a lot of respect for him as a young councillor in Langley. I didn’t always agree with him, but he always stood up and explained his (usually defensible) reasoning behind decisions. Then he got the slap-down from his buddy Darth Coleman for publically criticising the way the HST was introduced (such that he was forced to publically apologise!) and we now have whatever it is he has become. A bright young mind wasted…

  4. Why does Bateman get so much press? He is described above as a “bright young mind”, but he has always come across as an airhead to me. Complaining that the carbon tax has raised 1.5b. First it is revenue neutral, second, what you get for your money is a big part of the equation. You can’t tell whether $15,000 is a good deal unless you know what you bought, a magazine or a car?

    1. In his defence (see all caveats above) he was an excellent and popular Township Councillor, when he brought consideration and nuance to discussions about things like raising taxes vs. cutting services. The healthy paycheque from the CTF seems to have lead him off the rails…

  5. But one thing this brings to mind to me is the urgent need to make this not about Translink. Rolling some of the recent and future highway and bridge projects into this referendum and into the future revenue raising regime is one way to do this. And having a separate agency actually construct some of the projects would help too. Of course Translink should continue to run the transit projects and the bus system once they are built because it is just silly not too, and because there isn’t much wrong with Translink except for a few things.

    1. What about a separate agency running Skytrain and West Coast Express? In Melbourne their awesome commuter train network, which runs like a light rail system (Electrified, stops close together, frequent schedules) is run by Metro Trains Melbourne a franchise operator which is a joint venture between Hong Kong based MTR Corporation (60%), John Holland Group (20%) and United Group Rail (20%).

      1. Instead we should be reducing administration. How about we advocate for a Metro Vancouver police force…with the added benefit that the Transit Police would become redundant.

      2. I’m not sure what is to be gained by a separate agency, but I do see a whole lot of problems. If there were any real gains from competition, I would take a different view, but this is a public service that isn’t going to attract competitors. Contracting out within the umbrella organization is more likely to reduce cost because you could get competitor operators for different aspects of the operations. The Transit Police are under the microscope for good reason. Obviously Translink had problems with police response and that is why they decided to upgrade their security officers to full police status, but it is awfully expensive. Also don’t really understand why these police need to be armed with guns. And the cost really seems out of line. Well over $100,000 per year for each employee including administrative staff. The regular city policy have been convinced over the last decade and a bit to leave their cruisers from time to time and get on bikes, maybe it is time that they think about getting on transit from time to time as well.

  6. Gordon seems to have embarked in a holy war where You’re either with Translink, or against Transit.
    So any dissent voice on Translink is considered as a betrayal: We Should unquestionnably accept the Translink gospel (if it says it costs $25M to accommodate bus transfer on the Skytrain, who are we to argue with the Translink gnosis?).. That is strange.

    1. The reason Translink is cutting corners like bus cash fares on the farecard implementation is because they’re chronically underfunded. Ultimately, the issue of funding is much, much more important than the farecard implementation issues. And, unfortunately, arguing about those kinds of issues just gives ammunition to Translink opponents.

    2. Something tells me that Gordon wants to lead the “Yes” campaign…But what do I know – I am just a simple transit user with my shiny new Compass test card…
      Like Voony I have deep reservations about letting Translink (or anybody) off the hook for the “Greater” good. As everybody knows and can see Translink like all other crown corps and government agencies has lot’s of fat (admittedly Translik has cut some, but not before being forced to…three times)…The difference with Translink is that is largely funded in direct and very visible taxes…That is why Translink is a target because nobody wants to fund something inefficient with real money (as in a line on your property tax bill). When we fund the government it is vague and the money goes to a big fuzzy bucket of money. If on you federal tax bill you had a line item for each funding item (for example senators salaries, federal employee pensions, etc) there would be people in the streets and we would be cutting things left, right and center.
      So if you want to fund Translink through general government revenue that would give you more freedom to do whatever you want, but as soon as you start funding it through very visible and specific taxes you are essentially asking people to participate in how you run the organizations. You can’t have it both ways.

  7. Be still my beating heart but there is merit in what Canadian Taxpayers Federation says. The debate on transit funding is the wrong discussion. Road pricing is what needs to be on the agenda. That discussion should lead with a call for tolling of dedicated bike paths on the condition that all dedicated transportation infrastructure be tolled, As a pilot project there should be one dedicated bicycle route and one dedicated car route say downtown to the UBC. If people want to use that route they buy a transponder for their bike or car. This fee is their annual toll. Only vehicles that have the transponder can use that route non-authorized vehicles are prevented. There must be a way to make such possible from both a technical and security point of view. If the transit referendum fails such a tolling option, brought you courtesy of the CTF, might a preferable option rather than taxing incomes or homes.

    1. do you know of ANY country with bike tolling, even socialist and bike-crazy European countries like Holland, Belgium, Denmark or Germany ?
      While I agree with car tolling in car friendly Vancouver, bike tolling seems a little far stretched ..
      In a growing region like MetroVan we obviously need public transit investments AND road/tunnel/bridge investments AND bike path investments AND pedestrian path investments. Perhaps the levies placed on new developments are far too low as they should be covering that (and not the citizens of Kelowna or Price George, for example)
      For example, the extensive development for 15,000+ new residents at UBC: is there a nickel paid by UBC Properties Trust for more dedicated bus lanes or a 2nd subway station south of 16th (where most of the high density development is) or a subway line ?

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