March 9, 2015

Pre-Post Game Analysis: What is the Referendum Really About?

The referendum voting hasn’t even started, but the outcome at the moment doesn’t look good.  How did we get to this point – and what was the point of the referendum in the first place?  It’s not too soon to begin the analysis, since whoever gets to define the meaning of the outcome will help determine whatever action can follow.


Doug Ward in The Tyee:

What Drives TransLink’s Biggest Hater?

Insights into Jordan Bateman, the meme maker opposed to the transit tax hike.

Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, calls Bateman’s strategy “The Great Dupe” — persuading people that a negative vote in the upcoming plebiscite would be a “message” to TransLink rather than a rejection of needed transit expansion.

“It’s the brilliance of Bateman’s meme,” said Price. “How do you get people, even a bus rider, to vote against their best interests?” ….

Price said Bateman’s strategy has been to smear TransLink in order to defeat any proposed tax hikes to fund transit. The CTF spokesman launched a “steady beat of criticism, amplified for and by the media” over a range of TransLink controversies, said Price, including executive pay, free coffee, public art, fare evasion, the troubled Compass Card program and policing costs. …

For his part, Bateman happily trots out the epithet “elitist” to describe Yes supporters such as Price and Toderian. In the CTF’s world, taxpayers know best how to spend their own dollars. It’s a tactic used by Bateman’s right-wing counterparts in the U.S., who constantly accuse Democrats of being “elitists” who think they know better than average people. The irony is that the anti-tax policies of Bateman’s CTF and the Republicans serve to entrench social inequality. …

(Greg) Moore (chair of the Metro Vancouver board and mayor of Port Coquitlam) has little respect for what he calls the “destructive” approach taken by Bateman since he joined the CTF.

“His only objective is to get to No regardless of the effects it will have on this region. And I think that is a dangerous argument,” said Moore. “But that is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation mantra on everything. All levels of government should be able to fund a whole bunch of stuff with existing tax revenues…. But they never come forward with solutions. Just: ‘No.'”

This is correct in essence, but not totally accurate. Broadly speaking, the CTF regularly argues that governments of all levels, but especially municipal ones, can save money by slashing public sector wages and pension plans. The group has also put forward an alternate plan to finance the proposed 10-year transit vision. The problem is not a single mayor in the region thinks it could work. …

When SFU’S Price heard about Clark’s referendum plan, his first reaction was “this sucker is going down. It’s a referendum, it was meant for that purpose. But even then I underestimated how bad it would be. If there is a No vote, this is discrediting the leadership class of the entire region. Who fills that void?

“Jordan Bateman?”

My sense is that the leadership of this region still doesn’t get that they are fighting a battle (albeit half-heartedly) that isn’t even in the same war as the one that Bateman, the CTF and the other apparatus of conservative economics are winning.


Further comment in the last few days:

Peter Ladner in Business in Vancouver:

Some people are calling this The Great Dupe, where large numbers of people have been stirred into fear and anger by someone in Langley who never uses transit (because “service is so poor around town that it’s virtually unusable”) and who has teamed up with a former campaigner for the oil industry to conclude that saving $0.35 a day per household – and by default promoting cars, costly new highways, congestion, air pollution and social isolation – is in the interests of “everyday people.”


Eric Doherty in Rabble:

If the Yes side goes down to defeat in Metro Vancouver, and progressive forces run away with their tails between their legs, imposing designed-to-fail transit referendums could become a favoured tactic of right wing governments across Canada.

On the other hand, if the transit referendum results in an effective movement for better transit right wing governments will see the danger of providing such organizing opportunities. A Yes vote and a strong and ongoing pro-transit movement in Metro Vancouver would probably make this made-to-fail referendum the last of its kind.


Drew in Convenient Truth:

… this referendum is horribly unnecessary. The people of Metro Vancouver have already spoken and said what they wanted for a regional transportation network and how they were prepared to pay for it…. You can read about it on the TransLink website or, if you don’t feel like reading the whole report, check out the column Gary Mason wrote in the Globe and Mail when talk of a referendum was bubbling up in 2013.

Another canard gets shot out of the sky — the one about TransLink’s “wish list”, it’s actually the people’s wish list, and we need to remember that.

More importantly, we need to think of traffic congestion, crowded buses and trains, at least one bridge that will no longer be safe to use, pollution (much of which gets blown into the Fraser Valley, affecting the health of the people there, not to mention much of our food supply).

Those are the real stakes. You have to wonder why anyone would try to divert people’s attention from that.

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    1. The vast majority of no votes represent the public interest, and that has to be respected. It is as foolish to credit one person (Bateman) for the rise of no, as it is to claim that anything Tieleman is involved in will result in failure (although you wouldn’t be far from fact on the latter).

      The fact that those inclined to yes are gang-demonizing one person in Langley to hope to foment hate to vote-pull is desperate and despicable. It is actually backfiring, getting no public traction, as it did originally when they attacked a single mother, the Premier.

      The vote has been decided, and it is NO, not NOW. Get your house in order, come back in 3-5 years. Proof? Greg Moore was asked by Vaughn Palmer “What’s your Plan B” and Moore said he doesn’t have one. That’s irresponsible.

        1. Why is that ? By not allowing folks in Kelowna or Prince George to pay for transit in MetroVan ? By insisting “ask the voters for their opinion” ? By not allowing road tolls ? By (indirectly) criticizing MetroVan by spending too much ? By keeping taxes low ? By funding necessary road and bridge infrastructure like PM bridge, SFPR or Massey ?

          I agree that a better dialogue about public rapid transit in MetroVan between province and Metrovan policy makers has to happen, regardless of “yes” or “no” in this referendum.

          However, there is conflict between “spend spend spend .. build highrises, build highrises, build highrises ” jurisdictions and a tax savings provincial government.

          The disconnect is that MetroVan allowed unfettered residential growth without building necessary infrastructure (roads, policing, public transit, healthcare, schools) as not all of them are provincial jurisdiction. Many are local.

          What is missing is to toll car use (both parking and driving) and properties bought by in-migrants (many of which pay little if any income taxes) in this weak transit plan. And that is indeed only what the provincial and MetroVan politicians can fix TOGETHER.

          1. So many assumptions…

            It’s irresponsible of the Province to force a referendum and then refuse to let the public know what are the consequences of voting no. It’s impossible to make an informed decision when you don’t even know what the results of that decision will be.

            It’s the willful ignorance and/or deceptive nature of this Provincial government that is irresponsible.

            1. An opinion. Why is it the province job to meddle in local transit ?

              Is it not the mayors’ job to inform voters of options to fund transit ? They chose the PST increase of 0.5%. There are many many other options, not divulged or discussed publicly. There is also expense savings, not discussed.

              Many options exist in the mayor’s tool box they chose to not (yet) use:

              a) cut spending (for example: through outsourcing, cutting staffing or reducing the generous civil servants’ salaries and cushy benefits or rather, increase them less or not at all over the next 2 decades to bring them in line with private sector norm),

              b) borrow money,

              c) tax properties,

              d) levy developments more,

              e) tax land transfer,

              f) tax parking,

              g) charge transit users more,

              h) shift spending

              So, if the referendum fails, I’d expect the mayors to use a) to h) to build more transit anyway, while still demanding more cash from feds and province. Likely they will not do a) though .. but b) to h) .. and because they will not do a) THAT is the reason why the province forced a referendum on them !

      1. @Vanessa. “when they attacked a single mother, the Premier.” Gimme a goddam break. She’s so vulnerable and fragile as a single mother she decided to run for Premier

      2. I think that anger at Translink has lain latent for some time. This vote is a lighting rod for that discontent.

        It’s part of a large pattern. For many critics, anger at Translink blends together with anger at the Liberal government, at economic inequality, at high house prices, at high ferry prices, ICBC rates, MSP premium increases, neglect of the poor, and so on. I have seen all of these things repeatedly used to justify a No vote. There is an authentic “us” and an insincere “them” (Gordon Clark’s “ivory tower elites” and “thieves” who ride transit).

        Jordan Bateman has spent years cultivating that anger. His campaign against Translink has carpeted the media with accusations. The message of waste has been repeated so often that it becomes common sense, with no need to weigh the evidence. (After all, there was almost no contrary data.) By the time the referendum itself rolled around the campaign against Translink was all but complete. All Bateman had to do was remind people of what they already believed.

        I have seen this before. When in 2008 law scholar Michael Geist leaked the impending arrival of the so-called “Canadian DMCA,” a movement emerged from out of the woodwork, one of the first big Facebook campaigns in Canada. Media and politicians were shocked because it all seemed new to them. It wasn’t: we had been there all along, following the issue for years. We just didn’t have a target.

        I study news comments and have read many on this issue. I disagree with the general view that they are trash. For news stories, they are more popular than Twitter or Facebook. CBC reports that most people read comments and many have commented. They do not represent a random sample (happy people don’t comment: angry ones do). Most participants are silent, only reading or perhaps rating (“liking”). But comments show what arguments resonate, reveal change over time, define the boundaries for popular legitimacy, propagate arguments to allies, and they are read by a larger silent audience (including journalists, who often mention them or pick stories from them). They don’t do what opinion polls do; instead a detailed and large-volume view of some of what is being said.

        I think I am seeing a shift in Translink discussions. There is suddenly more vigorous support for Yes. It doesn’t look like cheating (I’ve witnessed ratings being faked). Rather, it appears organic: I have seen ratings for opposed comments slowly climb in tandem. The samples are small enough that a dozen or so dedicated people could account for the change. If they are, it shows organization I had not yet seen from the Yes side. If not, I think it is an even more positive indicator.

        How much influence do comments have? I don’t know. I suspect it’s more than many people think. Is it too late? I don’t know. This is an interesting case.

        1. Your small sample (and likely prejudiced view) that “there is suddenly more vigorous support for Yes” is a valid impression, but given polls for yes are tanking, is highly likely to be desperation from that side.

  1. Five years from now no will will admit to having voted no since it will have been such a clear mistake in hindsight. All these doofuses voting no to “send a message” will conveniently forget the name Jordan Bateman and go back to complaining that there isn’t enough bus service without giving two thoughts to how to pay for it.

  2. This whole debacle shows how powerful it is just to stay in inertia and stay angry without knowing the facts. The CTF argument does not “get” that 30 per cent reduction in congestion is a pretty powerful economic incentive for the region, and will assist us all in getting around, including the negative CTF nabob in Langley with his minvan who does not care to use transit or have it enhanced for other people. It is also not respectful to the growing population of seniors who will need the 30 per cent increased capacity of handydart and buses as they age in place. Oh and need I mention that 30 per cent less congestion means seniors can get to the hospital by ambulance faster?

    If the referendum fails and is then translated to increased property taxes, we will remind ourselves how a bunch of prairie naysayers duped us.

    1. Jim Pattison was born on the prairies. Good, honest people come from there, and many have built and served BC. Find another group of people to insult, for example, slacker armchair planners.

    2. Sandy James should go over to the CBC or to The Tyee and read the opposition to this TransLink omnibus plan. Hardly a group of prairie naysayers.

  3. Whichever way you lean, it helps to keep the facts straight. The plan does not propose a 30% reduction in congestion. As per the plan, per capita VKT will be reduced 34% with the plan, and 10% if we do nothing. Total daily trips by car will constitute 64% of trips with the plan, 73% in the do nothing case.

    There are many things to like about the plan, many things it might make better, but reducing congestion is not one of them.

    1. If decongestion is not the plan, then it deserves to fail. We need more RAPID transit and more car use fees (in both its parked and driving state). It is as simple as that. The plan as currently proposed fails on both of these fronts.

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