March 17, 2015

Tripling Tweets: Viciousness, Vision and Vienna

Three items to discuss:

First, Stephen Rees’ analysis on the Bateman strategy: “Jordan Bateman calls Yes campaign ‘vicious and personal’”

The mainstream media has criticised the Yes campaign for being geeky: concentrating on facts and figures, and making complex arguments showing how transit is related to other issues like access to employment, affordability of living in this region and so on. They have been recommending the sort of emotional appeal that works for the No side. …

The initial responses are polite and appear concerned with debate, but gradually decline in tone, as other commenters pile on. On twitter, more names and hashtags get added to replies to use up more of the 140 characters. And beware of any discussion that has the bcpoli hash tag. Now that gets really down and dirty. ….

Jordan should not complain about “vicious” when so many of his supporters have so eagerly embraced that, where it suits them. Jordan cannot complain about personal since he has been front and centre from the start. … Ask Ian Jarvis how he feels about personal attacks, Jordan.

… the noise will continue. NO will be mainly Bateman – but also a lot of people who think that taxes make them worse off. And who do not want to argue about facts and figures. It is a feeling – and a feeling they have in common with many others. Quote from The Goodbye Girl “I’m angry. I don’t want to lose it.”

The next stage of this referendum after the vote will be the lessons.  Unless there’s a major reversal, the question will be: “What is the meaning of No” – and, if left uncontested, the opportunity will be to reverse the direction of this region, to move it further, much further, to the libertarian right.  No to more taxes.  No to more transit unless paid from existing revenue.  No to more greeny planning strategies and the compact, transit-oriented region.  Yes to cuts in transit service, yes to privatization.  Yes to more roads and bridges without a vote, no to more transit plans without one.

The political leadership of this region, having staked their credibility on a Yes campaign, will be significantly weakened – unless they learn another lesson: there will be no satisfying the No campaign.  There is nothing they can do to reform TransLink that will satisfy it, no revised or modified plans that will be acceptable, no new revenue source tolerated, even to maintain the existing level of service.

The conventional wisdom, particularly from much of the media, will be that leaders have to accept defeat as the new reality, remove transit expansion as a priority, and let the Province pursue its Motordom agenda, with a sop to Surrey for its light rail and a finger to Vancouver for, well, anything.  One can see the trend already in Vaughan Palmer’s column in today’s Sun: Jordan Bateman’s lone voice has most people listening.

Consensus? What consensus? If the polls hold and the tax is defeated, the most likely outcome is that we’ll go back to bickering about priorities, funding sources and the most perfect structure for a regional transportation authority.

We already have our priorities, the funding sources are in the TransLink legislation (but rejected by the Province) and there’s no such thing as a perfect structure.  The only relevant question is: Will we continue with the vision of a region that organizes it growth around transit, making it one of the most successful urban regions in the world.

Affirmation arrives in another Tweet:  Vancouver fifth-best place to live in the world: Mercer study.

But note this about the city that is No. 1 on the list:

Vienna’s excellent infrastructure, safe streets and good public health service make it the nicest place to live in the world …

Just the sorts of things paid for by taxes, infrastructure, social and physical, that are the basis for economic activity and livability.  Just the sort of things that the No side would defund to get the tax rate down to that ideal 30-percent.

There was a meeting a few years ago, I was told, where Translink and Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure planners and engineers were meeting. Said the MOTI man:

“You (TransLink) think you are building Vienna.  We are building Houston.”

Post-referendum, the No’s will claim that Vienna has been rejected, and, by default, we’re on to building a low-tax Nirvana, Houston-like, without a vote.  The Massey bridge will be its icon.

There will be sadness, even grief, for the loss of our ability to strike compromise, to avoid extremes, to reach consensus even after the political battles are contested.  That is what the referendum is doing to us.  But that cannot result in the loss of our vision, and the determination, even in our now polarized world, to fight for it.

For that, there can be no compromise.  For that, there must be a renewed determination to get to Yes.

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  1. I agree. The Yes side’s fatal error is that it allowed Bateman to frame the campaign. We are not losing because we are giving the wrong answers (geeky facts and figures), but because we are asking the wrong questions. Bateman set the questions; everything else followed.

    Bateman has been campaigning against Translink for years, so things were difficult from the start. But I think that replacing Ian Jarvis was the key moment when the Yes side acquiesced. The double salary reported in the media was the least of the damage it inflicted.

    The first and most important consequence was that the Yes side accepted Bateman’s frame that this was a vote about Translink, not about transit. The only way to win after this is for the Yes side to break that frame – which they themselves had set.

    Second, this was a tacit admission that Translink’s leadership was flawed. No political party would change horses during a race, but that’s what Yes did.

    Third, he should not have been the horse. The decision placed Translink, and the Translink CEO, in a leadership position. That is the last place Translink should be. They are managers, not communicators; they should have been kept out of the spotlight to let others run the show.

    Fourth, it let opponents smell blood. The only thing in politics worse than being seen to be wrong is being seen to be weak. Opponents are emboldened, not satiated, when their demands are met.

    Fifth, it resulted in an apparent double salary. But that would not have been a serious problem if the Yes side had successfully framed the campaign.

    It was a communication failure so bad I had trouble believing it was happening. To accept Bateman’s framing of a failed vote would only repeat the error. We need to frame the outcome so that this is not a wholesale rejection of transit or of taxes.

    I think that this should be a campaign about values. Right now, those values are (often justified) widespread mistrust and anger towards elites. Who is leading the Yes campaign? A laundry list of the region’s elites. Bateman didn’t brainwash people: he tapped into latent sentiment, bringing it to the surface and giving it a target.

    How to move past failure? We have two great advantages: 1) the leaders of the region support transit investment, and 2) most people agree (witness the early polls). I think we need to maintain the coalition of leaders, set it to one side, put ordinary people at the center, and listen. The leaders of this region should not be trying to herd us into a Yes: they should be following the needs of the people who live here. Consider Jessica, who commutes two hours a way each day to a low-paying job. Her story is more truthful than all the facts and figures about congestion 30 years hence, because it is experiences like hers that make the figures matter. If we listen to ordinary people and share their stories, I think that action on transit will be politically irresistible.

  2. I really, really don’t want to live in a Houston – I actually can’t. Due to a disability, I can’t rely on driving to get around. If Vancouver starts to move towards being more car-centered, I’m planning on leaving.

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