The Vision Thing (Anarchy in BC edition)

For many years now, the year 2010 had an almost mythic quality to it. More than just a decade-ending round number (we never collectively named that decade; I like “the naughties” myself), it had deep meaning for BC because THEY WERE COMING. The Olympics. Vancouver 2010.

In the early days, utopian olympianism ruled the province. For some, hosting the games was vision enough. To convince others during the bid process, commitments were made to protect the environment, house the homeless, and spread the gold to all corners of the province. The Olympics would stimulate the economy, shine a spotlight on BC, and oh would the benefits trickle down.

I’m not saying this was a great vision for BC; in fact, it is one I voted against in a Vancouver plebiscite. And by the time the actual event happened, those lofty social and environmental goals had been long abandoned, discarded like the debris from digging the Canada Line. At best, the Olympics deliver a good party, and it was an expensive one – though for many a hockey fan, maybe the costs were justified the instant Crosby’s final shot crossed the goal line.

Whether you were an Olympic booster or not (and cynical promises aside), the Olympics were a vision for BC, a lofty ideal made into built form through billions of dollars of investments. But the party is over; only the empty condos that were the Athletes’ Village remain as the last guests to leave.

Ten months later, BC is a province adrift. More than just angry with the deception around the HST, the public writ large is not happy with politics as usual. Dissent has unseated Gordon Campbell as Premier, and Carol James as Leader of the Opposition. Most of the media attention has focused on the internal political machinations within the two big BC parties, and the ensuing horse races for power.

But there is a bigger issue at stake: can any candidate for either party articulate a vision for the province that excites voters? Given where we are at, it may not take much, but it would be nice to see something bold that challenges us as people, and that is appropriate to the times we live in. Both the Liberals and NDP are tragically lacking any vision at the moment, and without a vision the political contest becomes just about attaining power to wield as you see fit, rather than the other guy (usually, a guy).

I’m biased because of the work I’ve been doing on CCPA’s Climate Justice Project, but I think BC could get behind a Big Project, an exercise to repurpose the province for the next generation and that engages the public in a deep manner. The two planks of that are how we make BC truly sustainable and socially just.

First, sustainability. It was recently reported that 2010 is on pace to be the warmest year in recorded history (if we have much colder than expected December, we could drop as low as number 3, but looks like we’re number one). At the same time, global talks on climate change are currently on, though widely ignored by the media, mostly because they appear dead on arrival. The sheer inaction, stalling and cynicism – of which Canada is a huge perpetrator – has overwhelmed any good intentions. Success is going to require a lot of work in a lot of place, and here BC could truly be a leader.

BC could build on its already existing Climate Action Plan and take aggressive action in a way that boosts the economy and improves people’s lives. We have not seen any new climate action announcements since a flurry of initiatives in 2007-08. I still see some make passing reference to “BC’s leadership on climate issues” but that is fading, and in truth we are mostly lucky beneficiaries of the WAC Bennett vision from the 1960s that built out the province’s hydropower. We legislated targets that would basically take BC in 2020 to where the average European country is now, but we still do not have a plan to achieve them.

Some pieces of this puzzle, big investments in public transit, are so obvious one wonders why politicians are not tripping over themselves to promote them. And there is a nice tie-in to the Olympics here, which showed that if the political will and funding were present, transit use could soar above present levels. Imagine what could happen if we put a multi-year, multi-billion package to build out transit infrastructure on the table. Add major retrofit programs, training for green jobs, research, and adaptation planning – there is a lot of good work for a lot of people on tap if we want it.

The best part is that we already have a mechanism to pay for it: the carbon tax. A plan that strengthened the carbon tax (continued to increase rates, expanded coverage) while using proceeds to help low- to middle-income households and make big public investments could be a winner if it was at the centre of a bold vision. Next year the carbon tax will pull in about $1 billion in revenues, and that is still at a low rate relative to what is needed (modeling for the Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute by Mark Jaccard and associates finds that the carbon tax needs to be $200 per tonne by 2020, or twenty times today’s rate).

In going green, however, social justice cannot be ignored. As we make investments to reduce our carbon footprints, that collective action must also reduce inequality. In the past couple decades, BC has become a deeply unequal society and that needs to change. Not only because that would be a more morally just outcome, but because we all would benefit from the better social and health outcomes that arise from more egalitarian societies. That means the wealthy need to take a smaller slice of the pie (on this front, the income share of the top 1% has not been this high since the 1920s) so that the poor can have some too. But it also means rejecting crony capitalism in BC – the cozy corporatism of political influence, the business always knows best mentality, and the “cut it down, rip it up, ship it out” dominance of the resource economy.

Instead, it means reinvesting in the public realm and asserting public control and leadership. What if every kid in a BC public school had the benefits of their peers in private school? What if we actually invested in prevention and public health? What if we had a high-quality early learning and child care system?

And what if BC were to become more profoundly democratic? People are angered at undemocratic, often autocratic decision-making that affects their lives, and it looks like that anger is being channeled to right-wing populist movements like the US Tea Party or Rob Ford’s “ending the war on the car” in Toronto. Progressives should point to many alternative models, some of which we already have experience of in BC, that could be developed to make sure that people have a more meaningful say, and that elected politicians deliver rather than disappoint.

The politics of the future are at the intersection of climate and justice, and this has to be a project led enthusiastically by the BC government. It is about collective action and bringing British Columbians together around a common purpose. I see our Climate Justice Project as a place where that conversation about the future we want is happening.

The big question: are any of the candidates in the Liberal party or NDP brave enough to articulate a vision, and leader enough to rally people around it?

9 comments

  • Im in my early twenties, since the carbon tax has been inacted my energy bills have gone up. Since I try to heat healthy on less then 20 k, a year, food costs have been not friendly.

    That prices have becomes so high that, I need food stamps now…and I make more then my grandfather nominally who was able to raise 5 children, on less then minimum wage, clothe and feed, and educate with the use of credit card, and with a vecation home, and 1 child would make or break us, just because of higher prices then a generation ago.

    Another big differnece was how much my granparents had to work, there was only one breadwinner needed unlike presntly in 2010, where both parents need to be working more hours then past parents is disturbing.

    I live in Brittish columbia, and most if not all of your proposals would increase my burden socially and economiclly and making my relationships with loved one more stressfull.

    I dont support taxing the rich anymore, they will find ways to not pay it legally either by increasing prices of things I want to purchase. I guess you like that so, you can direct anger wherever you want it. Im watching a prices for cattle, corn are taking off, already forcing higher prices here, I feel very bad for Americans on lower nd of income ladder like I.

    The olympics showed just how much massive spending programs does not work, and do not pay for themselves. It was keynesian dream at the time by a many if not by this author. Gordon campbell himself, made many of comments of how it would make the people and goverment of BC stronger then apposed to a weaker postition, we are left in.

  • Tell it, Mr. Lee!
    Brandon, if it were really true that the rich could always pass on the cost of being taxed more, they wouldn’t have spent so much money and effort lobbying to be taxed less. And they really have put in a *lot* of effort on that–it sometimes seems as if that one thing has been the subject of more work and influence-peddling over the past 30 years or so than any other political issue. Clearly it’s important to them, which means it’s important to us.

    Meanwhile, the Olympics just showed that massive spending programs on deliberately useless things don’t pay for themselves, which is hardly a surprise. Massive spending programs on useful things would I think be rather different. Indeed, back in the day when governments did do massive spending programs on useful things, they regularly did pay for themselves–take the hydro power mentioned above, which has resulted in BC having among the lowest rates around.

  • My electricity bill is relatively high, for my income. It will be set higher for years to come. Tell me, how much was it to heat a home five, ten, twenty years ago?

    Why is their a trend line here in BC, of people returning to mixed cords of birch and fir, to heat their homes, if prices were so peachy? The main reason, I have any work at all, is because of current hydro prices, oil prices, etc.

    Could care less if BC has the lowest rates on hydro when I compare it against itself over longer time-lines then considered here, while looking at purchasing power of the Canadian dollar, and incomes.

    Tell me why one breadwinner could own his house, (housing prices today are we”ll above the historic 100 year trend line), educate, clothe, and feed a family of 4 boys and 3 girls. Which today is seemingly impossible?

    Second, I dont approve of a society that forces women to be subservient to men, and not work; as I have equal distaste with a society that forces both parents to work, as to just keep up with the cost of living. While kids like I grow up without parents, being home only to sleep before work again.

    I would like in a society where a couple, male or women could when choosing to start a family, if they want only required the use of one breadwinner. Or take turns as being breadwinner as one parent stays, or many other options, instead of the sever limits I see.

    Just as I dont see both parents working as wrong, but I see many, being forced, and not getting to choose.

    If wish to get get higher educated, while that would require debt loads that are going up year after year lockstep with tuition, ultimately prices are going up, while wages for many jobs in many industries are falling, as they have been for some time.

    Back in the past, when many of the economists cite the higher tax rates that existed for the for the rich, they forget to mention how many loopholes and deductibles existed, in decades long gone. Sometimes we act as if the rich at one point, actually had to pay the higher tax rates.

    I only want a reduction in everyone’s taxes it is offset by spending cuts. I want taxes to match whatever spending is going to be, so in theory if society want to spend massively, I want my tax rate levels raised equally with the rich, to the required levels, to match the spending.

    Look at the US the republicans will demand lower taxes, and fight to protect but will compromise on spending. As democrats will demand government spending and fight to protect as they compromise on raising taxes. For right or wrong, whatever reasons.

    Which is what Gorge Bush did, while he spent money on two wars and lowered everyones taxes. A ultimate loss for the tax payers, with the aid of the Greenspan put.

    While people like my grandmother, Or I have to settle for pennies in interest on our savings. Please tell me what did we do wrong? What did I do wrong?

    Should we be forced to invest our savings in to mutual funds, from a stock market that has shot up.

    Time is a lost commodity, and I hope my grandmother will sill be alive for the magic of compounding interest if rates ever normalize.

  • What on earth are you talking about? Almost everything you say means the opposite of the lessons you seem to have drawn. For pete’s sake, this country was founded by a massive government program: The trans-Canada railway!
    I don’t really understand your anecdotes about heating prices and such, which seem to mix electricity and gas indiscriminately even though they’re provided by different outfits, one of which is public and one of which is not. You could care less if BC has the lowest rates on hydro? What on earth? If publicly provided power, supplied because of public investment as in “massive government program” results in some of the lowest rates around, that means if it had been private you would have been paying more. And this is not just a BC thing, public power is generally cheaper.

    Jobs didn’t come back until WW2. Well, that’s an exaggeration–you can cherry pick one quote, but the evidence overall is very clear that the US economy did way better with the New Deal than without it.
    But still, it’s true that the economy didn’t really recover until WW2. Yeah, and what was WW2 in economic terms? A massive government make-work program, so huge it made the New Deal look like a kid’s lemonade stand. It was practically a socialist takeover of the economy. And that’s what made the economy work again.

    And Japan’s troubles for twenty years are what happens when the money boys get their hands on things. When it was run by production people and government in co-operation, the place hummed. Then the finance guys got control, blew a huge real estate bubble in Tokyo, it crashed (sound familiar) and the government did all the same stupid stuff we’ve been doing because they were trying to save the finance boys, not the public. They’ve never really recovered, but at least they still make stuff.

    First you say “Back in the past, when many of the economists cite the higher tax rates that existed for the for the rich, they forget to mention how many loopholes and deductibles existed, in decades long gone. Sometimes we act as if the rich at one point, actually had to pay the higher tax rates.”

    And then you ask “Tell me why one breadwinner could own his house, (housing prices today are we”ll above the historic 100 year trend line), educate, clothe, and feed a family of 4 boys and 3 girls. Which today is seemingly impossible?”

    Yeah, sure I’ll tell you why. It’s really simple: The rich snatched all the goodies. What people like you used to have, they have now. The minimum wage is way lower in purchasing power than it ever was. You wanna get ****ed over? Support “fairness” for the people who took you for whatever you’re worth and wanna take more.
    Yes, there were loopholes back in the day. There are even more loopholes now, *and* the rates are lower. The wealthy and corporations really did used to pay a much larger share of taxes than they do now. Their power of tax evasion is not infinite. Corporations used to pay half the taxes in Canada–now it’s 10%. You think the corporations are one fifth the size they used to be? Of course not. They handed the cost to you. The rich are the ones that have the system set up to benefit them. They should pay way more than you, not pay “in lockstep” with you. What you’re doing is listening to them when they tell you that bending over and spreading is for your own good and they’ll respect you in the morning.

  • With apologies to the flow of comments, a previous comment was deleted and another not approved due to plagiarism.

  • Re-Submitted with Quote’s MLA style. Everything should be in order @ Lee, now. Does this website, have an edit function? or is that only for members, or non-existent? – confused qeury? (Tried once more)

    @ purple

    I will not blame the rich, or make them out to be a scapegoat.

    “I don’t really understand your anecdotes about heating prices and such, which seem to mix electricity and gas indiscriminately even though they’re provided by different outfits” (Purple Library Guy)

    Firstly if it were not for the current prices form the diffrent outlets being so high, and not low as you claim, or cite. I would have no work, to little hours, as I deliver birch and fir cords(a unit of measurment) to customers, looking to heat their homes, as I’m working for wood lot, which has been increasing, due to current prices for energy across the board, and its effect on the consumes pockets, driving them to wood furnaces, in volumes not seen for some time.

    It’s the common complaint wether it be hydro, heating oil, etc and reason for new customers. If what you were saying was true, I should be getting less work, if my competitors had competitive affordable prices.

    So nationally BC may have the lowest rates, however people I see on a daily basis, do not agree with current prices as being affordable for their lifestyles. I with them, agree Hydro is too much.

    Then compare what Hydro costs today and contrast that agaisnt the cost in 2005, 2001, 1995, 1990, 1980, 1970. It doesnt show a pretty picture, with wages in the decline, and incomes in decline.

    Underestimate energy prices at your own peril, the working man knows, what is, and not is a burden. Probaly why those on the left have such a hard time reconnecting with the middle class, and pooer classes, like I.

    Also price for tvs, cell phones, computers are not a burden, and are largly owned and operated by a private sector. Cosmetic Surgery, and everything that entails, has falling prices, which is run by largy owned and private sector. So I dont see why, private means more “expensive” hydro, if it were every a private market modeled after industries I cited above.

    “A massive government make-work program, so huge it made the New Deal look like a kid’s lemonade stand. It was practically a socialist takeover of the economy. And that’s what made the economy work again.” (Purple Library Guy)

    We want productvity from employment, which wasnt all the great, and historicly subpar, during the new deal despite employment gains, and during WW2, and not out line with great depression figures.

    The soviet union all had jobs, every single person was employed. We need something more then just employment gains.

    Tell me during the new deal, or WW2, what could those wages could purchase, the average citezen went through hell, not something a progressive should really be advocating as “Tires were the first item to be rationed in January 1942 because supplies of natural rubber were interrupted. Soon afterward, passenger automobiles, typewriters, sugar, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, fuel oil, Silk, Nylon, coffee, stoves, shoes, meat, lard, shortening and oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies and fruit butter, were rationed by November 1943″ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_home_front_during_World_War_II)

    They had a great life, under that socialistic period, it was full rainbows and sunshine and lolly-pops…

    Was life of the soviet citezen better? Was the life of the average American better who could only purchase war bonds or here in canada victory bonds?

    “We often hear that big cuts in government spending over a short time are a bad idea. The case against big cuts, typically made by Keynesian economists, is twofold. First, large cuts in government spending, with no offsetting tax cuts, would lead to a large drop in aggregate demand for goods and services, thus causing a recession or even a depression. Second, with a major shift in demand (fewer government goods and services and more private ones), the economy will experience a wrenching readjustment, during which people will be unemployed and the economy will slow” (http://www.presimetrics.com/blog/?p=214)

    “Yet, this scenario has already occurred in the United States, and the result was an astonishing boom. [Capitalism at a fine moment]. In the four years from peak World War II spending in 1944 to 1948, the U.S. government cut spending by $72 billion—a 75-percent reduction. It brought federal spending down from a peak of 44 percent of gross national product (GNP) in 1944 to only 8.9 percent in 1948, a drop of over 35 percentage points of GNP” (http://www.presimetrics.com/blog/?p=214)

    “While government spending fell like a stone, federal tax revenues fell only a little, from a peak of $44.4 billion in 1945 to $39.7 billion in 1947 and $41.4 billion in 1948. In other words, from peak to trough, tax revenues fell by only $4.7 billion, or 10.6 percent” (http://www.presimetrics.com/blog/?p=214)

    “Yet, the economy boomed. The unemployment rate, which was artificially low at the end of the war because many millions of workers had been drafted into the U.S. armed services, did increase. But during the years from 1945 to 1948, it reached its peak at only 3.9 percent in 1946, and, for the months from September 1945 to December 1948, the average unemployment rate was only 3.5 percent”
    (http://www.presimetrics.com/blog/?p=214)

    It was practically a capitalist takeover of the economy.

    Keynes ideas were disenfranchised, and not of the caliber of popularity durng the new deal or ww2.

    Hey “sure I’ll tell you why. It’s really simple: The rich snatched all the goodies” (Purple Library Guy)
    which caused the present situation where “one breadwinner could own his house, (housing prices today are we”ll above the historic 100 year trend line), educate, clothe, and feed a family of 4 boys and 3 girls…seemingly impossible?” (Brandon, L) to dissapear.

    How did the rich cause housing, education clothing, and food, and energy to be so out of whack with incomes?

    Best known cause to I, is inflation: a loss of purchasing power requiring more canadian dollars to purchase the same ammount of goods/services as my parrents. I look at inflation over decades, and particularly n interesting period to look from 1970 and following as the income inequality was substantially grown from there.

    Today it takes more canadian dollars to purcahse a house, then it did for my parents, or my granperents, or my great granparents, same goes for education, and other such expenditures. I do not see how the rich, is too blame, or responsible.

    I wish I could get educated like on a job savings, but I cannot and must work more hours to just get the same ammunt of education you did.

    “The minimum wage is way lower in purchasing power than it ever was.” (Purple Library Guy)

    Yea, I know, and how will increasing the minimum wage to make up for lost purchasing power, solve the problem. Tell me, what would lead to a sustain uptick in purchasing power, and higher wages, a year, from now, two, 5, 10?

    Will my children, be forced to work, as I cannot afford to provide for them, with current wages and current prices, if I were to have a child. I see many children returning to the workforce, in the future, if this keeps up, erasing all the gains.

    I’m watching my friends becoming parents, with no long-term ability to offer them anything like we had growing up. It just isnt a cheap as it use to be to raise and educate children, a downfall for society. Rasing children should be inexpensive. There is a reason families are taking a greater share of food stamps, since the cost of living is unbearble.

    Did my poor status, leave youre intelligence assualted. I’m truly srr..y mas.ter…I’ll.re..edu…cate myself …right away…..Please no h…urt.

    Next time try being polite, that was pretty elitist of your-self to imply that I do not know what best for myself, or my conditions, or which prices are burdensome, and which are not. Besides the sexual innuendos of vulgarity you displayed, concerning something with my pants!

    Why should the rich pay more then I, there is to be had a credible argument for countries which have implemented a flat tax.

    Please have a great christmas, with your family, and loved ones @ Mr.Purple

    Sincerly, Brandon L

    p.s. even if you have a higher IQ, then I, thats no excuse, for such behavior.

  • Mister, you asked for an explanation. I gave one. I was blunt, but I didn’t insult you, so I don’t know what your problem is. Perhaps it was a rhetorical question that didn’t want an answer.
    But the answer is still true. You will not blame the rich–but you should. At the most simple, basic and brutal level, if you track the changes in income and wealth over the past while, what’s happened is that there is more money, there is more wealth, than there was decades ago. After all, technology has advanced, productivity has increased. But if you look at where the wealth went, all the increases and then some went to the rich. The tide rose. It did not lift all boats, it just lifted theirs. The wealthy have vastly more money now than they used to, while everyone else has vastly more debt. This at a time when the wealthy have clearly captured the policymaking process more than ever before. So they played for what they wanted, they got it, and the results are what you said: Where back in the day one full-time’s worth of even low income could raise a family, even if it was tough, nowadays it’s bloody impossible. But the rich have like three times as much as they used to, not counting all the stuff they’ve got squirreled away offshore.

    We can quibble back and forth about the real meaning of this and that historical event until we’re blue in the face, but the bottom line of the past thirty years is that the rich are busily getting richer at the expense of everyone else, and they’re empowered by the people who refuse to object to having their pockets picked.

    That would be you: You have major troubles, the same troubles the rest of us got. You have those troubles broadly because the wealthy have taken a bigger share of the pie, leaving less for folks like me and you. But you get totally upset when someone suggests taking it back. That does annoy me, because if it weren’t for people like you backing up the wealthy’s play to pick my pocket I’d be better off and so would most people I know.

  • I’m not sure what you suggest be done with electricity prices. The fact is that areas with private electricity market have higher prices then BC.

    “tvs, cell phones, computers” and Cosmetic Surgery are areas of rapid technological change and are not typical examples. The cost of most things in the private sector, like furniture or food, have been rising over the years.

    World War II worked as a stimulus project as expected. Once the economy started going and demand has been established it was safe for the stimulus to be withdrawn. We are currently no where near ready to withdrawal stimulus.

    “I do not see how the rich, is too blame, or responsible.”

    Since 1970 the rich has been taking a higher and higher percentage of the income, leaving the middle class static and the lower classes falling behind. What did the rich do to deserve that?

    “There is a reason families are taking a greater share of food stamps, since the cost of living is unbearble. ”

    There is no such thing as food stamps in Canada. Are you sure you are living in the country you think you are?

  • This post inspired by to write an anti-Vision post.

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