Category Archives: Trains

David Merner and the Conversation the Liberal Party Needs to Have

David Merner (left) and Alberta Liberal Party president Todd Van Vliet (right.)

It’s funny, I thought I would be running as a pro-business, pro-environment West-coast Liberal but it looks like I’ve become the ‘cooperation candidate.‘” That was former LPC(BC) President David Merner’s reaction when I told him that I had read Gloria Galloway’s article in the Globe and Mail and I had some questions for him about Liberal/NDP cooperation.

Mr. Merner held a meet-and-greet in Toronto at the Duke of York on Friday (it was the second of these type of events that I had attended in as many weeks.) With Jean Chrétien openly musing about the prospect of a LPC-NDP merger, David and I agreed that the party needs to talk openly about cooperation (though Merner, like myself is vehemently opposed to a merger) and we can’t be afraid of talking openly about so-called “Liberal sacred cows.*” If the Liberal Party doesn’t have a serious conversation on what I have termed “progressive cooperation,” there will be fissures within the party that may weaken us going in to the 2015 election. However, Nathan Cullen only received 24.6% of the vote on the 3 (and 2nd last) ballot at the NDP leadership convention back in March. The pair of candidates on the final ballot (Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair) were two of the fiercest opponents of cooperation with the Liberal Party in the running to succeed Jack Layton.

When Merner talks about cooperation he focuses on reaching out to the Greens, red-tories and (a term he introduced me to that I now love) “conservation-conservatives.” As a Liberal campaigning in Victoria B.C., he realizes that in ridings in that area, and in places like Vancouver and Toronto, cooperation with the NDP (our main opponents) wouldn’t make sense. Merner’s approach to cooperation fits in well with the pragmatism that is a pillar of the modern Liberal party. “We should be about creating choices for Canadians not reducing choices.” Merner believes that any practical form of electoral cooperation must, like the debate on cooperation, come from the bottom up. He pointed to the deal between Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May not to run candidates in each-others’ respective ridings as a top down decision that had negative results. This pragmatic attitude was on display when I asked Merner about two of my top issues, cannabis legalization and high-speed rail. Merner supports legalization, calling prohibition a “waste of police resources” while pointing out how cannabis would be a cash crop in British Columbia. On high-speed rail he wasn’t afraid to disagree with me bluntly. We talked about the proposed Edmonton-Calgary and Quebec-Windsor lines. He compared commitments to building massive high-speed rail lines to previous Liberal governments failure to reach ambitious environmental goals. “We need to be the party of practical solutions to real problems.”

David Merner bristled at the fact that certain party officials have said that progressive cooperation is “not up for discussion.” I agree. As the third party we need to show that the Liberal Party’s approach is different than the NDP or CPC‘s. To do this the Liberal Party needs to produce and promote bold policies and we need a competitive leadership race where the candidates aren’t afraid to constructively criticize the party.

David Merner is an intelligent and engaging candidate. Let’s not close our minds to any of the candidates because the media interprets one of his or her positions narrowly or incorrectly.

* Real, substantive health care reform and realistic targets to reduce carbon emissions were two such “sacred cows” that we discussed at the Friday evening event.

President Obama commits to high-speed rail in his 2011 SOTU!

This clip is from the energy section of the State of the Union speech. President Obama followed his promise to get rid of $4 billion worth of government subsidies to oil companies with a commitment to “bring high-speed rail to 80% of Americans within 25 years.” President Obama knows that high-speed rail is good for manufacturing in the short-term and produces many long-term benefits (economically and environmentally.)

The Liberal Party of Canada should commit to high-speed rail. Many journalists/political scientists have determined that Stephen Harper’s biggest weakness is his lack of vision. Bullet trains could be just the thing to capture the Canadian imagination and take the fight to PM Harper.

Stephen Harper doesn’t want Canada’s trains to run on time…or at all

On September 2nd, Stephen Harper announced that the federal government would be investing $265 million in light rail in the Kitchener-Waterloo region. This is only 1/3 of the cost of the proposed project (which is projected to be operational by 2015) but the area will benefit greatly from the additional transportation infrastructure. The press conference was low-key and few major news outlets reported on the event.

On Labour Day, in Milwaukee, President Barack Obama announced a $50 billion infrastructure plan to build roads, runways and many a railway in the United States. The plan will finally bring European-style super trains to America. The President’s speech was covered by American and Canadian media and was laid out in a speech that has been described as one of his best since becoming President.

The two announcements were as different as Prime Minister Harper and President Obama. Harper inherited a $13 billion budget surplus from the previous Liberal government (similar to the massive surplus George W. Bush inherited from President Clinton) whereas Obama inherited the largest recession since the great depression. When President Obama took office he was quick to put into place the stimulus measures to save American jobs and then he embarked upon the most ambitious financial reform measures (aimed an America’s banks) since FDR. As late as October 14th, 2008, Stephen Harper was saying: “This country will not go into recession next year”. While in opposition he railed against the regulatory measures the Liberals put in place that so effectively protected Canadian banks from the global economic meltdown. When he was finally forced to pass a stimulus bill Harper did so reluctantly and in a shameful pork-barrel style that built gazebos and arenas instead of investing in infrastructure projects that Canada so desperately needs. President Obama set up a website, http://www.recovery.gov , where American’s could track the stimulus. Prime Minister Harper’s culture of deceit was in full swing so the opposition had to ask the AG to investigate how the dollars were spent.

Our suspicion is that, first of all, the process was slow, a lot slower than they said it would be and, second, that there seems to have been a tendency to distribute the money for political reasons rather than for reasons of economic need.” – John McCallum.

Canada’s infrastructure is badly in need of an upgrade. The Liberal Party is the only Canadian political party with substantive infrastructure policy (the focus of the Toronto Can150 Policy forum was, in fact, infrastructure.) As Michael Ignatieff has said over and over, if the Canadian government doesn’t invest in infrastructure now we are going to have “people without jobs and jobs without people.” One excellent way to connect people with jobs, create many jobs now and invest in the technology that will bring jobs of the future, is high-speed rail.

The only thing stopping Canada from having high-speed rail is regressive/stunted Conservative ideology. In many ways, it seems like Conservatives just hate trains (with the exclusion of John A. Macdonald, though Stephen Harper has a low opinion our first Prime Minister as he detests the national policy) as Stephen Harper and John McCain are both fervently anti-train. Conservative opposition to high-speed rail (and the census, and bank regulation, and evidence-based crime policy) has nothing to do with the facts.

Reports, reports, reports:

Since 1973 there have been 16 separate studies on the feasibility of high-speed rail in Canada (specifically a line connecting Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto-Windsor.) All of them (including the most recent one from the Rotman School of Management at U of T) argue that the benefits far outweigh the costs.

The estimate cost of this project is $23.9 Billion. The final result would make it possible for someone to travel from Toronto to Montreal in 2 hours and 18 minutes! Down from 4 hours.  At 300 km/h this plan would slash greenhouse emissions, energy consumption and traffic.  Another line connecting Edmonton to Calgary has also been closely studied and would be a boon to Alberta. Bombardier could build the trains/tracks so the jobs and technological innovation would all stay in Canada.

One of the things that the Martin-Florida report spoke to was the need to enhance our connectivity … for purposes of growing the economy.- Dalton McGuinty.

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Why do the Conservatives oppose a Canadian high-speed rail project?

They are a bunch of ignorant jackanapes The Price Tag: “That’s a gigantic $20 billion or $30 billion project.” – John Baird. Conservatives say that the line would cost too much.

Some Conservative costs:

  • $13 Billion: The Liberal-created budget surplus that Stephen Harper wasted.
  • Billions:  that Stephen Harper squandered by cutting the GST which economists say had no real benefit and cost the government a huge sum of money.
  • $1 Billion: Cost of the 2010 G20 summit.
  • $19 Billion: No big fighter-jet contracts.
  • $12 Billion: Prisons for “unreported crimes.”
  • $1 billion on consultants in its first two years in office – a 42 per cent increase compared to the Liberal government from 2004-06.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government could have built the Montreal-Windsor (which President Obama has guaranteed would meet with an American high-speed rail line starting in Michigan which would be a big shot-in-the-arm to Canadian manufactures) several times with all of the Billions of Billions of Canadian taxpayer’s dollars they have wasted.

Canada needs high-speed rail. Job. Technology. Canadian Unity. The Environment.

Like a gavel it would close Debate, making Macdonald’s ‘sea to sea’ Pour through two oceanic megaphones — Three thousand miles of Hail from port to port; And somewhere in the middle of the line Of steel, even the lizard heard the stroke. The breed had triumphed after all. To drown The traffic chorus, she must blend the sound With those inaugural, narcotic notes Of storm and thunder which would send her back Deeper than ever in Laurentian sleep.” – E.J. Pratt. Towards the Last Spike.

President Obama Announces $8 Billion Investment in High-Speed Rail

President Obama mentioned the need for the United States to upgrade their antiquated rail system in 2010 State of the Union and gave specifics on January 28th. “The White House announced the awarding of $8 billion in stimulus funding to kick-start high-speed-rail projects and improve service in 13 corridors across the country.”

China is currently spending $300 billion to build more than 16,000 miles of high-speed track by 2020.

Europe and Japan are famous for their efficient and inexpensive high-speed rail.

In Korea the KTX travels at 300 km/h and has been a boon to the already awesome Korean economy.

Though President Obama and the United States are coming late to the High-Speed Rail table they are still ahead of Canada. Stephen Harper’s government has failed to invest in high-speed rail even though it would greatly benefit Canada’s economy by creating jobs and linking our dispersed population centers. “We can’t let the Americans get the jump on us,” said federal Liberal transport critic Joe Volpe. “We’re better equipped than they are to do this and we can’t have a small-thinking government . . . stand in the way.” The Obama high-speed rail plan will benefit several Canadian cities and provides a great opportunity for the Canadian government to invest in high-speed rail.

Instead of spending taxpayer money on a Go-Train photo Ops Prime Minister Harper should invest that money in high-speed rail.

Green Technology > Tar Sands (or Canada’s Economy: Stuck in the Tar Sands with You.)

For various geopolitical and commercial reasons the United States is becoming increasingly dependent on Canada (Alberta) for their oil supply. There are those on the right who are pondering which words to emphasize in their exclamations of “I told you so” as many people, regardless of political ideology, believe this that higher demand for Canadian oil will be good for Alberta/Canada’s economy. Many Canadians dislike the tar sands because they have a silly belief that our children should have breathable air. At the Copenhagen Climate Conference Stephen Harper’s Conservative government made Canada an international joke by defending the tar sands against all criticism. The argument behind PM Harper’s defense of the oil sands was that it would hurt Canada’s economy if we did the right thing and reigned in pollution.

The Toronto Star ices this argument old school in a recent article (here):

But are those who extol the economic benefits of the tar sands for Ontario and Quebec even right about their own arguments? A less flattering picture emerges when you factor in something that doesn’t get enough attention in Canada: how hitching our economy to dirty oil production turns our dollar into a petro-loonie. This hurts manufacturing by pricing our products out of international markets as our currency follows the price of oil ever upward over time.

A recent study by a University of Ottawa professor and others estimates that 42 per cent of the job loss in Canadian manufacturing over the last few years resulting from the rise in the dollar can be attributed to our rise in oil exports, and identifies the computer and electronics, textile, transportation, machinery, paper and plastics sectors as those most affected. Ontario and Quebec are home to the majority of these industries.

Despite the fact that the tar sands are hurting the environment and the economy, “Canada Natural” is planning on moving forward with two new projects in the oil sands.

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There is a similar conventional wisdom that says “green is expensive and bad for the economy.” Where Alberta is failing Ontario and Quebec are investing in bold new initiatives that are pro-environment and pro-business.

In Ontario:

A deal between the Provincial Government and Samsung Group worth up to $7 billion is being announced today that will lead to the manufacturing of renewable energy equipment in Ontario. Samsung will also develop 600 megawatts of wind and solar farms in Ontario, which the Liberal government believes will help meet its target of 50,000 new jobs created over three years through the Green Energy Act.” Those criticizing the deal point to costs and the fact that the company is Korean. These critics apparently don’t understand globalization. In the economy of 2010 Canada can’t specialize or grow its own industry without the assistance of countries who have mastered the technology. The cost issue is one that really irritates me. We have to invest in green technology now so we don’t have to pay billion upon billions later when we cannot rely on outdated dirty forms of energy and other countries have the infrastructure in place and can sell the technology at whatever price they want. Korea dominates technology because the government consciously and deliberately invested in these technologies. Dalton McGuinty’s government has a sense of purpose that Stephen Harper’s does not.

In Quebec:

Recently Jean Charest announced that he wanted to electrify all of Quebec’s transport system: “We could have the objective of becoming the the first society in North America to electrify its fleet of automobiles and public transit.” Jean Charest want to set sustainability goals for the next 10 and 20 years. This kind of initiative would benefit Hydro-Québec greatly and the province already has some of the infrastructure in place. Quebec is the world’s fourth-ranking producer of hydroelectricity while Montreal is the third aerospace centre in the world after Toulouse and Seattle.

Both of these Premiers are preparing to implement proposals that will create jobs, help Canada specialize in technologies that will be valuable on the world market in the near future and will help fight climate change.

The federal government has spent four years defending the oil sands which hurts the environment, manufactures and Canada’s place on the world stage.

When planing policies to fight climate change and bring Canada’s economy and workforce we need act smart by investing in environmentally sustainable technologies.

Those of us who critique the tar sands need to think green as well and focus on only on how bad the oil sands are for the for the environment but how they will cost Canada economically.

Stephen J. Harper ≠ Richard M. Nixon

With Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s suspension of parliament a new moniker for his hyper partisan-delusional-cloistered-opaque-unaccountable form of governing: “The Imperial Prime Minister.” The historical allusion to the end of the Roman Empire fits with how Stephen Harper has acted as Prime Minister (especially since Caligula appoint his horse to the Senate too.) It is also fitting to juxtapose PM Harper with President Richard Nixon who was said to have solidified the concept of the Imperial Presidency.

It is easy to understand why anyone would refer to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as Canada’s Richard Nixon: Both are awkward, paranoid, megalomaniacs who play the piano. President Nixon started the “War on Drugs’ and Prime Minister Harper has said he wants to win it (no matter what the cost in dollars or lives ruined.) PM Harper and President Nixon both have famous pets (though Stephen Harper says that only cat-people should be elected to lead countries, and Nixon was a dog man.) Richard Nixon was fond of ad hominem attacking his opponents by calling them “Communists.” Though Stephen Harper would love to revive that anachronism he has settled for referring to a perfectly legitimate use of parliamentary procedure as “plotting with separatists.”

Sure Stephen Harper channels Richard Nixon in his love for demolishing his enemies. Though Nixon does appear to be PM Harper’s foil I believe that this is an insult to President Richard Nixon’s legacy:

The Environment: President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970 and created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nixon is also responsible for creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made the environment his last priority. The Harper Government has done nothing to fight climate change and embarrassed Canada on the world stage at the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

Infrastructure: In 1971 President Nixon created Amtrack. Stephen Harper resisted spending any money on updating Canada’s infrastructure to prepare this country for the future and when he was forced by the opposition parties to invest in infrastructure he spent the money (the property of all Canadian taxpayers) in a blatantly partisan manner, spending money disproportionately in Conservative ridings and announcing the spending like the Government was “The Price is Right.” It seems like PM Harper dislikes trains more than Andrew Coyne.

China: Richard Nixon opened up China to the world, engaging Chairman Mao in his first year as President. PM Harper waited until four years had passed before visiting the emerging economic superpower. Unlike Nixon, Harper’s visit was full of gaffes and had no impact on world history/the history of his country. Stephen Harper gained no concessions from the Chinese government on human rights or protectionism.

Innovation: In 1969, Nixon’s first year in office, the US became the first country ever to land on the moon. Nixon supported investing in innovation and completed the work of his predecessor (a Democrat) because he knew that it was good for the United States. Prime Minister Harper has refused to protect Canadian tech jobs and his lack of investment in the future could leave Canada behind. Prime Minister Harper fired Linda Keen, a nuclear watchdog, because she warned his government what would happen to Chalk River simply because the previous government appointed her.

Civil Rights: President Nixon supported the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and school desegregation. In his “secret speech” Stephen Harper referred to groups advocating woman’s rights as “Fringe” groups.

Social Safety Net: President Nixon increased spending on Social Security and Medicare by 6.3%. Stephen Harper has attacked Canada in speeches (before he was PM) as a failed socialist country and refused to defend our Health Care system when it was under attack by his Republican brethren in the US congress. National Citizen’s Coalition President Harper urged the Premier of Alberta to “build a firewall” and dismantle the social safety that the Liberal Party of Canada worked so hard to create.

Conclusion:

President Richard Nixon was an absolute scoundrel. Like Prime Minister Harper in Canada, Nixon damaged American Democracy by abusing the power he swore an oath to use responsibly. The lesson America, and the world, learned from Watergate was that when the media doesn’t do its job the President/Prime Minister will act will no checks and balances simply because they can. Prime Minister Harper has used the levers of government to dole out patronage to Conservative hacks, he has ignored official requests from Parliament and treated the HOC as nuisance, he spurns the media and has no respect for those who disagree with his obtuse policies that don’t reflect the will of the majority of Canadians.

Prime Minister Harper puts protecting the bonuses of oil executives ahead of protecting the environment. Prime Minister Harper thinks connecting our country, investing in infrastructure, creating Canadian jobs and awakening the Canadian spirit from sea to sea to sea is not important. Prime Minister Harper hadn’t left the country before becoming PM and ignored China/India for four years. Prime Minister Harper thinks civil rights are a fringe issue and that people who believe a health citizenry is import for a health economy are “socialists” or “separatists” or are “just visiting.”

Canada has, against its will and sans consultation, entered the era of the Imperial Prime Minister.

A final counterfactual: Would you choose Richard Nixon or Stephen Harper if you were able to pick one to be Prime Minister of Canada? Partisan paranoia and tyrannical tendencies aside it would be tempting to pick the one would who protect the environment, invest in technology, and protect the social safety net.

United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on The Daily Show Talking about how awesome Trains are!

http://watch.thecomedynetwork.ca/clip247184#clip247184