I am a lifetime contrarian. Whatever I’m supposed to do, I rebel against. I have not changed much in my dotage.
But I’m going to vote “Yes” in the Transit Plebiscite, notwithstanding the fact that I have grave concerns about the Translink and the city councils offering their ideas about how to spend the money.
There are several reasons that I came to this conclusion.
Look at who’s leading the “No” side
To begin with, I always like to see who is lined up on each side of an argument so that I can judge a little better what the issues really are. There are a great many people who have expressed simple annoyance, deep annoyance in fact, at the way Translink has been run. I have a lot of sympathy with that but in a moment I will tell you why that is not my major consideration.
I will say this: I think that going into this plebiscite, Premier Clark ought to have got together with the various mayors and come up with a better way to administer transit in Greater Vancouver. But she didn’t and we must make our decision based on what is, not what we wish it was.
Looking at those who are leading the “No” vote, I see the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Fraser Institute – the former much more prominent, in the person of Jordan Bateman. This rings a lot of bells for me because these organizations have never seen a public institution that they didn’t want to see smashed to pieces and help in the process. They have a constitutional dislike of everything that is not run by the private sector.
As for the Fraser Institute, my eyes were opened a few years ago when I interviewed a man named Dr. Walter Block, a “fellow” of that organization, who believed in consensual slavery. If a single mom with children, unable to bear the expense, wanted to become a wealthy man’s slave, by consent, she should be free to do so!
Now I don’t for a moment suggest that that is the general view of right-wingers but Block was a “fellow”, his views are the logical extension of unrestrained libertarianism, and it’s places like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Fraser Institute where far right libertarians park themselves and erect their soapboxes.
I think it is fair to say that both of these organizations represent the far right wing in our community and don’t represent real people with real problems.
Voting “No” won’t solve our problems
Let’s get back to the question of management of Transit.
There is one fact that jumps out of all of this when you think about it. This isn’t the normal case where the “No” side says, “Let’s throw the rascals out and throw us in so that we can do a better job”. There is no such alternative mechanism ready to step in if the vote is no – we simply go into a state of limbo, fumble about, presumably try to work out a better governing arrangement, tackle the various issues piecemeal without any central direction and eventually work ourselves back to the position where we must have another plebiscite!
Being on the “No” side when you have no responsibility to do anything if you win, is pretty damn easy. It’s all very well just to say that things have been badly managed, but unless you have somebody to step in with a better idea, you’re simply protesting without a plan.
A streetcar I desire
Most of all I recognize that if the “No” votes wins we’ll be in the transit wilderness for years to come. That really doesn’t affect me personally as I am old and I live in Lions Bay, which is extremely well-served and stands to gain or lose very little in this exercise.
On the other hand, I am a native Vancouverite and have lived here most of my life. I go back to the days of the streetcar – I wish we could in fact go back to those days. I’ve seen my City grow from about a quarter of a million when I was a boy to 2,000,000-plus today. I’ve been through the debate which saw us reject freeways for better transit without coming up with the transit.
I’ve used public transit systems all over the world and I’ve never seen one where people didn’t bitch about it. It goes with the territory.
A lot of work to be done
A “Yes” vote scarcely guarantees that all will be peachy from here on. What it does guarantee is that there will be a plan, money to fulfill it, pursued by people who are very close to the voters, namely mayors and counsels.
No doubt there are better ways somewhere but given our history and situation in Greater Vancouver, this is the best we can expect and is certainly better than the chaos that will result from a “No” vote.
So the old contrarian is asking his fellow citizens to overlook the fact that they’re not pleased with the system as they see it but know that the best way to deal with that is not to ignore it and hope, as Mr. Micawber did, that “something will turn up”.