BC Govt. one-upped for Bill 22

Nearly two years have passed since my involvement in a student rally in opposition of the upbringing of Bill 22, where I helped gather thousands of BC students to walk out in solidarity and in frustration over educational issues.Yes, the above video is, in fact, my video – one that gained more than 10,000 views overnight to help make the walkout a reality.

However, for the past two years it seemed the effort we put forward to launch this event didn’t go that far. Us students had a duty to go back to school and make the best for ourselves under whatever system was in place, because most of us really didn’t have time for this kind of advocacy. The BCTF went into a brief strike as the education situation continued to stagnate and it was unclear whether there would be any improvement in the situation. Skills training programs got cut, the student-educator ratio became the worst in Canada, and it seemed that just about everybody was out of luck.

Students from across Metro Vancouver protest overcrowded classrooms at a rally on March 2, 2012
Students from across Metro Vancouver protest overcrowded classrooms at a large-scale rally on March 2, 2012

After the election loss last Spring, I touched on how a big issue that our society in BC might face is a disconnect with younger people [SEE: Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people.], who have been put through the trials and tribulations of a broken education system with disappearing scholarship opportunities, larger class sizes, and more stressed out teachers being treated like they have no idea about how to teach students.

So, when I woke up today I was expecting a usual morning. Prepare breakfast, read news on phone, walk to SkyTrain station, take newspaper from canvassers in front of the station, open it and read on the train. That part of the morning didn’t actually differ from the usual, but my outlooks for the day changed rather drastically when I read the front page of 24 and spotted the words opened today’s print of 24 to find the words “B.C. teachers awarded $2 million in Bill 22 fight” in decently large letters staring me right in the face. I read the article with a potent grin on my face.

B.C. teachers awarded $2 million in Bill 22 fight

The B.C. Supreme Court has ordered Victoria to pay $2 million to the union representing the province’s teachers, saying government was “playing politics” by trying to push educators to strike, and imposed unconstitutional legislation that limited collective bargaining rights.

In a decision handed down Monday, Justice Susan Griffin slammed the provincial government for creating Bill 22, a now-rejected law governing collective bargaining that was nearly identical to legislation previously deemed unconstitutional by the courts.

She said the ruling BC Liberals were trying to provoke teachers into a strike in 2011 by putting forward unacceptable suggestions during bargaining…..

[READ MORE – 24 Hours Vancouver]

The Supreme Court has had their say and it looks like it’s clear that students back then were sending the correct message to the B.C. Government and to everyone paying attention, in solidarity with our teachers and principals. Give yourselves a pat on the back, everyone. It’s now just up to the government to comply with this ruling and we will be rolling again in no time.

Below: a video summary of the action we took in March 2012.

Younger people aren’t happy with BC election results

A student holds up a picket sign at the B.C. High School Student Walkout of March 2012 - Art Gallery, Vancouver
A student holds up a picket sign at the B.C. High School Student Walkout of March 2012 – Art Gallery, Vancouver; Photo – CC BY-NC-ND – Flickr – ttcopley

Last week, after the infamous Orange Crash of the 2013 BC Elections, I wrote a piece on my blog (Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people) stating  how a split would grow between the young people of B.C. and everyone else as young people continue to be left at the back of the priority list for issue-solving, and how this could become B.C.’s single biggest future issue.

Just a few days ago, I read a letter to the editor by a Surrey elementary student from Berkshire Park. He commented on how young adults need to start voting and offers solutions that B.C. could use to improve the turnout of democracy. I did a piece about this [CLICK HERE], pointing it out to my readers, noting that it to me signified the beginning of what I had predicted in my previous article.

It turns out I overlooked another newsletter in that same edition of the Leader, which publishes today, which was submitted by a young writer and is about the BC 2013 election results. The letter, which was written by a Surrey high school student who is just one year younger than I am, conveys much of the same feelings I have about the state of British Columbia and what needs to be done.

The letter begins with this….

I’m not extremely pleased with the 2013 B.C. election results.

Continues with this….

The Liberals have been a disaster for the most vulnerable people in this society. I believe a majority of B.C. residents are middle-class families. After reviewing the list of the party’s highlights, I think they seem to support issues that are of no interest to average families. They focus on situations that do not apply to a majority of us.

And ends with this….

At least the NDP addressed a societal issue making a change, unlike the Liberals. As leader Adrian Dix stated after Tuesday night’s election results, “sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and in B.C. it often rains.”

I guess it’s only a matter of four more years.

The full letter? You can read it at the Surrey Leader website. I have posted the first few paragraphs below….

Liberal victory isn’t the best result

by Navi Dosajnh, 16, Surrey

I’m not extremely pleased with the 2013 B.C. election results.

Everyone has their own views, but as a teen who attends a high school with increasing class sizes, and having dealt with the teacher’s strike, the B.C. Liberals don’t seem like such a great choice.

I understand that Premier Christy Clark has done a lot for the province: increasing the minimum wage to $10.25; implementing a 10-point, $2-million anti-bullying strategy; establishing an Independent Investigations Office to investigate serious cases involving police officers; and many more things and I acknowledge that.

But if we think about other aspects that spark growing tension, the Liberals have not touched upon the many situations that are leading the province to a complete downfall.

The Liberals cut $16 million in student loan funds, with no warning, leaving students unable to attend classes and wreaking chaos on families who are already financially strapped…

[READ MORE on the Surrey Leader website]

Newsletter signifies the beginning of a split between young and old

Sign points out a voting place. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND -  Flickr - BlueAndWhiteAmy
Sign points out a voting place. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND – Flickr – BlueAndWhiteAmy

Last week, after the infamous Orange Crash of the 2013 BC Elections, I wrote a piece on my blog (Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people) stating how young people would begin losing hope in democracy, how a split would grow between the young people of B.C. and everyone else as young people continue to be left at the back of the priority list for issue-solving, and how this could become B.C.’s single biggest future issue.

My prediction seems to be coming into fruitition, and it’s coming earlier than I expected. Earlier today, a very well-written newsletter in the Surrey Leader appeared on my reader feed. The letter was allegedly written by a student at Berkshire Park Elementary, a school near my house (about 15 minutes away by bike). It offers comments on the flawed state of democracy and voter apathy. He comments on how young adults need to start voting and offers solutions that B.C. could use to improve the turnout of democracy.

This is only the beginning of what will become a remarkable split between young and old in British Columbia.

The key thing that I think signifies it? The last lines of the letter that read “I wish I could vote, but I’m not old enough.”

Democracy flawed by voter apathy

by Jonathan Wang – Berkshire Park Elem.

There is a major flaw with our democratic system – not enough people vote in elections nowadays.

In this last election where the B.C. Liberals won, just over half of the people eligible to vote actually voted, and yet we still called it a Liberal majority government.

This doesn’t work, because a majority government should mean that it represents the opinion of the majority of people in B.C…..

[READ MORE on the Surrey Leader website]

Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people.

It’s been more than one year now since that day when we stood there protesting Bill 22, outside and in the rain and snow, probably close to some 20000 strong students all belonging to a generation that researchers of this society have labelled with the letter “Y”.

We weren’t just a random group of high school kids who wanted to skip school just to take the opportunity to join a bunch of other people doing it. Granted, there were probably some of us who were out of school for that purpose, but in spite of that, there were a lot of us had real concerns about our education – and we showed it in rallies and protests that, for that one day, attracted attention across the province. We were everywhere. The average joe who kept up would have seen us in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Penticton, Squamish….. and even in a small town somewhere north of Prince George.

And then, after that, we had to go back to school.

The reality of being young and needy in British Columbia

It’s hard enough for a young person in BC to show their concerns about their society and their environment; the majority of us, under 18, don’t have a vote in any elections. However, facing school and pressures that take up our daily lives, we really don’t have the time to commit to involvement in protecting our own futures and prosperity. Less yet do we have time to be skipping school and making a big show of it like we did that one time on March 2nd, just to show people that we’re concerned about what’s going on. We don’t have time to launch mega-massive protests like the ones Montreal students did at about the same time over rising tuition fees.

Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012
Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012

So, what we don’t have an ability to do in this society is properly represent ourselves. We rely on the 85 important and older people who go to Victoria with the hope that they will make decisions that do accomodate us, and steer us towards the prosperity that other generations of past got so that they could become great and successful people, in much the same way we want to be. We have to rely on you, and we can’t rely on ourselves – and that, I believe, is becoming one of the most critical mistakes in modern-day politics in every democratically-run sovereignty.

In May 2012, a few months after the March student walkout and after months of job action, teachers across the province were forced to give up. They accepted a horrible legislation that was called Bill 22, a legislation that has brought to B.C. the worst student-educator ratio in Canada and the associated effects to students and to our society in the indirect ways.

Our say, in addition to their say, just simply wasn’t enough.

Young vs old in BC polls

Yesterday, when thousands of British Columbians took to the polls to get in their vote in the 2013 elections, elementary and high school students across the province participated in Student Vote: a parallel election program coinciding with the British Columbia provincial election. They elected a majority NDP government. But, when the actual elections came, they were then out-voted by the rest of the population.

When British Columbians in a surprise flip elected back the same government that brought us the horrid Bill 22, young people under 18 in British Columbia didn’t have a say in it at all.

We won’t have a say in facing another 4 years of the B.C. Liberal government that has brought us inferior education compared to other provinces in Canada (including the worst student-educator ratio in the country). We won’t have a say in the cutbacks in skills training programs that will affect us as we graduate from high school and look for these programs to get us the skills we will need to start benefiting from (and contributing to) the economy in the future. We won’t have a say in any of this.

On top of that, we also have to face the fact that well over 70% of people in this province simply didn’t think about us when they made their vote. That 70% being: the 52% of people who didn’t show up to the polls at all (only 48% of voters voted in the May 2013 provincial election, a record low), in addition to the voters around the province who brought back the party that has largely governed without our interests in mind for the past 12 years.

There is a growing disconnect between the young population of British Columbia and everyone else.

I think that, starting today and proceeding as more and more of the issues young people face in their society get worse and worse as little is done to effectively solve them, young people in this province are going to lose hope in our modern system of democracy. They’re going to lose hope in their ability to be accommodated in a society that really doesn’t care about young people, has given them a much more difficult situation than was faced years ago by the generations that are now voting their concerns out, and doesn’t have a way to allow them to properly represent themselves in modern politics. (see video above, titled “What Is Generation Squeeze?“)

They’re going to start favouring something much more convoluted and scary in nature: something else.

In my view, this will create a tendency in British Columbians’ generation Y and (as they grow) generation Z: a tendency for us to be generally dissatisfied, unhappy, rebellious, and perhaps violently rebellious in our futures, as a result of the inconveniences we faced as a result of an incompetent government surrounding us at our young age. It will have dire consequences on the stability, economy and strength of this entire province.

That, I believe, is going to become this province’s single biggest future issue.

That, or the fact that based on the elections results there are probably few – if any – educated people in British Columbia who will ever take my concerns about the growing disconnect between young people and their society seriously.

Why I’m voting for the BC NDP this election (or, at least, I would)

If you know me (and aren’t one of my closer friends on Facebook), you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been quiet about my position for this coming B.C. provincial election. There are a lot of you out there who might be interested in where I may be going in life, and might – perhaps – start becoming concerned that I’m being brainwashed into supporting whoever I support in this election. After all, some of you may know that my mom, Narima Dela Cruz (a realtor and a top 25 Canadian immigrant) ran for the NDP candidacy nomination in Surrey-Tynehead. And, as her son, I didn’t really have much of a choice but to support her and believe in her unconditionally as they do in exchange for me.

But, you might also (or might not) know me for my largely non-partisan efforts so far – my numerous newsletters, the grassroots campaigns like Better Surrey Rapid Transit (skytrainforsurrey.org), or perhaps my new infographic on TransLink affordability, which was posted on reddit and reached out to hundreds of people in Metro Vancouver. These efforts, motivated by my own interests, have been going on long before my mom became involved with the NDP.

Well, today, I’m coming out. No, this isn’t a sexual orientation thing (for the record, I’m straight). This is about where my mind is going in this coming election. Or, would be, of course, if I could vote. My birthday is not until September, so I will be 4 months short of 18 when the big day happens. With 8 days left, I figure that now would be a good time to speak about what I think.

I have no shame in saying, with my hands down, that if I could vote in this election, I would be voting for the BC NDP.

Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP, speaking in Kamloops
Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP, speaking in Kamloops. Photo by BC NDP, CC-BY

I was reading a column recently on the Georgia Straight newspaper [CLICK HERE] that was written by a person who once voted for the opposing party (the BC Liberals) all the time, but stated that he would be voting for the NDP this time around because of Adrian Dix. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything, the writer did make this comment, which I think is particularly interesting:

“Dix has tried to do politics differently and has waged an honourable campaign. His bet is that the people prefer to be told the facts, hear more than talking points and platitudes, and want the straight goods, even if they sometimes may not like to hear it. As a voter, I like the idea that a political leader assumes that I am intelligent, and not a moron that falls for incendiary, superficial, and ultimately misleading sound bites.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why in this election, I have huge respect for the B.C. NDP.

I think a fully-detailed, multi-page, laid-out platform with facts and numbers like the one the NDP has prepared on its website can send a strong message to voters. It sends a message that this party won’t form a government that will make decisions based on assumptions.

Statistics like the ones the NDP are using, citing non-partisan sources and never making them up, turn me on in much the same way as electricity fills a light-bulb. Those of you who are aware of how I have been approaching an issue in my city with the Better Surrey Rapid Transit advocacy (skytrainforsurrey.org) for the past 2 years will know that I think in much the same way. I also believe in having a good base of facts, and believe that they matter in a person’s judgment in issues. I also believe in honesty and statistics in campaigning in the same way the NDP has approached BC voters, with huge popularity.

And, I will hate you if you lie, especially if it’s about an issue I am particularly passionate about. I’m definitely not a fan of the statistical inconsistency coming from the B.C. Liberals and Christy Clark.

Just a few days ago, I released a “Reality check” on my grassroots campaign Better Surrey Rapid Transit, grilling the Green Party and leader Jane Sterk for making a somewhat misleading claim about the land-use impacts of SkyTrain rapid transit (CLICK HERE TO VIEW THIS), pitting a claim that did not have a source against 5 studies that prove it wrong.

A sizable number of my friends are Green voters, and I found myself urging some of them not to take this personally. I guess that’s because if I could vote in the upcoming election, I wouldn’t be tempted to vote for the Green party, even if I had more involvement as an environmentalist than I do now. As you could probably guess, I’ve been turned off because of this.

The BC Greens and Jane Sterk say that SkyTrain encourages sprawl, but the studies that I referenced say exactly the opposite. This is a picture of Metrotown, one of the biggest examples of how SkyTrain has shaped urban growth in Metro Vancouver.
The BC Green Party and Jane Sterk say that SkyTrain encourages sprawl, but the studies that I referenced say exactly the opposite. This is a picture of Metrotown, one of the biggest examples of how SkyTrain has shaped urban growth in Metro Vancouver.

One of the things that goes through my mind when I think about the B.C. Green Party and this claim by Jane Sterk is that they don’t seem to have all of their facts and their platform in order. The claim that Jane made in the Vancouver Courier report was never a part of the B.C. Green platform, and that’s something that can cause disagreement within the party. What that tells me is that they don’t have it together. They don’t have the full collaboration and full preparation that a party needs to really woo voters and win elections. (I’m pro-environment, so if anyone from the Green Party is reading, this is input you can use for future elections!)

The B.C. Greens don’t have what the B.C. NDP has, to me. What the BC NDP has that ultimately gives them my support is that their party and their leader have demonstrated a great knowledge of what the issues are in B.C., and a proper plan on how to fix those issues that did not skimp in any regard. We don’t need to worry about how they will do after the election. Just judging by the amount of detail and attention put into this plan, it looks like the BC NDP are going to have it handled if they get a majority vote.

So, well, that’s it. This election, if I could vote, I would be voting for change for the better and the BC NDP. Now, you know why. I’m not trying to lecture anyone on who to vote for… but if I have inspired you, then my pleasure! That’s what I started blogging for.

Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP, speaking in the City of Surrey. Photo by BC NDP, CC-BY
Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP, speaking in the City of Surrey. Photo by BC NDP, CC-BY

REALITY CHECK: B.C. Liberal claims vs. the facts on The Millennium Line SkyTrain

2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line
2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line
Based on photo by sillygwalio on flickr – CC-BY

In a guest posting on the Vancity Buzz blog [CLICK HERE], B.C. Liberal spokesperson Simrath Grewal (Vice President of the Young Liberals) wrote that:

The Millennium Line commissioned by the NDP during the 1990s was delivered late, over budget and it only made stops in NDP held ridings.

And claimed that this was part of a line of a dismal record of transportation projects that was had with the B.C. NDP government of the 1990s.

In this election, the main opposition (the B.C. NDP) have often criticized the B.C. Liberals for inaccuracy, and it looks like they have a really good reason to. People can only be expected to believe what they’re told, and it seems they’re being told a lot of rhetoric. It’s showing in the above comment on the Millennium Line SkyTrain project.

Simrath Grewal is completely incorrect on claiming that the Millennium Line SkyTrain project was late and over budget. In fact, the team that oversaw the construction of the Millennium Line (Rapid Transit Project 2000, Ltd. or RTP2000) won a National Award for Engineering Achievement from Engineers Canada for completing the Millennium Line both on time and UNDER budget. Engineers Canada is the national organization of the 12 provincial and territorial associations that regulate the profession of engineering in Canada and license the country’s more than 250,000 members of the engineering profession. The award is viewable on the Engineers Canada website at [CLICK HERE]. Its message is pretty clear to me.

Engineers Canada award with link

The financial statements of RTP 2000 Ltd. [CLICK HERE for the latest] make it clear how much was spent on the Millennium Line: $1.1 billion, meaning that the line was well within budget. In terms of per-km cost, the Millennium Line was the least expensive SkyTrain project ever constructed, save for the SkyTrain section running from Scott Road to King George Station (see: Historical SkyTrain Costs, [CLICK HERE]). This is reflected in other claims on the project reference pages on websites of companies that helped work on the Millennium Line, such as the Cement Association of Canada [LINK HERE].

The other claim that interests me is the one that alleges that the Millennium Line was designed to cater only to NDP ridings, by only stopping in them.

This overlooks the fact that the Millennium Line was never fully completed. The current portion of the Millennium Line in service is a Phase I portion of the route. It was brought forward because it was the least expensive portion of a multi-phase project that would have integrated several kilometres of new SkyTrain with the existing SkyTrain system. Not a lot of people who then labelled the Millennium Line the “SkyTrain to nowhere” probably know that. The Millennium Line project came across a rather unfortunate turn of government: with the B.C. Liberals’ step up to power in 2001, the Phase II portion of the line (which was in planning & development) was cancelled.

The cancelled Phase II portion of the route would have extended the Millennium Line into Coquitlam (now moving forward as today’s Evergreen Line project) and westward into the Central Broadway district, building off of the inexpensive track infrastructure of the Phase I line and an expansion of the sole operations/maintenance facility in Burnaby. That would have made the entire Millennium Line a bargain, in the sense that with SkyTrain, better transit could be provided at a significant discount thanks to existing assets.

1998 SkyTrain plans for the Millennium Line
1998 SkyTrain plans for the Millennium Line

The cancellation of this had to do with a report released by a consultant named Alan Greer, which attempted to refute a revised study that lead to a change in decisions with the NDP government and the build-out of the current SkyTrain Millennium Line rather than an original at-grade LRT proposal, based on stakeholders’ wishes for more grade separation (for better transit). Greer used his report to claim that the new report endorsed by the NDP supporting SkyTrain was shady, but did so with an equally shady report.

In late 2012 I did a review of this report as part of my work with the SkyTrain for Surrey Initiative (now called Better Surrey Rapid Transit at skytrainforsurrey.org) and found several inaccuracies that were not reviewed at the time, because the report was kept confidential for two years. [READ MY FULL ANALYSIS – CLICK HERE]

From original PRESS RELEASE on “Debunking the Greer Report” [CLICK HERE to read]

In my analysis of the report, I found that Mr. Greer is significantly lacking in his knowledge of the SkyTrain system. For example: some of Mr. Greer’s assumptions completely exclude the ability of higher operating frequencies with driver-less systems compared to driver-manned systems such as at-grade Light Rail Transit. There are a lot of unsubstantiated claims, and there are also several places where the information in the document contradicts itself.

The “primary flaw” in the RTP’s new SkyTrain-favouring study that was outlined in Greer’s report was that the new cost estimates were only done for the part of the full project that was to go ahead (to allegedly “create the appearance of favourable costs for SkyTrain”), and that analysis for the remaining portions (Phase II) was neglected and put-off solely due to the expenses of building out those po rtions with the preferred SkyTrain technology. The new analysis by SkyTrain for Surrey points out that this contradicts the reasons (stated in the same document) that the RTP made the change: the neglect of an immediate and costly analysis for Phase II likely did not have to do with the high cost of SkyTrain, but with the high cost of a better LRT with more grade separations (as was requested and mandated by community stakeholders).

According to this report by CBC [LINK HERE], the B.C. Liberals during the 2001 election used Greer’s report to claim that the Millennium Line project was to be another “fast ferries” fiasco. This is completely untrue not only for the reasons I state in my counter-report (linked above), but also because the first phase of the Millennium Line was delivered under budget, meaning the tie-in second phase (which would have extended the Millennium Line to the big ridership centres) would have likely made both projects very successful if the B.C. Liberals had not cancelled it as they came into power after 2001.

Clearly, the B.C. Liberals will use rhetoric and forego reviewing the facts when criticizing transportation projects by other governments. It happened in 2001, and looks like it is happening again in 2013.

So, what do you think? Will you continue to believe in the Liberals’ lies?