The consequences of this BC educational conflict are real

Above video: the Johnston Heights senior choir performs for students

At Johnston Heights Secondary in Surrey, where I completed my grade 12 education early last year, the ongoing disputes between teachers and the government have caused the cancellation of at least one major school event, one of which I was looking forward to attending: the year-end music (band and choir) concert.

The J.H. Music Program is one of the best in the city, having participated in numerous major provincial events such as MusicFest in Ottawa, 2010 (earning the silver award for both band and choir), several consecutive Kiwanis Music Festivals, and the Envision Jazz Festival in Surrey. As an alumni of this program and a member of both the senior wind ensemble and jazz band, I cannot stress enough how important the year-end concert is in the spirit of learning and school culture.

The year-end concert is a celebration of music and school culture, and it represents the culmination of a year’s worth of practicing, learning, dedication and team-building. It attracts other students, parents, and alumni who were in the music program to witness the music-making talents of a new generation of students who participate in the Grade 8, 9 and 10-12 senior bands; the grade 8, 9-10 junior and 11-12 senior choir; the chamber choir; the string ensembe; and the intermediate and senior jazz bands. The latter four are courses that are held outside of the school time and are the culmination of willful attendance, participation and commitment from both the teachers and the students who are involved.

With the school inaccessible outside of normal school hours (which is also preventing students from using the bandroom facilities for practice), this event has been put off indefinitely for the year 2014. It may be the first year in several consecutive years that the school music program did not hold a year-end concert, and I am sad to see that my peers aren’t going to be able to celebrate their hard work and dedication to music.

This is just one of the many inconveniences students have to face because of the ongoing conflict between teachers and the government. Not just now, but in the past several years of deteriorating school conditions.

North Surrey Secondary's 5 block schedule

At the North Surrey Secondary school here in Surrey, too many students and an overcrowded school building have forced the school to adopt an awkward five-block schedule [CLICK HERE]. NSSS staggers students across the 5 blocks, so that older students study for the first four and younger ones for the last four (or combinations with study blocks).

I have often – in letters to the editor, and in other posts on this blog – discussed the realities being faced by students not just in the current conflict but on a year-by-year basis. Not far from Johnston Heights Secondary and at North Surrey Secondary, 5-block schedules are needing to be adopted to deal with increased overcrowding, lack of facilities, and growth in the community.

In the same manner as North Surrey, many schools have been forced to make serious, critical cuts to deal with cut funding levels and increased teacher stress. I’m not sure if North Surrey still requires a 5-block schedule this year, but I was hearing about it from numerous close friends when I was in high school – and I was also hearing about the troubles this schedule gave them – troubles in scheduling conflicts and stress.

See also: The Real Reason Children Have Lost the Freedom to Roam

One of the dangerous criticisms I’m hearing in the current debate is how kids are being used as “bargaining chips”, resulting in the implication that the teachers fighting their battle over class sizes and competition and pay levels are careless.

However, critics also forget that many teachers have kids too – and these kids are as much participants in the pubic education program as the ones who are being taught. Many of the teachers I personally knew were parents of one or more kids, and a few of them gave birth to new kin while I was in my high school years. In the short term, these kids will theoretically suffer as much from their parents’ course of actions as the rest of the students participating in this school system, and I think it shows that what the teachers are fighting for is more than just their own living conditions and demands. I think it is evident that it is also about good learning conditions for their kids and ours.

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.

How will anti-TransLink vote influence transit referendum?

Looking forward inside a Vancouver transit bus. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Cyprien
Looking forward inside a Vancouver transit bus. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Cyprien

Also featured on: Metro604

A comment on the recent Price Tags article on the upcoming November 2014 TransLink Referendum (TransLink Referendum: Can It win? What do we need to know?) strikes a chord on the instruments of an upcoming transit expansion funding referendum. Commenter “David” posted:

Sadly there will be an anti-TransLink vote, even by people who favour additional funding for transit. Some will choose a non-TransLink supported idea just to spite them while others will switch to the “no” side. Unfortunately TransLink has been the victim of bad propaganda for the last 20 years and a significant number of people believe it needs to be reformed or scrapped despite numerous audits showing that it’s actually doing a good job. The people in BC never let facts get in the way of ideology.

Sadly, he is correct.

Votes in the upcoming Metro Vancouver transit funding referendum will be filled with the votes of people who may want transit expansion, but don’t want TransLink. These people want a Metro Vancouver transit future where the only service expansions will come through finding of additional “efficiencies” in TransLink, or the scrapping of TransLink altogether in favour of a different agency. A referendum, thanks to its ability to define a direct result, is dangerous in that it can be easily seen as a tool for these people to “get their revenge” on TransLink.

Sometimes egregiously bad propaganda, such as the recent wash on TransLink for providing free coffee to employees (let’s face it, TransLink is being singled out wrongly – it’s probably not the only transit management agency that does this), has been all over the local media for the past several years. In many ways, it has already had its effect on TransLink; as in recent years TransLink has indeed been put through a lot of scrutiny, and then through audit after audit.

The ironic thing is that many of these audits found TransLink to be a well run company doing a good job. One audit on TransLink efficiency stated that TransLink’s funding formula is the “best in Canada”, because it has allowed it (TransLink) to maintain transit expansion during the recession whereas others across the country were cutting service; its progress report has noted that TransLink has an interest in pursuing efficiency and has has made significant progress in taking initiative. A later review of its governance system, while noting that TransLink’s system is unique in the world, found that it is still seen as “state of the art” internationally.

However, these audits were also successful in fulfilling their main purpose – to be audits. While they found that TransLink has not been doing badly, they also found that changes can be made, and in those changes there are those opportunities to make TransLink’s efficiency “better”.

Because of bad propaganda, there are a lot of people and groups in Metro Vancouver who hold TransLink to absurdly high expectations of efficiency; and, so long as there are absolutely any potential “inefficiencies” in TransLink, even if a “solution” to that inefficiency is a reduction in service or an unreasonable impact to management (as were some of the recommendations in these recent audits), there will be an anti-TransLink vote.

An overcrowded platform at VCC-Clark SkyTrain station. SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the "efficiency" recommendations in the recent TransLink audits.
SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the “efficiency” recommendations in the recent TransLink audits. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Andrew Ferguson

Look around: the results of this bad propaganda are everywhere. An online news article that has to do with transit expansion in Metro Vancouver will often yield a number of comments made by folk who will oppose transit expansion just for the sake of TransLink being in charge.

Article after article, editorial after editorial, letter after letter, and decision after decision, bad propaganda has probably already dealt its damaging blow to the future of the Metro Vancouver transit system, and there might not be much that can be done about that.

With a referendum on transit funding, we just won’t know.

Pictures from TransLink of mockup Mark III Skytrain vehicle
On the top is a next-generation Mark III SkyTrain vehicle, a product we will see with the coming of the Evergreen Line and perhaps again if more SkyTrain expansions are approved in Metro Vancouver.

As I was looking at how referendums on funding (especially transit funding) have been done in other cities like in Los Angeles and Seattle, as pointed out by some others, it hit me that those referendums have always focused on just one-matter at a time.

In essence, what I’m saying is that when Los Angeles decided a sales tax on transit, only a sales tax was decided that day. A proposal to extend that sales tax by another few years (Measure R) was put to the test in a separate referendum (where it lost). The same has occured in Seattle, and the same in other American cities that have put transit funding decisions to referendums. There was not ever an instance where more than one option was decided at a time.

What the B.C. Liberals have proposed to do in Metro Van is not going to be simple like this at all.

With a single matter, it is not difficult to inform the voter on what that funding means for him/her as a taxpayer, and exactly what will be built out of that funding if it passes. Perhaps that is why it worked so well in Los Angeles and in Seattle.

In Metro Vancouver, we don’t know what the referendum question will look like. However, in this referendum, we may be required to decide between a multitude of options (at least, if anything former minister Mary Polak said before the elections holds true, save for the no status quo part – there will be a status quo option), which is completely different from how the same decisions were made in the numerous cities in the UNited States. With a multitude of options, not only does informing voters require far more effort (because voters will need to know what each option will mean), but it will also be impossible to make promises out of this referendum.

Because there will be no way to be certain how many of those options will pass and how many won’t (or if any will pass at all), there will be no way to know how many projects will be able to proceed; and – for however many that do – that still leaves the debate of which one will be built first/at all. So, that opens up the possibility that some parts of the region will be simply left out. But, we won’t know which – and I think that in particular will leave some of us very worried.

So, there’s another key problem I have with a referendum on transit funding. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to inform people which payment option will pay for what improvement. We just won’t know.

Referendum on TransLink funding must be rejected

The future of transit funding for Metro Vancouver hinges largely on a referendum scheduled for next fall. The use of a referendum to decide TransLink funding, at all costs and utilizing all effort made possible by activists and our leadership, is a policy that has to change.

Let alone the fact that a referendum will delay all decisions to November 2014 (and result in no progress and the status quo until then), below are three reasons why a referendum is not an acceptable, fair and equitable method of deciding the transportation future of Metro Vancouver.

1. Neglects the youth

I have previously talked [CLICK HERE] about how the decision to decide funding by referendum neglects the voices of one of the most transit-needy groups in Metro Vancouver: youth transit users under 18. This is one of the reasons that a referendum is not fair for all people in Metro Vancouver. The youth are one of the most transit-dependent groups, but have no say in their transit future.

Youth transit users have to rely on the potentially ignorant votes of the rest of the population – and may be disadvantaged significantly by the results. This can have a cascading effect on the future of society, as youth who are neglected from transit options are neglected from options that they need to get to school, and eventually to work opportunities.

2. Voters ill-informed about TransLink

Votes can be influenced by simple and silly things, which is another reason that having a referendum to decide TransLink funding is unacceptable. The general population is not well-informed about TransLink and this matter, and can be influenced by reports that are misleading.

I have heard from a number of people who have decided they will vote no to all types of funding for single reasons that have to do with silly things. For example: there may be a number of people who would reject more TransLink funding because they had read the numerous recent media articles scrutinizing TransLink for providing free coffee to its workers, and perceived this action as a waste of taxpayer money. These articles mislead people, because they implied that TransLink is the only agency doing this, whereas TransLink is likely not the only public transit agency or public sector agency in North America that provides free coffee to employees.

By the words of Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, “We’re asking the public to make wise choices with cumbersome information.

3. Voters ill-informed about the consequences

Many voters who will say “no” also do not know about the consequences of rejecting additional transit funding. Investing in public transit is one of the most efficient ways of spending money for transportation. Not investing in transit means more money has to be invested in upgrading alternate systems such as roads, because neglecting transit funding will neglect many people from being able to utilize their transit options. Additional congestion caused by a lack of expanded transit infrastructure has a cost to the economy that most people won’t realize when they enter the referendum polls.

TransLink funding decisions are best decided by our leadership (i.e. Mayors, MLAs, etc.) and not by the general population in a referendum, because our leadership has a better understanding of why more transit funding is needed, where to implement it, and what are the consequences of neglecting it.

A referendum on TransLink funding neglects the knowledge had by our leadership, and entrusts people who may have no idea about the consequences to shape regional results.

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.

The Real Reason Children Have Lost the Freedom to Roam

Response to StreetFilms: Children Have Lost the Freedom to Roam

The video above is certainly right that the car-orientation of our society is among the biggest drivers (no pun intended there) in kids’ changing commute patterns. I’m a bit of an urbanist, and I can say that I’m certainly not a fan of how so many communities in this world are being oriented towards the car, as opposed to kids and people.

However, to an extent I disagree with this video in the claim that children have “lost the freedom to roam” solely because of a car-oriented culture, and car-oriented communities. The comments in the video seem to imply that children have lost their freedom to roam simply because of that, or alternatively because their parents do not allow them to walk or bike.

Kids are not unlike adults: they are free actors in a free society (tips hat to Jarrett Walker), and they have the right to choose what seems best for them (with the assistance of parents). There may be reasons that children are actually choosing to be driven to school in the morning out of lack of choice, not because the society around them is car-oriented. There may also be reasons that parents are choosing schools further away from home for their children.

I happen to know that both are happening in my community. And, it’s not because of any specific development and land-use orientation towards the car.

The effects of school schedules and overcrowded school buildings

At the North Surrey Secondary school here in Surrey, too many students and an overcrowded school building have forced the school to adopt an awkward five-block schedule [CLICK HERE]. NSSS staggers students across the 5 blocks, so that older students study for the first four and younger ones for the last four (or combinations with study blocks). I’ve noted this before in my newsletters several times as one of the problems of lack of education funding in not just this city, but also this province (B.C. has the worst student-to-educator ratio in Canada 16.8:1, vs. a national 13.8:1 average – from the BCTF and Statistics Canada)

North Surrey Secondary's 5 block schedule
North Surrey Secondary’s 5 block schedule

I have one friend who goes to North Surrey Secondary, and lives just under 1 mile away, and is driven to school. In her case in particular, in the morning, she asks (and has arranged) to be driven to her school with her brother. But, in the afternoon, they have no problem making the 20 minute walk back to their home.

As with 11th and 12th grade students, as a result of the awkward 5-block schedule the school has been forced to adopt, her and her brother are expected to be at school and in class by 7:55AM – 45 minutes earlier than is expected at most other high schools in the city. That already means, in spite of being driven, waking up very early in the morning to go through preparation.

Transit options aren’t much better; the 335 bus route runs only every 20 minutes in the morning, meaning a missed bus means being late to class, and a trip that would take longer than simply walking. However, even if the buses ran frequently enough to be reliable, relying on transit would add an additional monthly cost of $104 ($52 per student) – not exactly an encouraging prospect for many parents who have cars for their own purposes, and who might not pay much to drive their kids to school in the morning (and possibly from in the afternoon) – especially if it happens on the way to work.

Some people have the luck of parents who will wake up earlier and cook in the morning to prepare food and other daily necessities. But, other students might be like how you see Umi-chan in the opening scenes of STUDIO GHIBLI’s From Up on Poppy Hill. These students, girls or guys, might have to cook for themselves, in addition to cleaning up and doing other errands in the morning to start the day. These errands can take a long time.

This reality seems to reflect itself in many online polls of students. In this poll on Discovery Girls [LINK] (you need to answer in order to see the results), 57% of respondants take 30 minutes or longer to get ready in the morning. This second poll on Smart Girls [LINK] has similar results: 30% of girls take at least an hour to get ready in the morning. 63% take 30 minutes or longer.

Image of the poll on smart girls. 63% of respondents require 30 minutes or longer to get ready in the morning.
Image of the poll on smart girls. 63% of respondents require 30 minutes or longer to get ready in the morning.
For the people who take over an hour, they may have to wake up as early as 6:20-6:30 in the morning in order to meet the 7:55AM schedule, considering the time of commute.

It’s been studied that adolescents naturally tend to be “night owls” – they prefer to be awake in the later night hours and awaken later in the day. This is because of hormones, and it happens with every teenager. Early wake-up schedules simply do not sit in well with teenagers.

This is why, in my belief, a lot of them will value those extra 20-30 minutes in the morning they can sleep in addition to being in the comfort of a car in the morning on the way to school – sheltered from rain, storm, wind, and other potential sources of discomfort.

The effects of student-educator ratio

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 rally on March 2, 2012 [CLICK HERE to learn more about this]
The other issue in my community that I pointed out earlier is student-educator ratio. Here in British Columbia, we have the worst in the country. We are far above the national average. That is a factor that can make parents here very concerned about the education their students receive.

Why? Higher student-educator ratios have impacts on the education students receive. Lower student-educator ratios mean better education.

As I mentioned earlier, people are free actors in a free society. They are free to make the decisions they want in order to get the best. Parents are free to choose to send their children to a different school that may offer a lower student-educator ratio or an otherwise statistically better education, even if it’s further from home and, perhaps, driving to school is required. This, I believe, is one of the big contributors to why many students are being driven to school.

I know several students who have been moved to different high schools by their parents in order to obtain a better education. These actions do have results. One of those people I know, in particular, helped start the Can You Contain It! Campaign with Metro Vancouver. She’s a very active environmentalist and lifestyle change activist, with a very big record of community involvement through selfless acts of service.

A solution?

In my view, the solution to both of the problems is simply to ensure that children have a better education and a good learning environment – we must make sure that there are enough teachers for students so that they can get a better education closer to home, and big enough school buildings so that no schools have to adopt awkward schedules that force students to come very early.

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Encouraging active commutes to school

That still leaves the issue: What can we do about schools in car-oriented communities? I do believe that car-orientation plays some part in why students are driven to school, but I also believe that the solution isn’t difficult.

I believe that encouraging students to cycle (and parents to allow their kids to) is the solution to the problem, as is ensuring there is bike-friendly infrastructure (although in car-oriented communities, lower traffic volume on low-density residential streets can actually permit very safe cycling even without dedicated bike infrastructure like bike lanes). Cycling is something I took on for commuting in my final years of high school, and in my view it often provides a perfect balance between an active commute and a reasonable travel time to school in the morning.

How to encourage cycling? Not difficult. Urban and suburban areas should adopt programs like TransLink’s Travel Smart (a program by our metropolitan transit agency that encourages people to commute sustainably) and introduce them to schools. I know for one that Travel Smart has had much success in encouraging active commuting to schools in my city through incentives.

A group of kids cycling in Japan
A group of kids cycling in Japan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons – C.K. Tse

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