Bridge-Free Salish Sea

Letter from Peter Danenhower to Todd Stone (Dated January 21, 2015)

Dear Sir,

You have often stated that you wish to make the Coastal transportation system “sustainable”. Here are a couple of points for you to consider.

First, the evidence is strong (see the Washington State ferries study, for example) that ferries travelling a shorter water route use far less fuel and emit far less greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks on the ferry individually driving a long land route between the same destinations. This is especially true, since having a driving route available tends to increase traffic. Thus, from a fuel consumption and greenhouse gas point of view, ferries are hugely preferable to car and truck driving, and hence more sustainable.

Apparently this result still stands overall, even if you factor in partial loading of ferries on some scheduled runs. Obviously on some scheduled runs boat sizes are not well matched to service demands, but this is a question of ferry management, not a question of the inherent efficiency of ferries.

You and your government seem to be very concerned about having a coastal transportation system that is not paid for with taxes (not taxpayer subsidized seems to be what your government mostly means by sustainability). This is also a concern of some Gabriolans who want a bridge.

Aside from fuel costs of ferries (which are mostly paid for with fares), another significant cost of the ferries is the wages paid to ferry workers. Would you and your staff please try to understand that this cost is neutral (even negative) to the taxpayer? The reality that is never acknowledge by anti-tax analyses is that tax dollars are spent by ferry workers in the economy, so that all of the tax dollars spent on ferry workers’ wages become revenue for businesses in the next business cycle. On average, the tax payer gets all of the money spent on ferry worker wages back in the form of increased revenue in the next business cycle. Because of spin-off effects, the average tax payer even sees a net plus from this process.

Since taxes have become institutionalized in our economy, on average we all have higher incomes than we would have if taxes were not part of the economy. Taxation makes us all better off, on average. I know foreign investment is discouraged by taxation, but this just illustrates the lack of commitment to BC that such investment includes, and I don’t understand why conservatives are not annoyed that foreign investors want their profits without really committing to the economy of BC.

There is the whole experience in Europe in which many companies are extremely successful, in spite of higher taxes than we have in Canada, that supports what I am saying. These companies understand that the cost of taxes is more than off-set by increased revenue, if you are willing to commit to the local economy for the long term.

I should mention as an aside here, that the high salaries paid to BC ferries management, partially paid by taxpayers, is not as effective for generating revenue as taxes paid to line workers, because high salaried employees have so much extra cash that they can spend outside the BC economy (for example, on foreign vacation homes or investing in foreign companies) or on scarcity (rare art, expensive cars or huge homes, etc.). Neither of these type of expenditures by the wealthy are very productive for generating revenue over the long term in the BC economy.

The idea that the private sector can take over the government sector and provide all the same benefits (described above) is simply bad economics. The basic fact is that there are many essential services that the private sector can’t provide effectively. In BC, the privatization of the ferry operations has caused serious cuts in services, stifling debt, and huge fare increases. The private sector just can’t run a ferry service effectively. Another example, is privatized health insurance in the USA is a disaster for most Americans compared with the Canadian system.

Finally, I would like to try to help you understand how many Gabriolans feel about the process that your government is following in initiating a bridge study on the basis of a petition signed by less than 15% of Gabriolans: Imagine that the Kamloops anti-traffic society (KATS) starts up and petitions the federal government to re-route the Trans Canada highway through the Okanagan (suppose the feds are interested in promoting development of the North Okanagan).

Even though only a miniscule fraction of the Kamloops population has signed the petition, the federal government announces engineering studies, etc. of the planned re-routing. The consultation process is tightly controlled to ensure that the feds get the answer they want: the study focuses on direct costs and engineering questions and mostly ignores the social and economic impact on Kamloops. BC will not be consulted significantly, in particular, BC will not be given veto authority over the project. How do you think you and most of your Kamloops constituents would feel? Given the importance of Kamloops to the interior economy of BC, I would hope that you and your government would raised bloody hell.

The authority charged with preserving and planning the future of the Gulf Islands is the Island Trust. In the most recent election on Gabriola, all four candidates were opposed to a bridge. The Island Trust has repeatedly stated that the Island Trust is opposed to any bridges amongst the Gulf Islands (except the one existing bridge). Why didn’t you politely decline to entertain the petitioners for a bridge impact study on grounds that a bridge is opposed by the local governing body, and refer the petitioners to the Island Trust?

The Gabriola Bridge Society had every opportunity to run candidates in the local Island Trust elections and convince us all that a bridge was a good idea. They didn’t do it because they know they can’t win (and don’t have answers for many concerns – like what are bicyclists and walk-on ferry passengers suppose to do if there is a bridge?). Instead they came up with the plan to try to get you to override the Island Trust, the local elected governing body.

Bridge proponents have even written to the local paper insisting that the bridge is a MOTI matter and that the Island Trust is irrelevant. Imagine KATS and the feds declaring that the BC government is irrelevant to the Trans Canada Highway! What would Kamloops mayor Peter Milobar have to say about that? So if you can imagine how you would feel about the feds unilaterally planning to re-route the Trans Canada to avoid Kamloops, then you know how I and many other Gabriolans feel about your ministry’s bridge study.

Thank-you for your attention,

Peter Danenhower


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