Ep 187: The railroad to normalcy – Transcript

The following transcript is from Episode 187: The railroad to normalcy of PolitiCoast. We’ve done our best but please forgive minor errors. Photo credit: Flickr/BCGovPhotos

Ian: [00:00:00] This podcast is recorded on the traditional and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

Coming to you from the West coast, this is PolitiCoast. Today is April 30th, 2020 and this is episode 187.

Scott: [00:00:32] I’m Scott de Lange Boom

Ian: [00:00:33] And I’m Ian Bushfield. On today’s show, the railroad to normalcy, it seems, at least on Vancouver Island, is overgrown and in poor shape. That’s right. We’re going to talk about how we get politics back to usual and a train study.

But first we have to thank those who continue to help make the show possible. There’s now 97 people contributing every month. Thank you to our new newest patrons, Ash, Matt, and Marie. We’re now at $298 US a month. It’s like painfully close to 300 right now. Uh, someone chip us. 2.50, cause there’s some fees, $3 a month and that’ll get us over.

In particular though, thanks to everyone who stuck with us through these difficult and unprecedented times, as everyone likes to say.

Uh, for the duration of the crisis, we’ve opened up our patron Slack to all our listeners. Visit leginboot media.ca.

I also wanted to give a little plug that there’s been some Cambie Report content coming out recently and there’s some on the deck. Uh. I’ve dropped an episode on the BC Government announcement that the residents of Oppenheimer Park and the two parks where their tent cities in Victoria are being moved into hotels. I spoke with Vancouver councilor Jean Swanson who had some criticisms of some of the compulsion aspect to it, and so hopefully that’s worth checking out. It’s just a nice little short episode. There’ll be another short episode coming on the dire strait that TransLink is in, and I’ll look at the politics of Burnaby. So cambiereport.ca for all your local politics needs.

And PolitiCoast in partnership with BC Today, British Columbia’s daily newsletter dedicated exclusively to BC politics. Sign up for free trial to have unique coverage of the BC legislature delivered to your inbox every morning. Listeners to PolitiCoast, enter the offer code citizen for access to a special rate. For your free two week trial, the newsletter, go to politicstoday.news/free-trial.

Segment 1: Politics in Lockdown

Let’s start by talking about the state of politics in lockdown. I think the first thing most Ottawa journalists were really excited about was Parliament returned virtually finally. And we have this new, it actually is based on Zoom House of Common sitting.

Scott: [00:02:47] Yeah. Parliament’s back, they’re using a non-commercial version of Zoom that allows them to apparently be a little more secure than the standard Zoom, uh, permits. Ah, as well as apparently the Prime Minister’s using something else entirely for his cabinet meetings, which is more secure.

Ian: [00:03:06] Yeah, that makes sense. So the House of Commons sittings are largely public, so if someone’s able to hack that feed and see it, well, we actually want people to see the House of Commons debate. So the bigger issue there would have been, could someone zoom-bomb, you know, break into the meeting and do something profane or otherwise upset the sitting. And that was largely protected by, I think you can do that with just default settings in Zoom to just be a little bit more careful about who you get the invite out to.

It’s good to know they did set it up a little bit more securely. Nevertheless, there were still a few hiccups. Uh, like any good online meeting, someone forgot to unmute and had to be reminded. In this case it was Minister of Health Patty Hadju and otherwise it was just a lot of commentary on people’s, on these MPS random backgrounds.

There’s about several different Twitter threads and articles. I’ll throw one in the show notes. I think the most commented on was NDP MP Daniel Blaikie’s white sheet he chose to haphazardly hang behind him.

Scott: [00:04:17] Yeah. It just looks sketchy. Like it’s trying to hide something, it’s probably not. For all I know, it’s the, uh, pretty typical case that someone’s let their apartment get a little messy during quarantine and it doesn’t want that on the Hansard. But yeah, there’s no way. It doesn’t look just kind of sketchy to hang a white sheet in the background and have it all wrinkly behind you.

Ian: [00:04:40] And I can kind of respect that MPs didn’t sign up to have the nation peak at their home, to peek inside their home. Like they are public figures, but they do deserve some privacy and say you’re an MP who just lives in a single bachelor suite apartment somewhere. You might not have a lot of great places to hide and maybe he thought the sheet would give a little bit better sound or something.

I guess that was the other big issue is because this is Canada, there had to be an English feed, a French feed, and a bilingual feed for all MPs who could switch back and forth between any of those and at least one or two MPs had issues with those and lost sound at different points because of switching back and forth. Really minor bugs. Otherwise, it did sound like things largely went on fairly civilly for a change.

Scott: [00:05:35] Yeah. Well, I think part of it is hard to heckle when you’re on a zoom call quite the same way as it is in the, uh, chamber itself. I, I’m kind of curious, does the, uh, special custom, uh, zoom for parliament allowed backgrounds like the normal one rather than a white sheet.

Can someone throw up, you know, the enterprise bridge?

Ian: [00:05:57] Oh, that’s a good question. I’m also wondering if it has the chat feature where you can go into where you can DM other people and so the heckles wouldn’t necessarily be public, but everyone could just be like blasting Trudeau while he’s speaking, distracting him with little like notification icons coming up.

All kinds of stuff could go, could go on in there.

Scott: [00:06:16] Now I’m actually curious. Does the Hansard pull all that other stuff, or is it only what’s spoken?

Ian: [00:06:22] I know when you do a normal zoom meeting, it does save that, so you could in theory have it, important questions to find out. I think there was one other issue where one MP did mute themselves and took a phone call during it, so still still lots of learning to do.

Scott: [00:06:40] That, that’s better than the Vancouver council meeting where someone flushing the toilet on the feast and forgot to mute.

Ian: [00:06:46] Yeah. The fun of socially distanced parliaments and council meetings.

You know what? I’m actually impressed that it went as smoothly as it did, like the fact that it was just one, you know, muted issue, good on MPs. That’s over 300 people on a call. I think the most I’ve been up to is like 25 or 30 so good work on the civil service for making that work.

But I think more substantially, one of the big things everyone’s looking at this week is how much money is going out the door. At least the parliamentary budget office has revised its estimates. I think we talked a few weeks ago after their first report that had come out. And since then, there have been a number of new benefits rolled out, a number of increases to the existing ones. And so it was worth the office releasing some new numbers.

And, uh big, right?

Scott: [00:07:43] Yes. With new announcements for spending rolling up, pretty much every day, things can change pretty quickly here. Uh, so this is released today on the 30th but because this sort of thing takes time, it only captures things that were announced as of April 24th and the debt numbers, they’re going to be big.

Uh, so first off, the analysis assumes a couple of things such as that we’re going to have negative 12% real GDP growth, and that’s taking a 20% hit this quarter, followed by recovery for the rest of the year, which you actually look at the graph seems to be assuming kind of a V-shaped recovery, which might be a little optimistic.

Ian: [00:08:27] Especially if there’s like, I think John Horgan’s line this week was “no one is buying anything anywhere in the world.” So getting an economy going is going to be tough.

Scott: [00:08:37] Yeah. Like two, three weeks ago, that was the big discussion on whether or not it was going to be a V-shaped, uh, an L shaped or a hockey stick shaped curve to plot out how quickly it would return to normal.

It seems like the general mood’s kind of shifted away from the V-shaped recovery, which makes it kind of interesting that they put that in here, but regardless, it’s going to be a pretty big change. So they’re forecasting dropping revenues to $80 billion just in lost revenue from lower economic activity, meaning less taxes coming in, plus $146 billion, et cetera going out.

So all in all, the parliamentary budget office is predicting the deficit is going to grow from about 25 billion to 252 billion. So basically a tenfold increase and our deficit alone can cover out about 13% of GDP, which is large…

Ian: [00:09:32] But it’s not all at the deficit, actually. No. Yeah.

Scott: [00:09:35] So that’s deficit as a percent of GDP.

Debt to GDP is going to grow to 48.4% which the last time we had a debt to GDP that high was the 1999-2000 fiscal year, which is still lower than the all time high of 66.6% in 1996 those

Ian: [00:09:56] …are back in the Chretien and Martin days when there was intense austerity measures to bring that under control.

Scott: [00:10:04] Yeah. When we were paying, you know, 10% or more on that on interest rates.

Ian: [00:10:08] So this is a lot of money.

Scott: [00:10:11] Yeah. But that really added up quick. But the good news is with interest rates so low that we can pretty much borrow as much as we want without serious challenges. Uh, so they note that given the temporary nature of the budget measures, credit market at access at historical low rates and historical experience indicate that the government could undertake additional borrowing as required.

So, what that means in rough terms, dollars and cents, that despite this massive increase in the debt we’re going to be taking out, we’re only going to be expecting to pay only a little bit in terms of new, uh, interest payments. Our public debt charges are going to climb from, uh, 1% of GDP to 1.2%. So pretty tiny overall.

Ian: [00:11:04] Yeah. And when put that way, that’s what I think really underscores how important getting money out the door is versus worrying about the ultimate price tag here. Uh, I think it’s one reason you’re not seeing anyone in parliament, any of the political parties, really trying to raise this as we can’t afford it.

It’s more how do we make sure we’re helping the people who need it and doing so effectively.

Scott: [00:11:33] Yeah. Most of the criticisms I’ve seen essentially focused around why were we taking on all this debt in the good times before this has worsened our position and kind of has, but only a little bit, and fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s also worth pointing out that this is a pretty short term look here, we’re talking about a year or so, and there’s a bunch of stuff we’ll probably end up doing, such as, extending a bunch of these benefits as well as probably a pretty large stimulus package that’ll be coming when we’re well into the recovery. And you know, that could easily be an additional five to 10% of GDP, depending on how bad shape we’re in, when we actually do start to really get things back to normal.

Ian: [00:12:23] Yeah. It really highlights, you know, within this, how much is being spent, and it’s only looking at so far what has been promised. You know, 76 billion for the a wage subsidy, 35 billion for the CERB, 9 billion for Canada emergency business accounts, and then you know, bunch of more money across the board for other programs like the GST credits and student benefits.

Lots is going out, still more to come. So expect updated numbers, particularly as we eventually get to start to see what the shape of the recovery will look like.

Scott: [00:13:01] Yeah, and I expect we’ll get a bunch of handwringing from, you know, the pundits that came of age in the nineties and got locked into a well, very nineties-centric view of public debt. You already saw a bit of that the day after this rolled out. I imagine it’s only going to get worse the shock of this whole situation wears off and the price stage starts to be seen a little more.

Ian: [00:13:27] Well and a few of the people who are likely to make the most noise about that are the four contestants left in the conservative leadership race, which is officially back on.

It was announced today that they’re going to proceed with an August 21st deadline now for mail-in ballots. So rather than having an online –  or a vote for mid-June, they pushed it back a couple of months. Uh, they’re maintaining the requirement that you sign up by May 15th if you have a preferred conservative leadership candidate.

But otherwise, all ballots will be submitted. They will count them in a physically distant and safe way and release the results. At an undetermined later time. I guess it depends how long it takes to count and I think they don’t want to repeat of some of the uncertainty that hung around the back of the last count.

Scott: [00:14:23] Yeah. Well, there wasn’t much problems if I recall with the last count too much. Uh, it was most mostly they just pulled it out and stretched it out over like an hour of announcements. Just I guess to add drama to the whole leadership convention. But the whole thing gets run through a computer to do the ranked choice voting.

So they in theory know right away as soon as it goes in.

Ian: [00:14:49] Right. So the remaining candidates are Peter Mackay, Erin O’Toole, Derek Sloan, and Leslyn Lewis, uh, Rick Peterson, and another candidate who was still in the race, both dropped out, claiming that the party didn’t factor COVID-19 enough into their ability to continue to campaign in an effective manner.

Uh, I don’t think either of them had any shot and more in person events probably wouldn’t have changed that significantly, but you know, they probably also didn’t have the money to stay in, this is a very expensive race to be in. The only one of those names really getting news this past couple of weeks has been Derek Sloan and not for good reasons.

Scott: [00:15:30] Derek Sloan seems to have decided that there weren’t enough bozo eruptions happening out of the Conservative Party. So he single handedly tried to reverse that.

Ian: [00:15:39] Yeah. He launched a bunch of attacks trying to, he doesn’t say it was questioning, uh, federal public health officer, Theresa Tam, Dr Theresa Tam’s loyalty to Canada, but he did raise questions of whether she’s taking directive from the Chinese Communist Party.

Instead…

Scott: [00:16:00] That’s not a great thing to say. Particularly to a Chinese-Canadian doctor.

Ian: [00:16:06] Yeah. And he went at this in a few different ways and a number of conservatives and people across the political spectrum have called on him to apologize, and he’s steadfastly ignored those or refused to. Uh, there was a move by the Ontario caucus, it came out, to supposedly try to expel him. Allegedly, this was MP Scott Reid’s motion there, but he went on a Twitter rampage or, you know, a tweet thread arguing that there’s no evidence it was him. It had to be a different MP that leaked this and that’s, you know, a terrible thing.

And he did the – I think my favorite tweet in there was, he said “There had to be multiple leaks on multiple days to multiple media outlets. I responded to a Torstar and CBC journalist in the only way that is acceptable, I ghosted them. Not even a courtesy response declining the proffered interviews.”

So Reed decided that even if he did, purportedly in his words, put forward this motion to expel Derek Sloan, that it was a behind the doors thing that doesn’t need to be discussed publicly.

But it’s now very much being discussed publicly, and it’s also just funny him claiming or bragging about ghosting journalists, but I guess we’ll see more from the Conservative leadership race in the coming weeks and months, but it’s going to be much quieter with no in person events.

Scott: [00:17:31] Yeah, the, the emails, we’ll have to start really flowing.

They never really stopped during this. But, uh, they’ll definitely keep flowing and probably ramp up in intensity. So it’s just great for everyone on that email list.

Ian: [00:17:44] Well, one of the things Conservatives want to be ramping up their talk about is the carbon tax, which the appeals of the rulings from the Saskatchewan and Ontario Court of Appeals, uh, will not be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada unsurprisingly, during COVID-19. Uh, the Court has announced that will be postponed until the fall, which isn’t too surprising, but the official announcement came, so we’ll have to wait a little bit longer. Apparently they haven’t actually decided whether to hear the Alberta appeal or not.

And Alberta, I think, was the only Court to decide with the province against the carbon tax.

Scott: [00:18:22] Interesting. uh, it’s fundamentally the same question, regardless of which case it is. So they’ll probably end up just bundling them together or render one moot when the ruling for the other one comes down.

Ian: [00:18:34] Indeed. Well the only other piece of federal news I wanted to talk about was, we didn’t touch on it last week, but the federal government announced, uh, an aid package for students. And as we’re talking about Conservatives, this is one where they decided to raise some issues. So the Liberals were facing fire because the CERB didn’t really help students and new graduates who hadn’t been working recently and then aren’t going to be, or you know, will have a lot of difficulty possibly finding a job this summer.

For example, students who wanted to go work in the service industry. There is no service industry this summer, so how are they going to make ends meet? The NDP argued for a broadly more universal CERB give everyone who needs it the $2,000, the Conservatives supported, it seems like, some amount of money going to students, but they became very concerned after the Liberals announced this package that would be $1,250 a month for students from May to August.

The Conservatives are very concerned that this would not provide an incentive to, for students to go work. And to be clear, there’s no similar requirement for the CERB. You do not have to keep applying for it to say, I’m still out of work, but unlike EI, you don’t need to file all of the proof that you’re seeking work.

And so I’m really confused why the Conservatives chose to go after this. You know, go after students. Really.

Scott: [00:20:08] It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. It also just doesn’t make a huge amount of sense why this got split off into its own separate benefit rather than just expanding the CERB

Ian: [00:20:20] And that they made it less because for some students you may – they may live at home and they may have reduced expenses through the summer, but for many they won’t. Like, you know, I lived out of, I wasn’t living at home for most of university and especially grad school. If you’re a recent grad, your expenses aren’t less than quote unquote real adults. So it just kind of looked like a weird slap in the face to students.

Scott: [00:20:48] I wonder if this is on the theory that they don’t have any dependents. Maybe.

Ian: [00:20:53] Yeah, maybe. But there is a add on where they had initially said they’ll give $1750 to people with disabilities or who are caring for someone else, but then they bumped that up to 2000, which matches the CERB. The government also has announced that they’re going to put effort into finding additional job, creating additional jobs for students.

They’re saying 76,000 for the summer, uh, doubling the Canada student grant, and they’re also creating this Canada Students Service Grant, which will provide $5,000 towards the tuition, if a student volunteers for effectively essential service to help you know, the medical system or another way, which are all somewhat good.

Another one, but you know – one of the other issues for the main benefit itself is there is this cutoff where if you earn over a thousand dollars you’re suddenly precluded from all of it.

Scott: Over a thousand dollars?

Ian: So yeah, it was, I think the threshold was a thousand dollars, once you’ve made a thousand dollars in a month, uh, you can’t get to the student benefit.

So it was a lot of quest-questions raised about it. But this Conservative call on the idea that it disincentivized works prompted, I think the best quote came from Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, who said, “There are three things that students are not, they’re not kids running with flowers in their hair naked in the field. Neither are they young, lazy people smoking cannabis in the basement, and they are not either merchandise that you deliver to somebody that says that they need it.” I don’t really understand what he’s trying to get at with that last bit. Maybe it’s lost in translation.

Scott: [00:22:29] I think what he’s getting at is that, uh, there’s concern in a bunch of industries that are essential particularly, uh, agriculture, that they’re not able to get the workers they need in the situation. And that that was the disincentivizing work part and it was playing into that.

Ian: [00:22:50] But ultimately this package did pass the additional money for caregivers and the requirement that students attest to trying to find work even when there’s not much work out there, got the support of the NDP and Conservatives respectively. And so that’s moving forward. Money for students is good, even if it’s weirdly carved out.

And finally, just a little local BC politics update. Do you remember long ago when the big debates were around pipelines and, uh, indigenous protests, and then COVID broke out and all of that stopped.

Scott: [00:23:30] The long-long ago time of two months.

Ian: [00:23:32] Yeah, yeah. Two months ago. Uh, the last thing that we’d really talked about on that was the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs taking a tentative agreement back from provincial and federal indigenous ministers, Scott Reed and Carolyn Bennett as a tentative understanding on rights and title and a possible framework for going forward for the province and the federal government to work with the Wet’suwet’en Peoples. The chiefs had said they need to take this around to all the different clans, get consensus before they decide whether to ratify it, and then, only then would we actually know what it said. All we knew at the time was that it wouldn’t resolve the underlying issue of Coastal Gaslink because it would more look forward than back.

But the good news today is that all the clans have agreed to this memorandum of understanding, and on May 14th they’re going to have a safe virtual signing ceremony, and then we’ll get to know what this actual agreement is.

Scott: [00:24:42] It would probably be good if we knew before the signing ceremony. I get the point of wanting to get the specific stakeholders on the Wet’suwet’en clans to agree to it. But you know, before anything does get signed between the government and the Wet’suwet’en, it would probably be good to at least have it out in the open. And you know, have the appropriate scrutiny by opposition politicians and the media.

Ian: [00:25:09] Yeah, I don’t disagree. It’s a very weird time right now as well, in that this story is probably going to get buried because everyone’s forgotten about this situation. But we’ll definitely be looking for this, uh, agreement in a couple of weeks when it comes out.

Segment 2: Ending the lockdown

Scott: [00:25:23] Let’s move on to our next segment ending the lockdown.

Uh, so over the past couple of weeks, there’s been increasing calls for opening up the economy. Um, it’s been, I think, particularly prominent in the US but there’s definitely been examples of that in Canada. And recently various provinces have started to roll out their plans. Uh, BC in particular hasn’t said much of anything yet on this. Uh, Dr. Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have been pretty clear that it’s going to be slow, cautious, and depending on the situation with the virus more than anything else. Uh, there will be, uh, press conferences with, uh, the premier were some more details will be announced.

Uh, but a bunch of the other provinces have started putting out their plans.

Ian: [00:26:15] Well, but one more thing about PC before we go to the other provinces, and we’ll come back to BC as well, because we’re a BC politics podcast, but the other thing they keep noting is that BC never formally locked down in the same way as a lot of other provinces.

We, you know, you could still legally have a gathering of 49 people in this province and not be breaking any official laws, except some municipalities might have strict more stringent rules. Um. It’s just super highly discouraged.

Scott: [00:26:46] And it was actually quite interesting looking through the various provinces and what they’re planning on opening up and, you look at some of them and go, really that was not allowed. I think, the, the one that really stood out to me was PEIs going to be allowing walks at some point, which has not only not been banned in BC, but actively encouraged.

Ian: [00:27:06] Yeah. And they’ll be moving to allowing groups of five people, whereas yeah, our limit’s 50. So, lots of different approaches have been taken. Um, PEI I don’t think has had that many cases, thankfully, and I think they were able to trace them all to travel.

Scott: [00:27:23] Yeah, they’ve been pretty good.

Ian: [00:27:23] They are an Island though, so. That’s in their favour.

Scott: [00:27:27] Eh but there’s a bridge. Yeah, right now their ccase count is 27 and zero deaths

Ian: [00:27:34] right.

Scott: [00:27:35] overall, handling things pretty well.

Well

Ian: [00:27:38] let’s start in Ontario. Uh, the most populous province, so a lot of eyes are faced, focused there. Uh, they’re looking at a three stage process to open up. The first stage will be opening, quote, select workplaces that can meet current public health guidelines.

Uh, you’ll be allowed essential gatherings with limited peoples, you know, funerals, some outdoor gatherings and hospitals, they’ll start doing non-urgent and scheduled surgeries. Uh, after that, they will move into the second phase, which will be opening more workplaces with significant mitigation plans, uh, opening more public spaces, going to larger gatherings and the final stages, opening all workplaces and relaxing restrictions on public gatherings.

Scott: [00:28:24] So what’s notable about Ontario is that they don’t actually provide dates for pretty much any of this stuff, which is honestly probably the way it should be. A lot of places have said, we’re doing this on this day. Something else on, you know, two weeks after that, which, given the situation, just does not make a lot of sense because ultimately all these measures are to respond to a virus and viruses don’t operate on convenient timelines.

And you know, if phase one to the reopening doesn’t go well, it shouldn’t matter that two weeks after you had it written down in calendar somewhere that, okay, we’re doing relax even more.

Ian: [00:29:09] And I was going to say most of these provinces are still seeing double, triple digit or more daily increases in cases. I know, I think Alberta has been seeing like 300 a day and we’ll get to their plan to open.

Scott: [00:29:22] That’s the other thing, it’s just, there’s just a lot of places that don’t seem to be at the point where it is reasonable to start easing restrictions; where things are stable enough that the infection spread is more or less under control and being held down to a smallish number per day.

And this really seems to be a case with political reasons are moving well ahead of both the science and common sense.

Ian: [00:29:55] Well, and moving slightly East to the next largest province in Quebec. Their plan is to, and it’s already drawn a bunch of criticism, do a gradual reopening throughout May. Uh, I think the most attention has been on the fact that they plan to start opening primary schools fairly soon.

Those outside Montreal will start opening on May 11th and the quote unquote hot zones like Montreal will be able to open as soon as May 19th. In both cases, I think teachers will be allowed in a little bit earlier so they can prep things and make it a little bit more feasible to physically distance in there.

And they’ll also not mandate that anyone has to go to school. Uh, if so, if you’re immunocompromised or otherwise don’t feel comfortable in Quebec sending your child to school, they will make arrangements that you can either continue to, I guess, learn from home or do something else.

I think Saskatchewan has probably the largest plan. I think it was one of the earlier ones to be announced, which meant people paid more attention to it.

Scott: [00:30:59] It’s a, I believe they were the first one to announce.

Ian: [00:31:01] And it’s a five phase plan. Uh, the first act, first phase being as soon as May 4th, which I believe is what Monday, uh, they will open low risk outdoor recreational activities.

Uh, most people zeroed right in on golfing being the first thing that’s permitted, but also fishing, boating, camping, uh, allowing some medical services, including dentists and eye doctors. Uh, and you will still have a limit of gatherings on groups of 10 or under.

Scott: [00:31:34] Golfing is one of those things that’s still allowed in BC, which so far hasn’t seemed to be a problem.

Ian: [00:31:40] ah so are any golf course open?

Scott: [00:31:42] Probably not the worst thing that the other provinces are doing it.

Ian: [00:31:47] Some golf courses may have voluntarily closed though, and that’s kind of the thing with BC is a lot of things weren’t required to close, but did.

Scott: [00:31:55] Yeah, I know the golf course right by my parents’ place that, uh, they were closed down and started opening up, I think this week.

So yeah, you have seen that in BC.

Ian: [00:32:04] And to be fair, you can’t keep pretty far away from everyone in golf.

Scott: [00:32:08] Yeah. It’s not definitely a contact sport. We’re not seeing the NHL opening up right away.

Ian: [00:32:13] Saskatchewan’s second phase will look at May 19th to start opening some retail stores, clothing stores, pawn shops, travel agencies, including hairdressers.

Uh, physical distancing will have to be in place in these stores. They have to have cleaning guidelines. You know, you can’t have too many people touching merchandise all the time. I think these are guidelines that have largely been rolled out in BC, where people request, where stores have requested them, but again, like clothing stores were never required to close.

And BC, I think there was just such little demand that most decided it would be easier to close than to try to stay open and have no shoppers.

Scott: [00:32:52] Yeah, that’s the thing is like if you actually go on the public health website here in BC and looked through the various orders, there are very few industries where there are specific orders to close.

Uh, it’s mostly restaurants, uh, personal services such as hairdressers. Um. But other than that, it’s pretty much a case where guidelines get put in around minimum distancing, maximum occupancies, and other than that, they’re more or less allowed to operate as before, but there just hasn’t been a lot of demand in a lot of place and a lot of places are closing out of precautions anyway.

Which I think is the other big thing that needs to be discussed around this is that sure you can lift restrictions, but as long as people are still afraid that if they’re going to be near other people, they might get sick and die, you’re not really doing a return to normal and you can’t really get in a bunch of economic sectors that are dependent on people being close to each other to function to go back to normal and actually work and be open.

Ian: [00:34:03] Exactly.

The next few phases in Saskatchewan are just slowly increasing the number of things that are open, but they don’t have deadlines for them. Uh, the third phase, notably, you know, includes tattoo shops, nail salons, uh, restaurants that can operate at 50% capacity recreation areas, including dance floors and pool tables inside restaurants will have to stay closed.

The other notable thing is this is when this phase three in Saskatchewan is when daycares will be allowed to open with 15 kids in them. This drew a lot of criticism over the fact that it was kind of late in the game for them. A lot like in BC, we made an effort to keep some daycare spaces open for essential workers, for example, so that if their children needed somewhere to go and be looked after while they go do essential work, that was available. Versus, I guess Saskatchewan fully closed their daycares.

And then the next gatherings are going from 15 to 30 people and then opening up more things, including casinos, which I know Dr. Henry said today in BC are very low on her list of priorities in terms of opening.

Scott: [00:35:13] Yeah. It’s pretty much the very definition of a non-essential economic sector.

Ian: [00:35:19] It was a very core part of BC’s economy for awhile though, but we’re waiting on the money laundering reports to tell us how that’s going.

Yeah, and the final phase in Saskatchewan is the longterm restrictions, and increasing public gathering limits. So that’s kind of the “it’s all over” phase, which a few of these have.

I don’t think we need to go through the details of all of them. I do want to highlight New Brunswick’s two family bubble controversy.

So their first phase started on April 24th and one of the first things they said is you can now pick a second family to co-isolate with essentially. So immediately, a lot of people were very confused, even though it’s fairly clear, and then also had to play the who are our best friends game and are they also our best friends.

Scott: [00:36:07] There’s a matching problem there that could be awkward to sort out.

Ian: [00:36:12] It’s like people who’ve never taught a class where they ask everyone to pair up. Now imagine doing that with a province.

Scott: [00:36:19] Now, one thing that is going for New Brunswick, which is their province that’s gone many days without posting a new case.

So of all the provinces we’ve talked about, they’re the ones that actually probably make the most sense to start their reopening right now. So overall, I think they’re probably handling this one better than a bunch of other ones, just because they’re a combination of luck and good timing and waiting for the right opportunity.

They’re actually in a good spot to start a phased reopening.

Ian: [00:36:51] Yeah, and like we said, off the top, PEI hasn’t had that many cases. Their plan starts May 1st, it increases on May 22nd and June 12th and its fourth phase is a quote, new way of life that Islanders will have to withstand.

Scott: [00:37:07] Whatever that means.

Ian: [00:37:08] Uh, there’s a full report with more details, I guess, for PEI.

Manitoba only has two phases really documented out which are similar. The first one is non emergency services and some retail shops. No dine-in restaurants, but still take out an outdoor recreation and then expanding gatherings as of June 1st but it might be later than that.

Alberta is looking at three phases but some things may actually be opening up tomorrow, Friday when you’re listening to this. The first phase will officially start on May 14th, including some retail reopening, daycares, hairdressers, so forth. Uh, and then phase two is, kind of, and three are gonna rely on the success of those earlier ones and just slowly expand everything.

Um, like I said, Alberta’s cases are not really slowing down. When I look at the chart, Alberta has 5,300 cases today, I’m looking at Canada’s website, versus BC has 2100. By any metric, and Alberta has less people than BC, by any metric. Alberta is doing worse, but they’re kind of pushing ahead with trying to get things back open, which is a bold choice.

Scott: [00:38:28] Yeah. They’re like On-Ontario and Quebec that way, and it’s just kind of reckless. There’s no sense pushing ahead on this if the fundamental conditions that drove everyone into a lockdown haven’t changed.

Ian: [00:38:43] Yeah. So more reasons I’m increasingly reassured about the success of BC’s approach, but if, you know, other parts of Canada screw it up and we’re still connected to them, so still worrying things.

Uh, the other thing that came out for BC this week is Education Minister Rob Fleming had an update where he spoke to the press earlier in the week. He didn’t really provide any news, he talked about what has been going on in the education system, how online schools are working, and it seems like the uptake is actually pretty good.

Teachers are getting on to the Zoom that they’ve taken on. Students are using it. There’s no official plan to reopen BC schools yet, and it’s unlikely, it seems, that regular classes will be resumed this year, and I don’t think that’s probably surprising, but who knows. We could hear something different next week from the premier.

Scott: [00:39:41] I mean overall, it’s just, I think good that BC’s really taking their time on this one. I know there were a bunch of anxious parents who would love to get their children out of their hair and back into a more normal school routine. But this really is a case where we want to do everything right and not rush into anything.

And even though kids have generally being much less susceptible to the virus, they can still carry and transmit it to family members. So we really do want to be careful when schools reopen.

Ian: [00:40:18] Yeah. And I should mention that schools, BC has moved to allow, uh, some in class participation already for students or kids of essential workers.

And that’s again, another way to try to make sure that people effectively have childcare who need it to keep, you know, our hospitals running and our delivery services bringing me Amazon and Daggerad Beer every so often.

Scott: [00:40:47] True. Truly the essentials

Ian: [00:40:48] and I’m spending more money every time I go on the beer store online.

And the fact they bring it to my door, it’s also, I got to give a big shout out to them though. They, Daggerad specifically does daily deliveries, and if you order by two they will deliver between two and seven and I think yesterday I ordered at one 1:58 and they came at like 2:30 or 3 which is the fastest I’ve ever gotten an online delivery. Like Amazon can’t even match that.

Scott: [00:41:17] I think I’ve been in restaurants where I’ve gotten beer slower than that,

Ian: [00:41:21] And this was not a small order. So full credit to them, support your local breweries and stay safe.

Segment 3: Malahat-a-choo-choo

Ian: Well, let’s move on to our final segment that I want to call Malhat a choo choo. The ongoing discussion about whether to reopen the Island rail corridor, uh, was given a new boost this week as the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure released a 100 page – well, the summary report is a hundred page – technical analysis of can we build this thing and what will it cost.

Scott: [00:42:01] I think it was definitely more than a hundred pages. You don’t want to there, um the appendixes and it’s, you know, 300 pages just of how good the rail ties are, but, uh…

Ian: [00:42:10] The answer’s not great.

Scott: [00:42:11] yeah. A bunch of work needs to be done to rehabilitate it.

So I think we talked about this, oh, probably a year ago, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, uh, when the study was first announced. Uh, but as a bit of a refresher, there’s a corridor that runs up and down the Island from, uh, Esquimalt Victoria all the way up to, uh, Courtenay with a spur line going off to Port Alberni and mostly single track old railway that discontinued service back in 2011.

And there’s been big question of what to do with it. It got discontinued because the quality was such that no longer met federal regulations, which, you know, not great. Uh, but they’re looking at what it would take to actually bring it back and use it either as a freight or commuter line or some combination of it.

Uh, so there’s actually still a 10 mile section being used up around Nanaimo but other than that, it’s, uh, completely ceased operations.

Ian: [00:43:17] Can just say how weird it is that in – we’ll talk about more details that are actually consequential – but I’m noticing in this report, and I didn’t notice it earlier when I was poking around, that it measures speed in miles per hour rather than metric.

Scott: [00:43:32] There’s a bunch of weird things in there. The, um, structural discussions of the bridges, uh, talked about Kips, which for anyone who hasn’t done structural engineering classes, uh, that’s a thousand pounds as a, as a unit. Yeah. It’s odd.

Ian: [00:43:47] More importantly though, the takeaway from this is if we wanted to reactivate this rail, do three stages of upgrades, go all the way from Victoria to Port Alberni, it’d be about $730 million. And that includes a massive amount of contingency. A lot of that is just getting the track back up to speed. But yeah, 730 million for, what is it in total, like 200 kilometers of rail?

Scott: [00:44:15] Uh, it’s more than that, just to Nanaimo is a hundred and…hundred-ish kilometers. Go up to Port Alberni. it’s probably doubled that.

Ian: [00:44:23] The Victoria bit’s 225 kilometers, and the Port Alberni is a 64 kilometer branch, so just under 300 in total.

Scott: [00:44:32] Uh, so yeah, they look at upgrading that to, uh, basically a higher class of rail, uh, to allow more frequent trains, faster service, and that’s expected to cost around $600,000 to bring it up to just, ah, usable as a commuter line.

You want to rehabilitate the entire corridor, like you said, it’s $728 million. I know the contingency drew a lot of discussion both in our Slack, which the thread on this one ended up nearly setting I think a Slack record for length, so if you enjoy hyper nerdy train quarter discussions, definitely ah request an invite to our Slack.

There’s also other fun stuff

Ian: [00:45:15] leginbootmedia.ca

Scott: [00:45:16] …uh, and also on Twitter as well. But at this moment there’s no-it’s not unreasonable to have a, I think it was 43% contingency on it, just because there’s a lot of unknowns. And this is still a preliminary study. The more you look, the more you advance the design process, the project scoping process, that number is going to get tightened up a lot, but at this stage, yeah, you want a large contingency. just because there are so many unknowns.

Ian: [00:45:47] Yeah. Uh, this also isn’t a business case, so we don’t have, for example, an idea of what the demand would be on it.

Scott: [00:45:55] They, they do actually do a estimate for a ridership.

Ian: [00:45:58] Oh, they did. I missed that.

Scott: [00:46:00] Uh, it’s not huge. We’re talking about somewhere on the order of a 1000 to 2000 people per direction per day.

Ian: [00:46:06] Okay. Yeah, I see in the top, you know, the ultimate case, the ultimate phase, they’re talking about only eight passenger trains a day doing 60 miles an hour, you know, a hundred kilometers an hour, let’s be, let’s be metric here. Uh, but it would start out much slower. It would start two to four trains per day going at 50 kilometers an hour.

And so the question is, you know, is this worthwhile? And I think it breaks down by the phase, and I think one of the things that came out in our Slack discussion is there’s multiple different things going on here. There’s the discussion about does Victoria need a suburban rail system, and there’s probably a strong case for that.

There’s the Victoria to Nanaimo section, where you’re talking about having an alternate to the Malahat, which has its own dangers and issues, you know, it shuts down due to accidents or other issues multiple times. And there have been multiple studies on whether it needs an alternate or some kind of major overhaul.

And the government’s kind of hemmed and hawed on that. And then I think there’s the quieter section North.

Scott: [00:47:15] So that one in particular they found wasn’t generally worth the money to provide an alternate route. Uh, I think it was, if I’m recalling correctly, and I haven’t actually looked at it since we discussed it when this came out, but I think it was around nine times a year there’s a closure sufficient to close at least one direction of travel.

Right. Which I mean, that’s nine times more than would be ideal, but it’s not such a big cost that it made sense to build an entire alternate road through very difficult terrain. And you kind of have the same thing with the train here. It’s just hard to make the cost benefit work out to avoid nine traffic stops a year.

But there’s also, as you were saying, the kind of full Island rail service more as a inter-city rail than a kind of commuter rail, like look in kind of the South Island region.

Ian: [00:48:07] Of course, part of the challenge is this rail line is a rather old one, and cities have somewhat redeveloped since then. And so one of the issues raised is that the stations wouldn’t be downtown.

Now, they might not be totally inconvenient, but it’s, you know, if you were doing it from scratch, you probably wouldn’t draw the line where this rail line goes.

Scott: [00:48:32] Now it does kind of take a slightly roundabout way through both the Victoria region and then as it heads up Island, a lot of the places it stops in the various towns and cities isn’t exactly ideal.

Ian: [00:48:45] So I’m relying on, you know, your experience. You grew up in this area, you have family there, you travel there frequently.

Scott: [00:48:52] I actually rode this back in 2000 I think from Ladysmith to Victoria. So I’ve, I’ve actually used the rail line back when it was operating. And you know, it was fun, but like it was not any quicker than driving would have been, but you know, as a 10 year old I liked, I enjoyed it.

Based on that experience, I’d be hard pressed to select rail if I was to try and get from Victoria, anywhere else on Vancouver Island.

Ian: [00:49:20] I guess the only other consideration, I know and this is particularly of concern Island residents, uh, is the green capacity of it. You know, can this be a way to reduce transportation carbon emissions through, I don’t believe they recommend electrification fully of it.

Scott: [00:49:42] They don’t, the number of trains and the requirements that basically string electrical equipment throughout this corridor just doesn’t really make sense. So they propose a probably a diesel electric as an alternative, which it, it’s more efficient than a personal car would be.

Ian: [00:50:02] And the cargo trucks in particular.

Scott: [00:50:05] But yeah. So, um, before we close it off, I think it is worth kind of really asking the question of what is this trying to solve here? And this particular study came out of, I think it might’ve even been a campaign promise where maybe the, maybe even the Greens pushed them into it, I can’t quite recall. But, um, basically this was a case where there’s a section of people on Vancouver Island to really want the idea of the rail to come back.

There’s the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the track now. And this was the government kind of responding to the question of, okay, what do we do with this rail line that’s out of use that’s in disrepair, that’s running through Vancouver Island and parts of the Victoria area?

Ian: [00:50:52] Actually, I want to clear the record. I spoke a little poorly of the quality of it. A lot of the sections are actually in what’s considered fair, uh, you know, status, which isn’t what they would want it at for new trains, but it’s not like it’s all washed out and needs to be rebuilt entirely.

Scott: [00:51:12] Uh, particularly the area South of the Malahat’s actually in pretty good shape. Uh, it wouldn’t be as complicated to rehabilitate that section of rail as the areas on the Malahat and further North. Uh, the washouts are, I believe, are North of that. There’s also be some bridges that would need to be replaced, but once again, that’s primarily North of the Malahat, well, on the Malahat northward from there.

So that’s not a huge problem in, in the sense of trying to use it as a commuter rail line from the Western communities downtown. And the Western communities for the people who aren’t from Victoria, it’s kind of where most of the growth’s happening, and that’s really the part of the region that’s really built up, but it also funnels through a pretty narrow highway because of just how the geography is set up and the waterways. Uh, there isn’t a lot of alternate routes, so it gets very congested from people traveling in and out of Victoria.

So circling back to kind of what question is being asked here in that sense, yeah I can kind of see why they want to say, okay. It made sense to or it might make sense to explore further the option of establishing a commuter rail line. You do have a right of way already set off, which is a big plus when you’re trying to establish that sort of thing. But they’re expecting it’s going to be around $600 million to establish that. And you always kind of gotta ask, well, what else can you do with it?

And that’s the question that isn’t asked here, but did get brought up in our Slack and did, uh, and should I think we talked about more here is: is that really the question you’re trying to solve? It seems to me the more important question to ask is you have a transport, you have some pot of money that you will be using in the Southern part of Vancouver Island to improve transportation, and how do you best spend that?

And if you approach it from that way, it’s probably not the case where it made sense to spend $600 million so you can run eight trains a day and transport a thousand-ish people from Langford to Victoria. In this case, it’d probably make a lot more sense to invest in better bus transit. Maybe even go as far as put in a a bus rapid transit system, which tends to be a lot more cost effective.

And overall it’s the case where if you approach it from the question of how do you best improve Victoria transportation and Vancouver Island transportation, it’s probably not going to come out to run a commuter rail line on an outdated bit of track that will need to be rehabilitated.

Ian: [00:53:48] Yeah. I mean, it’s cheaper than either the UBC subway extension, even just the Arbutus to UBC section or the Surry Langley SkyTrain extensions that are being discussed, but those are very major projects with a clear demand. And, uh, you know, we know that those will be used by a lot of people.

Scott: [00:54:08] Well, not only that, it’s just also a case that if you’re literally punching a tunnel through a good chunk of downtown or the built up part of Vancouver. Yeah, that’s just going to be pretty expensive no matter how you go about it.

But we’re talking at least an order of magnitude difference in ridership between the two, so it makes a lot more sense to spend a lot of money to move a lot of people through Vancouver then to spend a decent chunk of money to move a fewer a few people through Victoria.

Ian: [00:54:37] Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes. The last thing I’ll add on it is, you know, we’re going to see the parties jockey into the next provincial election on probably the recovery plans. You know, who has the best recovery plan for the province. And within that spending is probably going to be the key issue.

You know, infrastructure spending is always a good way to make sure you’re building stuff. And you know, the NDP are going to be fighting with the Greens on Vancouver Island. And if the idea of a rail is more popular than the actual reality, it might be that that’s something both those parties are pursuing hard.

I don’t think the Liberals are as likely to win as many votes, but there’s a couple of ridings in there they’ve been competitive in, so maybe they go all in on it as well. It’s in the same way that I’m thinking about the fights over the Fraser Valley railway, which I think probably has a slightly higher use case, but you know, these things are as much political as they are economic.

Scott: [00:55:41] Well, the Fraser Valley railway, just zig-zags all over the place, and would not, not make much sense as route. This one’s at least fairly direct, even if the stations are kind of out of the way in a lot of places.

Ian: [00:55:53] I meant whether they use the existing Frasier Valley railway or develop a new one.

Scott: [00:55:59] Fraser Valley really is a case where it’s probably best to acquire a new right of way, even if it costs a lot more.

Ian: [00:56:04] Well with that, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for the next step in building better transit on Vancouver Island. Whether that’s a train, a bus, or just a nice bike way up there, like the kettle Valley railway, that’s a really nice bikeway. Let’s do that.

Scott: [00:56:20] Oh, Victoria does have the Galloping Goose, which is a converted rail line, and at least within the Victoria area it does provide that.

Uh, but yeah, like you said, we’ll have to see where it goes from here. And I think the political machinations of the various parties are probably going to influence this more than the actual economic and engineering fundamentals.

Outro

And that has been PolitiCoast. Find links to everything we talked about at PolitiCoast.ca. Support the show and get access to our Slack channel at patreon.com/politicoast.

Our intro music credit is Beautiful British Columbia, by Serge Plotnikoff. PolitiCoast is a production of Leg-in-Boot Meida and editing services are provided by CHLY 101.7 FM in Nanaimo.

Wash your hands and stay home. Thanks for listening.

Liked the show? Support PolitCoast on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *