Wednesday, January 27, 2016

No Social License for Maley Drive Phase 1 Project

The $80.1 million Maley Drive Extension Project, Phase 1, lacks the social license necessary for it to proceed at this time. While the price tag for Maley has ballooned, the project’s scale and scope has shrunk to a shadow of itself, with the latest proposal being only for half the road that was proposed more than 20 years ago – back when the first technical evaluations were conducted for the project.   Although Sudburians have heard how Maley will lead to further investment and economic development in our communities, there has never been a business case made public which supports these suppositions.  A recent Cost Benefit analysis was prepared in support of the project, but it determined that there would be very little benefit to the municipality and all of its taxpayers.  Data used to support that analysis was over a decade out of date.  

The original environmental assessment, conducted over 20 years ago, was based on underlying socio-economic assumptions and a degraded physical environment from a past era.  The more recent 2008 environmental update reaffirmed these assumptions without taking a critical look at them.  Since then, the presence of threatened species has been positively identified in the watershed that Maley will traverse, and yet there have been no plans to update the 21 year old Environmental Assessment with this new information.

And almost unbelievably, the project that is now being considered for funding by senior levels of government has never been endorsed by any municipal Council.  Council has, in the past, endorsed a road project which would have extended from MR 35 (Elm Street) in the west all the way over to Falconbridge Road in the east – but that’s no longer the project that is moving forward for federal funding at this time.

Residents, businesses and taxpayers have not had the opportunity to provide meaningful public input into the Maley Drive Extension project at any time since the project was conceived.  The Maley Drive Extension Project, Phase 1, will be one of the most expensive pieces of public infrastructure which municipal taxpayers have ever been asked to invest in.  And yet we are being asked to do so by taking a leap of faith – faith that old growth models from the latter part of the last century will remain valid over the 30 year lifetime of the project.  We are to take it on faith that assessments of the physical and socio-economic environment from before the Great Recession will remain relevant over the next 30 years.  We are to believe that the project will bring a net benefit to our communities, despite the costs, and in absence of any critical evidence – and in the face of contrary evidence from similar roads projects.  

The price is too high to proceed without a social license from area residents.  If we are to go down the path of massive public spending, we must do so with our eyes open and with a good understanding of what we are going to get for our money – and what the consequences are of spending that money on Maley, rather than on other city-building projects.

Maley Project - Scope & Scale

When originally conceived, the Maley Drive project was intended to upgrade some existing roads in the City, and to build a connection between them across the northerly boundary of what was then the City of Sudbury.  Upgrades would be made to the 2-lane Lasalle Extension from MR 35 to Frood Road, with the Lasalle Extension being  4-laned between Frood Road and Notre Dame.  At a point close to where College Boreal has since been constructed,  a new two-lane road was intended to veer northeast toward MR 80, where it would intersect with a cloverleaf interchange.  That new road would head west to Barrydowne, where it would connect with an upgraded, but still 2-lane Maley Drive all the way to Old Falconbridge Road. 4-laning was contemplated between Old Falconbridge Road and Falconbridge Road.

The original 1995 Environmental Assessment was prepared in support of the project I’ve described above.  The 2008 Environmental Assessment addendum, prepared to update the original EA, was based on a modified version of the original project – all of Maley would now be 4-laned from Frood Road in the west to Falconbridge Road in the east.

After the completion of the 2008 Environmental Assessment Addendum, the City went out looking for funding from the province, only to be rebuffed in its efforts.  When the Building Canada federal funding initiative came along after the 2008 recession, Council directed staff to apply to the government of Canada to get Maley moving.  In 2014 or 2015, it seems that the City submitted something to federal Department of Infrastructure  - but that proposal was not the one contemplated in the Environmental Assessment.  

"Phases" 1 and 2

What the City has applied for under Building Canada is something called “Phase 1” of the Maley Drive Extension project.  Phase 1 is estimated to cost $80.1 million.  It will consist of building a new 4-lane road between the Lasalle Extension at College Boreal in the west, with a cloverleaf interchange across MR 80, to link up with Barrydowne Road in the east.  Between Barrydowne Road and Falconbridge Road, Maley Drive will be refurbished, but will remain a 2-laned road with a level rail crossing. 

The sections of Lasalle between MR 35 and College Boreal, and the upgrades previously contemplated to the existing part of Maley Road (which include grade separation at the CPR crossing, and a roundabout at Barrydowne and Lansing Avenue) are not included in Phase 1, but rather consist of what is now being referred to as “Phase 2”.  The City has at this time not sought any funding from senior levels of government for Phase 2, nor has it been setting aside annual funding for Phase 2 in the same way that it has for Phase 1.  Phase 2 is currently estimated to cost about $50 million dollars, but the City’s own Roads Director believes that real costs will be higher (see: “Maley project feasible: report,” the Sudbury Star, November 5, 2015. Note that the City has updated its website since the November 5 publication, and now is using the figure of $70 million for Phase 2).  The City of Greater Sudbury will be on the hook to figure out a way to fund Phase 2 all on its own.

According to the Sudbury Star, when asked about Phase 2 in November, 2015, Greater Sudbury’s Mayor indicated that he was “not aware” of it.  Mayor Bigger did acknowledge that “there may be completion to a different length of road construction that would add up to more dollars” – but did not seem to realize that this “different length” consisted of elements which City Council and residents have all along thought would be included in the Maley Drive Extension Project, but which were removed from funding requests to senior levels of government. 

Clearly, Mayor Bigger isn’t the only one who has been unaware of what the Maley Drive Extension project is intended to be.  Local media continues to misrepresent the project as a “ring road” along the northeastern part of the City (see: “Decision on Maley expected within months: Bigger,” the Northern Life, January 16, 2016, which erroneously indicates that “Maley Drive “would complete a ring road around the city”) .  While it is true that some in our community have talked about eventually linking Maley to the Southeast by-pass which currently terminates at Highway 17 and the Kingsway just west of Coniston, there really aren’t any serious plans to do so, and no technical assessments have ever been prepared in support of this linkage.  Further, a “ring road” is usually thought of as something which goes completely around an urban area.  There is currently no northwest by-pass – and none has ever been seriously talked about at all.  And yet the term “ring road” is often used to describe the Maley project.

Does Past Findings Still Hold True for Smaller Project?

Instead of even a quarter of a ring, what Greater Sudbury will be getting for $80.1 million is something much smaller – essentially just a new road between College Boreal and Barrydowne Road.  While this new 4-lane road will connect existing roads (the Lasalle extension and the existing portion of Maley Drive – both of which are just 2 lanes), it is unclear if the road will be able to accomplish the tasks for which some evidence exists and suggests could be accomplished – namely reducing congestion. 

Past forecasts for how Maley Drive would reduce congestion on Lasalle Boulevard and the Kingsway were made with the assumption that what we are now calling Phase 1 and Phase 2 would be both be built – one right after the other (or in combination with one another, depending on which building plan is looked at).  These past forecasts also did not take into account how improvements made to the Lasalle/Notre Dame intersection has eased the flow of traffic on Lasalle Boulevard.  Largely, data from the 2005 Transportation Master Plan has been used – and even the 2015 Cost Benefit analysis was based on this old data.

Further, the 1995 Environmental Assessment and the 2008 Addendum to it were both based on the new Phase 1 and Phase 2 projects proceeding simultaneously.  We now know that only Phase 1 is likely to be funded – and Phase 2 may never be built.  Do the socio-economic assumptions made in these historic assessments still hold up when only part of the project is to be constructed?

Not 1 Project, But 2

What we are doing with the Maley project is like building half of a house.  We may be pouring a very sturdy foundation and putting up some really great walls on the first floor.  But the stairway leads up to nowhere and when it rains, there’s very little shelter to take because we haven’t added a roof.  A house built like this isn’t much of a house, no matter how good the planning was that when into its construction.  The same is true of the Maley Drive project – we can’t assume that Maley is going to work with only Phase 1 being constructed.

I understand that our City likes to develop roads projects in chunks – referring to them as “phases”.  But really, we should be looking at these individual chunks as stand-alone discrete projects, and not just as a phase of a larger project.  We look at other types of development this way – subdivision approvals come to mind.  Technical analyses are produced for the entirety of the project to determine its viability and sustainability, and phasing decisions are based on other considerations, such as how many units can be sold in a given timeframe, and what’s the best time to extend sewer and water pipes.

Make no mistake – the Maley Drive Extension, Phase 1 project is a discrete road project, separate from Phase 2.  The City’s website makes this clear: Phase 1 has benefitted from a higher level technical analysis than has Phase 2 (see: “Maley Drive Extension: An Affordable Investment that will be Managed in a Fiscally Responsible Manner,” the City of Greater Sudbury, undated.  Compare the first two bullet points).  The way in which each project is being funded also suggests that we are talking about two projects, and not just one.  

The Realm of Uncertainty

That should worry our Council and Greater Sudbury residents.  After all, our Council has never endorsed only a partial build of Maley.  Certainly, there has never been any public consultation ever undertaken on constructing just Phase 1 – while leaving Phase 2 to be built at an unspecified future date without $70 million (and counting) of funding that we don’t have, and don’t know how to get.  We’re not talking about a phased project here – we’re clearly talking about two discrete projects, only one of which is intended to be funded right now.

Residents living along Barrydowne Road between Lasalle and Maley Drive in particular ought to be very concerned, as a new 4-lane highway will be dumping all sorts of new traffic at an intersection close to their homes.  Barrydowne north of Lasalle is largely a residential area.  If Maley Drive east of Barrydowne remains a 2-lane road, it is probable that much of that traffic from the new 4-laned westerly extension will exit south through Barrydowne, rather than risk traversing a 2-laned Maley with a level CPR crossing.  And yet these residents have never been asked what their thoughts on this circumstance might be.
Of course, I might be wrong.  I’m not a traffic expert.  But I’d love to see the traffic modelling which has been produced by the City which shows anticipated traffic flows from a half-built Maley.  Until then, my evidence-based assumptions remain fact free – just as fact free as the City’s assumptions about traffic which have never taken into consideration the impacts of building Phase 1 but not Phase 2.

Cost Benefit Analysis and Business Case

The November, 2015 Cost Benefit report from AECOM consulting identifies just two benefits from what it calls the Maley Drive Phase 1 project over the 30-year lifetime of the road.  These benefits include a reduction in travel time for motorized vehicles (both personal vehicles and truck traffic), and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.   Upon a closer look, the analysis behind both of these “benefits” are considerably flawed, however it does stand to reason that at least initially, there may be a savings of travel time accrued to motorists and trucks.

The AECOM analysis is, however, not based on what the City is referring to as Phase 1 of the Maley Drive project.  Indeed, it contains elements of the unfunded and unlikely to ever be built Phase 2.  Specifically, the AECOM report looks at that section of Maley between Barrydowne Road which extends along the existing corridor to about 300 metres east of Lansing Avenue.  Importantly, Phase 2 of the Maley Project contemplates a traffic roundabout being installed along a 4-laned section of Maley at Lansing.  We know, however, that no such roundabout is a part of Phase 1 of the project, and that Maley will only consist of 2 lanes east of Barrydowne.  This error alone is enough to cast some doubt on the findings of the AECOM report.

Traffic Assumptions

More importantly, however, is the report’s findings that travel time will be saved by the public and the trucking industry.  These findings were based on the use of data from the 2005 Transportation Master Plan – and brought forward under the assumption that traffic patterns in the City will not change for the next 30 years.   Basing travel assumptions out to the year 2045 on data from 2005 seems absolutely ridiculous when travel trends are considered.  While it is true that there is little recent data available about Greater Sudbury traffic trends (even the recent 2015 Draft Transportation Master Plan uses 2005 data – possibly one of the reasons that the Plan hasn’t been adopted by Council yet; see Section 2.2.2: "Transportation Study Report (draft)," City of Greater Sudbury, April 2015), it is not difficult to extrapolate that some significant trends evident throughout North America will likely impact the way in which Greater Sudburians get around our City over the coming decades.

Already, the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has told the City of Greater Sudbury that it needs to consider traffic demand management strategies for new roads projects (see: “Letter to Mr. David Kalviainen, Roads Engineer, City of Greater Sudbury, re:  Part II Order Requests – Second Avenue Road Infrastructure Improvements,” Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, May 13, 2015  MOE letter).  The MOECC’s letter regarding Second Avenue would have been available to AECOM prior to the preparation of the Cost Benefit report, but it was ignored. 

What the MOECC said about Second Avenue will not prove to be a one-off comment – indeed, throughout North America, cities are looking at ways of maximizing the use of their transportation networks at times of day in which they are under-utilized.  Spreading out rush hour can – and does – have a huge impact on easing congestion at peak periods. It has more of a positive impact on reducing congestion, in fact, than building new roads.

Understanding What's Driving Congestion: Induced Demand

Studies have shown that building new roads does not ultimately reduce congestion.  These studies explore a concept called “induced demand”, which shows how when a new road is built, it often leads to more traffic on all of the roads in the transportation network, because it has initially made travelling by car a little easier.  New roads often open up new areas to development, and where development occurs, congestion follows. The more roads we build, the more congestion we get.  That’s a hard lesson that we’ve learned from our experiment with 20th Century suburban design.  But it is a lesson nonetheless – one based on facts and evidence.

And yet AECOM chose to ignore these facts and evidence, and tossed “induced demand” into the wastebasket.  AECOM refused to explore how traffic demand management might actually reduces congestion – probably because the City of Greater Sudbury has refused to take a serious look at this tool, choosing instead to hang its congestion reduction hat on building new roads alone – even though the evidence does not support this strategy as one that is sustainable – or even based on evidence and experience.

AECOM's Emissions Greenwash

AECOM also decided to calculate the tonnage of greenhouse gas emissions saved through the reduction in travel time which it identified as a benefit.  Again, since the reduction in travel time benefit is specious given what we know about induced demand, it’s not at all clear that we can expect an actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  Instead, because of induced demand, we should expect an overall increase in emissions.  But even if Greater Sudbury manages to buck the induced demand trend with Maley Drive, AECOM’s assessment of emissions makes zero sense.

AECOM believes that 2,459 metric tonnes of carbon per year can be saved thanks to an overall reduction in vehicular travel time, based on no changes in commuting habits between 2005 and 2045.  Even assuming that this is the case, AECOM does not account for greenhouse gas emissions which would be expended during the construction of the Maley Drive project.  Work undertaken by Sudbury Engineering Technologist Tom Price shows that the construction of Male Drive Phase 1 is likely to produce over 213,000 tonnes of CO2 – making emissions saving a wash based on AECOM’s own calculations.

Missing Benefits and Costs

How AECOM could have overlooked emissions from construction in their Cost Benefit report simply staggers the mind – and demonstrates that the entire report is completely flawed.  Yes, the entire report – because AECOM only looked at congestion and emissions.  What about all of those other benefits, such as short-term job creation we can expect from construction.  The City estimates exactly 780 jobs will be created, with a total economic stimulus to our community of $88.8 million (see: “Maley Drive Extension: An Affordable Investment that will be Managed in a Fiscally Responsible Manner,” the City of Greater Sudbury, undated).  Of course, the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce believes the City’s jobs numbers are understated.  The Chamber claims that 1,400 jobs will be created, and $156 million will be added to the region’s GDP (see: “Maley Drive Task Force,” Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, June 4, 2015).  Not sure who has the more believable numbers?  Me neither, as the City and the Chamber both haven’t cited any sources or provided any factual evidence on which their conclusions could be based.

Those are just some of the missing benefits that one might have expected to see in a Cost Benefit report for Maley Drive.  One can imagine the sorts of costs that have been left unevaluated on the other side of the ledger.  And some have wondered, including Laurentian University Professor of Economics, Dr. David Robinson, who took an in-depth look at the AECOM Report, and concluded that either it was not actually a Cost Benefit analysis, or it was a deeply flawed one (see: “Maley Drive: How Not to do a Cost Benefit Analysis,” Economics for Northern Ontario, November 6, 2015).

Environmental Assessment - Assumptions

The 1995 Environmental Assessment, which is currently not available to the public, appears to have been based on a number of assumptions.  Although I’ve never read this report, I am inferring what these assumptions might have been, based on what the 2008 Environmental Assessment addendum indicates.  It appears that the 1995 EA indicated that a truck by-pass would be desirable to get mining trucks off of Lasalle Boulevard, and that the mining and smelter sector believed that there would be financial benefit from creating a new east-west corridor in this location.  The former municipality of Sudbury also thought that it was a good idea to build a new east-west corridor north of Ramsey Lake – although why the former City believed this is not identified.

Largely, those assumptions have filtered down to us today as the primary reasons for investing in the Maley Drive project, although others have been added, including the need to facilitate economic development and to open up new areas of the City for development.  Neither the 1995 or the 2008 Environmental Assessments took either of those latter considerations seriously, likely because they’re not serious considerations (regarding how Maley won’t open up new areas for development, I’ve previously written more extensively about this myth in, “Taking a Closer Look at Maley Drive, Part 3: Expectations for Growth,” Sudbury Steve May, November 12, 2015).

But even the assumptions built into the 1995 Environmental Assessment should be challenged – especially after 20 years of further analysis.  Let’s take a closer look:

Truck Traffic

Getting the trucks off of Lasalle Boulevard appears to remain the most viable reason to build Maley Drive, in my mind.  I don’t think that many can argue that building Maley won’t lead to this outcome.  However, questions must be asked about the volume of truck traffic that is likely to relocate to a truncated version of Maley such as the one now being offered up as Phase 1.  And further, are the number of trucks currently using Lasalle Boulevard the same in 2016 as they were in 1995?  
To answer the first question, we just don’t know – because no one has run the traffic models which look at a new 4-laned road between College Boreal and Barrydowne running into an existing 2-lane road between Barrydowne and Falconbridge – one which contains a level rail crossing.

To answer the second question, again Sudbury’s Tom Price has taken a close look at truck traffic and has determined that the number of trucks which currently use Lasalle is actually less today than it was in 1995, thanks to changes in the mining and mineral sector that have happened in our communities over the past 20 years.  Increasingly, trucks are taking an alternate route through Valley East and Valley West to get to their destinations – one which has caused problems for rural residents living along MR 15 north of Azilda and west of Blezzard Valley.  While it may be that a new Maley, even in its truncated Phase 1 form, might be preferable to the present rural truck route through the Valley, the City has not done any studies which support that outcome. And indeed, neither the 1995 or the 2008 Environmental Assessments considered Maley in the context of the rural truck route (see Section 2.0 of the 2008 Addendum – and the direct reference to “Lasalle Boulevard” and the lack of reference to any other truck route).

Clearly, the traffic patterns on which these two assessments were prepared have changed.  Mining trucks are already travelling less on Lasalle than they were in 1995 – and they’re using rural routes to move between locations more than they were in the past (causing significant hardship for rural residents along this route).  Even the City of Greater Sudbury is now justifying the project by indicating that Maley will get trucks off MR 15 & MR 80 (see: “Maley Drive: A Solid Investment in the Social Future of the City of Greater Sudbury,” the City of Greater Sudbury, undated).  However, without actually having studied what the impacts might be, I believe it’s difficult to quantify to what degree the City will achieve success in this outcome.  

Can you imagine spending $80 million on a new road for trucks which isn’t ultimately used by trucks?  Now I admit that outcome seems unlikely even to me with regards to Maley Drive – but the fact of the matter is that there is little evidence to demonstrate what we are all taking on faith here about trucks and Maley, given the way in which truck traffic in our communities has evolved over the past 20 years.

And what can we realistically expect of truck traffic in the future?  Will shipping mining products by truck still be profitable as we get deeper into the 21st Century?  Our provincial government is talking about putting a price on carbon – one which will raise fuel prices for all users, including trucks.  While the price the province has been kicking around isn’t likely to act as much of a deterrent to truck traffic (likely to be around $30 to $40 per tonne, in keeping with carbon costs in B.C. and proposed for Alberta), if the price of carbon pollution eventually rises as high as the price used in the AECOM report (a staggering $88.50 per tonne – a price which, by the way, is considered middling when it comes to incorporating the actual social costs of carbon, which may be as high as $200 per tonne – see: “New economic model may radically boost the social costs of carbon,” arstechnica, January 12, 2015), will trucking heavy expensive materials such as those currently shipped on our municipal roads remain a profitable exercise?

Junction Creek Watershed: Still "Degraded"?

With regards to the physical environment, both the 1995 and 2008 Environmental Assessments refer to the Junction Creek watershed through which the Maley Project is to extend as being “degraded”.  The 2008 Addendum reports on field surveys conducted in 2006 in which no threatened or endangered species were identified, and in which the findings were largely in keeping with those made back in 1995 (except in 2006, 3 new tributaries of the Junction Creek were discovered – with no explanation about how they might have been missed back in 1995 – which kind of makes one wonder what other features the 1995 Assessment might have missed).

10 years later, can we still make the same assumptions about this part of the Junction Creek watershed?  There have been a number of initiatives undertaken by the Junction Creek Stewardship Committee in recent years to improve and enhance the quality of the creek and its tributaries (see: "Something fishy with the Junction Creek festival," the Northern Life, May 23, 2015).  One of these initiatives in 2014 looked at the health and abundance of turtles in the aquatic ecosystem (see: “After 15 years, Junction Creek showing signs of life,” the Northern Life, May 24, 2014).  It turns out that Blanding’s Turtles have been identified at locations in the watershed.  Blanding’s Turtles are a threatened species in Ontario, which means that the protection of their habitat needs to be given greater consideration.  It’s not known whether Blanding’s Turtles may be living in the tributaries of Junction Creek across which Maley Drive is intended to traverse.  The 2006 field surveys did not identify the presence of Blanding’s Turtles.

The point, however, is that we know that there is now a threatened species living in the watershed.  As a result, we can’t simply rely on field surveys conducted over a decade ago.  And yet, no new updates to the 2008 Addendum are being considered at this time, even with the knowledge that a threatened species has been located in the watershed.  To allow Maley Drive to proceed in absence of a more fulsome assessment of the known presence of and potential habitat for a threatened species is extremely problematic and potentially illegal.  

Up-to-Date Assessment Critical

The need for up-to-date Environmental Assessments is illustrated by this one example – but there may be others that we don’t know about, and won’t know about until appropriate studies are undertaken.  The lifespan of Environmental Assessments is typically just 5 years (certainly, the 2008 Addendum indicates that the 1995 Environmental Assessment needed to be updated after 5 years – I admit that I do not know whether the same is true with the 2008 Addendum, but the Sudbury Star reports that the City of Greater Sudbury may be under the impression that the 2008 Addendum “lapses” later in 2016 – see: “Maley project feasible: Report,” the Sudbury Star, November 5, 2015). Grazing the edge of an Environmental Assessment’s best before date to justify a project moving forward where there is evidence of a changed circumstance to both the physical environment (Blanding’s turtles) and the socio-economic environment (a smaller, truncated road being considered; truck traffic having migrated to the Valley) defies logic, and certainly is one of the primary reasons why the Maley Drive Extension project Phase lacks a social license.

Council Endorsement

But it’s not the only reason.  Who gets to make decisions in our community which impact on residents, the business community, and the fiscal health of our municipal government?  Typically, we like to think that these decisions are made primarily by our municipal Council, but every now and then, senior levels of government might opt to by-pass Council and make a decision with their own interests in mind.  Every now and then, voters are tasked with making a specific decision for themselves through a referendum.  But usually, it’s our Council that makes decisions on behalf of the disparate elements and interests which make up our communities.

In the case of the Maley Drive Extension, Phase 1 project, however, Council has never actually made a decision to pursue this project.  While it is true that Council has, in the past, on several occasions, made clear its support for a more fulsome Maley Drive project (see Decisions based on Staff Reports dated April 3, 2009; January 6, 2011; and August 8, 2012 – the last of which contemplated a phased project, but one which would be completely funded and built-out in 4 years. Read my further analysis of this issue, “The Incredibly Shrinking Road: Staff Pulls a Fast One on Council with a Shorter Maley Drive,” Sudbury Steve May, November 5, 2015), this discrete, stand-alone Phase 1 project has never had the benefit of a Council resolution in support – in fact, staff have never even gone to Council looking for that support.

Can it possibly be that our City has been making the case for funding to senior levels of government for a project which has never been endorsed by Council on behalf of the City’s citizens?  It certainly looks like that’s the case.  However, given the labyrinthine twists and turns taken by the Maley project over the past 2 plus decades, perhaps it’s not completely unexpected. 

Careful Consideration

But going forward at this time – without Council endorsement – would be unacceptable.  Council must either make a decision on the Phase 1 road – or take it to the public and hold a referendum.  
This is important, after all.  We’re talking about the biggest and most expensive public infrastructure project in the history of our City.  It’s simply unconscionable that Council wouldn’t make a decision on the project, in absence of any previous Council ever having reviewed this project – or deciding that it was appropriate for the community.

Our Council must take into consideration all of the available information on this specific project before making a careful decision.  That should include a new Environmental Assessment, which looks just at how Phase 1 is intended to interact with the physical and socio-economic environment, and takes into consideration the potential impacts on the habitat of Blanding’s turtles, a threatened species.  

Careful consideration means reviewing an actual Business Case which assesses the need of the project – and not simply the wimpy business case required by Infrastructure Canada for funding under the Building Canada program.  A real analysis of a complete range of costs and benefits should inform the business case analysis of need.   That includes a look at how spending money on Maley might impact how money is spent on other, potentially more worthwhile projects which will have a greater impact on the social, environmental and economic health of our communities.

Public Consultation

And finally, Council’s decision should be informed by a real public consultation process.  Up until now, there has been no real opportunity for the public to provide input on any aspect of Maley Drive – and no opportunity whatsoever to provide input to Council on the scaled-back Phase 1 version which has headed for funding.  Opportunities for limited public engagement would have been available prior to the completion of the 1995 Environmental Assessment.  The 2008 Addendum process, however, focused only on involving those members of the public who participated in the assessment process pre-1995 – presuming they were still around the City more than a decade later.
But as far as public participation goes, that it’s.  And that’s clearly not enough.  Especially since the scope and scale of the project has changed over time, along with the assumptions upon which the project was based.

Even if the federal  government announces the availability of funding for Maley Phase 1, that alone should not deter our Council from going through a fulsome review process to determine whether Phase 1 is going to meet the long-term needs of our communities.  Anyone can throw money around, hoping to get results – but real fiscal sustainability should be informed by the best available facts and evidence, so that public funds can be used responsibly. 

No Social License

In absence of an updated Environmental Assessment, a business case which assesses need and based on a comprehensive analysis of costs and benefits, and a Council decision informed by public participation, it is clear that the Maley Drive Extension Project, Phase 1 road development has not attained the social license necessary for it to proceed at this time.  All levels of government considering funding this project must acknowledge this reality – and back off.

That we find ourselves in this situation after more than two decades of work and expense is problematic, to say the least.   However, new infrastructure projects are often subject to being pulled in multiple directions and evolve over time, based on changing circumstances.  In that respect, Maley Drive is no different – and we ought not kick ourselves too hard for ending up where we have.  But we must acknowledge that the project we are about to undertake has long-term economic and city-building consequences which have not yet been adequately explored by Council, Staff or residents.   As a result, there is no social license to proceed with the project.

(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be considered consistent with the policies and positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

L'Affaire Tom Price: Who is Setting the Agenda in Greater Sudbury?

Public participation in our democratic processes is a sign of healthy discourse in communities.  When voices are heard, the community benefits - even in circumstances where decision-makers and others may not be in agreement with the message coming from those voices.  Discourse, however, helps build consensus on important matters.  Protecting the public's ability to provide input is something that all those concerned about the health of our local democracies should value.

Earlier this week at Greater Sudbury's Operations Committee (a committee of Council), one of those voices was silenced by an elected official - the Chair of Operations Committee.  Tom Price, who has been described as a "consultant", "shit disturber" and "enlightened member of the public", had been scheduled to give an abbreviated version of his presentation on the Maley Drive Extension.  Mr. Price has been one of the more vocal opponents in our community to the new Maley road project.


To communicate his points effectively, Mr. Price developed a Power Point presentation over a year ago.  He's given his presentation to community members and organizations.  A copy of his presentation has been available on YouTube now for some time.   Price's presentation is well worth watching, in my opinion, as it provides additional information about the Maley project which largely has filtered out to the public through the City or through local media.  

Believing that our Council would benefit from hearing his presentation, Price decided that he would approach Council through the community delegation process in order to be heard.

Eventually, Price was invited by the City's Clerk, Caroline Hallsworth, to give an abbreviated (10 minute) version of his presentation to Operations Committee on January 18th.  It's not clear why he was directed to Operations Committee, but the City's Procedural By-law gives the Clerk some discretion with regards to whether a deputation is heard at all, and if so, whether that's by Council or a Committee of Council (see Section 11.04 of By-law 2011-235).

However, when the Agenda for the Operations Committee meeting came out in advance of the Monday, January 18th date, Price's community delegation was not on it.  Price instead sat in the audience on Monday, watching the goings-on at Operations Committee.

Operations Committee Meeting

And what goings-on there were!  Almost at the outset of the meeting, questions were being asked by Council members of the Operations Committee regarding why Price's presentation wasn't on the agenda.   

The Northern Life reports that Committee Chair, Ward 5 Councillor Robert Kirwan said, “In discussing the agenda for tonight with staff a number of things came up, that in my view, made it inappropriate for tonight. So after the discussion it was decided that it would not be tonight, that's the only reason that I can give at this point and I accept full responsibility because it's up to the chair to decide what's on the agenda, but in discussion with staff and due to information that came up it was decided that it's not appropriate tonight.”  (see: "Ops committee clashes over questions of transparency," the Northern Life, January 18, 2016).

Kirwan's reluctance to provide his fellow Operations Committee members with a more fulsome explanation regarding why Price was left off of the agenda led some to wonder aloud just what was going on. 

Ward 3 Councillor Gerry Montpellier hit the nail on the head, in my opinion, when he asked (as reported by the Northern Life) that he was "...actually a little offended that I belong to a committee that goes around telling me that I can't be divulged of why something's been changed, or was omitted or brought in. The fact that I hear you're not privy or we can't divulge why something has been happening one way or the other and that truly is my comment."  A healthy democracy requires that our decision-makers be informed.  No one should be left in the dark.


As reported by the Northern Life, Ward 5 Councillor Evelyn Dutrisac followed up by asking about the timing of Price's presentation: "If not tonight, then when?". No answers were given to Councillor Dutrisac's germane question.  The fact is, we keep hearing that the federal government will be announcing whether they'll be providing funding to the Maley Drive project any day now.  If Council is going to decide whether it ought to revisit Maley Drive, Council really should do so sooner rather than later, for a number of reasons (not least of which includes the embarrassment of being seen to turn down federal infrastructure funds that have been put on the table).  To come to any decision, clearly its in Council's interest to have as much information as they can get, in my opinion.  

And Council has been asking for certain information from staff about the Maley project which doesn't appear to be forthcoming.  The status of a "business case" for Maley was raised again on Monday, but apparently staff have been too busy with the budget to action this item (see my earlier blogpost about the missing business case, "Is There a Business Case for the Maley Drive Extension?" Sudbury Steve May, January 19, 2016).  Every day that information isn't forthcoming is one more day in which postponing a decision could make the Maley project a fait accompli.

Procedural By-Law

Later in the meeting, Ward 10 Councilor Fern Cormier brought out the rule book - the City's Procedural By-law.  Quoting Section 6.01 of the By-law, the section pertaining to the Chair's authority, and indicating that this section was "silent" on whether or not the Chair has the authority to influence agenda items - or set them.

Section 6.01 reads, "The Chair of a meeting shall ensure that decorum, proper conduct and the Rules of Procedure contained herein are observed, and is authorized to rule on all points of order, questions of privilege, points of information and other matters relating to this

This part of the Procedural By-law indicates that it's the Chair's job to make sure the rules are followed at meetings.  But with regards to who actually sets the agenda, Councillor Cormier is correct - the section is silent.

Setting the Agenda

Section 6.01 is likely silent on who sets the agenda because this matter is covered off in Section 9.01, which reads, "The Clerk shall prepare the agendas of all meetings of Council and Committees in accordance with the provisions contained in this Part, and shall distribute the agendas in accordance with Article 8." (emphasis added by me).  Regarding changes to the agenda, Section 9.04 gives only the Clerk the authority to make changes/revisions to the agenda up until 12pm on the business day prior to the meeting.

Clearly, setting the agenda is the Clerk's responsibility - despite statements made to Operations Committee by its Chair on Monday, in which he claimed that it's "up to the chair to decide what's on the agenda".  The Chair does not have a role in setting the agenda.  While nothing prohibits the Clerk from consulting with the Chair (or with anyone, for that matter), it's up to the Clerk to determine which items are on the agenda - and which are left off. 

Community Delegations

The Clerk also has a role to play for "community delegations" such as the one proposed by Tom Price.  The by-law is clear: community delegations shall be heard by a Committee, an Advisory Panel or by Council, unless the Clerk determines that the delegation is an inappropriate item to be added to agenda (see Section 11.04, Clerk's Options).  If the item is appropriate, the Clerk shall "include it as an item on the agenda for the appropriate meeting" (Section 11.04 sub 1).  Basically, the Clerk gets to play gatekeeper with community delegations, but even where a delegation is not authorized by the Clerk to speak, the Clerk must provide Councillor's with the delegations supporting documentation, or refer a request to staff for action.

In this specific case, we know that the Clerk had determined that the appropriate meeting was the Operations Committee meeting of Monday, January 18th, because the Clerk advised Price of that fact.  To get to that point, Price had followed the application process for a community delegation, which ultimately led to his request to speak to Council (or the Operations Committee) being approved by the Clerk.

And yet the Clerk changed her mind, and Price was left off of the agenda.  What happened?

Behind the Scenes

Although not forthcoming at the Operations Committee, Councillor Kirwan shed some additional light on the series of events in a post he made to the Valley East Facebook Group, a group moderated by Kirwan in which he often posts and comments on City business.  In that post, Councillor Kirwan indicated that, "[Manager of Infrastructure] Mr. Cecutti asked for an opportunity to make a presentation after Mr. Price's so that he could respond to a lot of facts that Mr. Price would be presenting that were not supported by the evidence and data that the City has. Because Mr. Cecutti was not going to be able to be ready for January 18, he asked for the presentation by Mr. Price to be delayed. It was a reasonable request so the Clerk was asked for her opinion. She indicated that it would be up to me, so I told her that I would rather have Mr. Price make his presentation at a later time."

That seems pretty reasonable, doesn't it?  If a community delegation is going to speak about a matter, doesn't it make sense that Staff be given time to prepare a rebuttal - especially if there are concerns being raised by staff that some of the "facts" being presented are disputed.  It could certainly lead to some lively debate between staff and the delegation!

Well, actually the City's Procedural By-law has something to say about what staff's role is with regards to community delegations.  Section 11.08 sub 5 reads, "After the conclusion of the presentation and questions to the community delegation, [Committee/Council/Advisory Panel] Members shall be permitted to ask questions to staff."

According to the Proedural By-law, staff's ability to respond to a community delegation is actually limited to those circumstances only where Staff are directly asked questions by Committee members.  Staff isn't afforded the opportunity to prepare its own rebuttal presentation in advance of a community delegation - although that could also happen, I suppose, if Staff were able to have their own item placed on the agenda (which the Procedural By-law also contemplates in Section 9.02, "Items from Staff", in which approval from the CAO is required for staff items to be brought forward).

So perhaps delaying a Committee's hearing a community delegation because Staff need an unspecified amount of time to prepare a rebuttal isn't so reasonable after all - especially if the outcome is to silence the community delegation, and deny the deponent an opportunity to be heard by the Committee.


Although discussion at the Operations Committee table appears to have suggested that there was no violation of the Procedural By-law over a belief that there was room for interpretation in setting the agenda, that's not the way that I see it.  A closer look at the Procedural By-law suggests to me that the Clerk made a significant error in not including Tom Price on the Agenda.

The Clerk is required by the Community Delegations section of the by-law to provide time (a maximum of 10 minutes) to a community delegation at an appropriate meeting (which the Clerk must determine) unless the Clerk decides that the delegation is inappropriate.  In this case, the Clerk decided that the delegation was appropriate for Operations Committee to hear, and she notified Price that his delegation would be heard at the meeting of Monday, January 18, 2016.

The Clerk, who is completely responsible for the preparation of the Agenda, then omitted Price's delegation.  This is where the contravention appears to me to have occurred.  While the Chair of the Operations Committee eventually offered an explanation as to the series of events which led to the Clerk to omit Price from the Agenda, and despite that the Chair is now indicating that the Clerk said to him the decision to include Price on the agenda or not would be in the Chair's hands, the City's Procedural By-law is clear about who has the responsibility for setting the agenda and dealing with community delegations.

Intentions - Good or Otherwise

Look, I understand that those involved in this matter might sincerely believe that their intentions were good.  At the Committee meeting, Chair Kirwan brought up the idea that it may be in Council's interest to listen to a broad range of opinions on Maley Drive in certain circumstances, rather than just to one deponent.  I absolutely agree with and support his idea, especially since so very little public consultation occurred prior to past Council's selecting the Maley project as our City's Number 1 (and only) priority for infrastructure funding under the Building Canada program.

But 'l'affaire Tom Price' actually has very little to do with Maley Drive.  It has more to do with who has the power to decide which voices are heard at the Council table - and which ones are silenced.  Our City has a Procedural By-law to provide guidance on these matters, and it appears that for this specific matter, that guidance wasn't followed.  While I understand that not every circumstance is going to be a good fit for the Procedural By-law's guidance, this matter with Tom Price appears to me to be one which was a good fit.  Routine, in fact.

Price applied to be heard.  The Clerk did her job and advised Price to whom he would be speaking and when.  Price should have been afforded the maximum 10 minutes given to community delegations to say his piece to Operations Committee on Monday, January 18, 2016 - but it seems that behind-the-scenes discussions between staff and elected officials derailed his presentation, and led to Operations Committee not having the benefit of hearing his delegation.  Not only was Price left off of the agenda, but no time was set to have him give his 10 minute delegation in the future.  

Going Forward

Price was silenced by backroom maneuvering which appears to have taken place outside of the bounds of the City's Procedural By-law.  Even if the intentions of everyone involved were good, there really is no good excuse for the City to contravene its own procedures as established by the by-law.  At Monday's Operations Committee, Councillor Cormier opined that, "in the past, we err on the side of democracy and allow community delegations because information is never a bad thing and there's no such thing as too much information." If you err on the side of democracy too often, chances are that local democracy flourishes.

Whether it was the Chair who "made the decision" as he now claims, the By-law is clear that setting the agenda is the responsibility of the Clerk.  Our Clerk must step forward and take responsibility for the series of events which led to Tom Price sitting on the sidelines at Monday's Operations Committee.

And perhaps, in the future, the Clerk should be left to perform her responsibilities free and clear of interference from Staff who might feel slighted or unprepared by remarks made by a community deponent, and by elected officials who may want to do the "right" thing but who may not understand that there are clearly defined roles and processes to follow.  If Staff want on the agenda, let them go to the CAO as per the by-law.  If the Chair has reservations about a community delegation for whatever reason, that's just too bad - let the delegation be heard and move on.

The continued health of our local democratic processes is contingent upon open decision-making in keeping with established roles, responsibilities and procedures.  Let's make sure this doesn't happen again.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Despite Paris, It's Business as Usual on Climate Change

Just one month after triumphantly returning from the Paris Climate talks, it seems that our federal and provincial governments really were just full of hot air after all. “Business as usual” continues to prevail, and there remains a lack of political will to do what's necessary to hold global temperature increases between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius – the level of warming the international community committed to in the historic Paris agreement. In Canada’s case, doing what’s necessary means leaving much of our known fossil resources in the ground.

Canada is one of the world's largest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases (see: Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” the Conference Boardof Canada, 2011).  We're also home to the Athabasca tar sands, one of the most carbon-intensive deposits of oil in the world.  As much as 85% of known tar sands deposits must stay safely sequestered in the ground if Canada is to meet former Prime Minister Harper’s international commitment to lower emissions by 30% of 2005 levels by 2030 (see: 85% of tar sands must stay in the ground tolimit climate change to 2 degrees Celsius,” the Council of Canadians, January 8, 2015). 

Harper's target has been soundly condemned for its lack of ambition, given Canada's historic rate of emissions.  However, Justin Trudeau's new Liberal government has refused to set its own target, and has instead decided to leave it to the provinces to determine appropriate emissions reduction levels.   Although Trudeau has proposed modest tinkering with the National Energy Board (NEB), the agency tasked with overseeing pipeline assessments, the Liberals haven’t halted on-going reviews of TransCanada’s Energy East or Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipelines, or required upstream and downstream evaluation of climate impacts.

New bitumen pipelines are only necessary if tar sands production increases – a scenario long contemplated under Alberta's former PC government.  Expansion plans haven’t changed under the Alberta NDP, even with a new carbon pricing plan released by Premier Rachel Notley just before the Paris conference.  Alberta’s NDP government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers both believe the new plan will create the social license necessary for Alberta to grow the tar sands (see: "AB climate strategy expected to build moremarket access,” the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, November 22, 2015).

Earlier this week, British Columbia and Alberta shared with the NEB their respective positions on the Kinder Morgan pipeline review.  B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government opposes the project, due to the lack of an acceptable oil spill clean-up plan (see: B.C. rejects Kinder Morgan’s bid to expandTrans Mountain pipeline,” the Globe and Mail, January 11, 2016). Clark also made support conditional on Kinder Morgan fulfilling all legal aboriginal and treaty rights – a condition that might come back to haunt B.C. after its Supreme Court decided this week that the province can’t pawn off to the NEB its Crown duty to consult with First Nations (see: “B.C. government failed to properly consult withFirst Nations on Northern Gateway pipeline, court rules,” CBC News, January 13, 2016).

Climate change impacts, however, don’t appear to concern B.C.’s premier.  Clark, with the support of B.C.’s NDP opposition, and with federal subsidies promised initially by Stephen Harper and recommitted to by Justin Trudeau, has staked her province’s economic future on developing high-emissions liquified fracked gas. 

Despite B.C.’s objections to Kinder Morgan, particularly those regarding First Nations rights, Premier Notley's Alberta government advised the NEB of its unequivocal support for the new pipeline, suggesting that expanding the tar sands would benefit all Canadians (see: Alberta premier says lack of pipeline accesshurts all Canadians,” the Calgary Herald, January 13, 2016).  

What happens with the Alberta tar sands matters to the rest of Canada, but not in the way Premier Notley thinks.  If Alberta’s plan is fully implemented by 2030, with only 12% of Canada’s population, the province will be emitting 50% of Canada’s greenhouse gases (see: Alberta’s new carbon tax,” Skeptical Science, December 31, 2015). As a result, Ontario, which has already ended coal-fired electrical generation, may be on the hook to do more than its fair share to further reduce emissions.  Our own energy-intensive industrial sectors, like the mining sector, may be put at risk thanks to an abdication of climate leadership at the federal level, and to Alberta not doing its fair share. “Business as usual” indeed. 

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as "Sudbury Column: Business as usual on climate change" (online), and "Despite Paris, business as usual on climate change" (print), January 16, 2016 - without hyperlinks.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Is There a Business Case for the Maley Drive Extension?

Is there a business case for the Maley Drive extension?  That's not a rhetorical question.  Let me clarify: does a business case for the Maley Drive extension actually exist?  Or is it in the same realm of the transit ticket audit that our Mayor had to announce actually didn't exist, despite the numerous reports to the contrary (see: "Sudbury city hall shocker: No ticket scandal audit," the Sudbury Star, June 24, 2015).

I started thinking about this today, after reading remarks made by Tony Cecutti, Manager of Infrastructure Services, as reported in the Sudbury Star  (see: "No-show irks Sudbury councillors," the Sudbury Star, January 19, 2015).  It's reported that Cecutti said about the status of federal funding that, "because there was no application process, we can't say it was approved."

I confess that I've been under the impression that the City had applied to the Building Canada fund for federal funding for what's now being called "Phase 1" of the Maley Drive extension project.  I was rather surprised to discover that there hasn't been an application.  But in fact, Cecutti is absolutely right: there is no application process to apply for federal funding under Building Canada for projects of this sort.

But Infrastructure Canada does have a process to follow.  For "National and Regional Projects", this is how Infrastructure Canada advises municipalities to apply: "Projects will be jointly identified between Canada and provincial or territorial partners. All projects under the PTIC–NRP must undergo an initial review to ensure that they meet eligibility requirements and are aligned with PTIC program objectives. If deemed eligible, a project business case must be developed to demonstrate how the project meets both the common project criteria, as well category specific outcomes and project criteria." (see: "Infrastructure Canada, New Building Canada Fund: Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component, National and Regional Projects").  There's even a handy link to assist municipalities with developing a business case, and identifies required components of the business case submission.

Regarding the need for a business case, Infrastructure Canada's website is helpful: "Detailed business cases under the PTIC–NRP will only be requested for projects that have been jointly identified by Canada and provincial and territorial partners, and that are deemed eligible under the program terms and conditions."  At Ops committee yesterday, Tony Cecutti confirmed that the project was both eligible and had been recommended by the provincial government.  It would therefore appear that a business case is necessary.

So, there's no application to fill out - but if you want Building Canada money, you undergo an initial review of the project to determine the project's eligibility, and then you develop a business case in circumstances where Canada and Ontario identify the project.

In the case of Maley, which likely does meet the program eligibility requirements, one might think that a business case has been submitted to Infrastructure Canada by now.  Cecutti confirmed to Operations Committee yesterday that Maley "met the criteria for a federal infusion though the Build Canada Fund" (Sudbury Star).

But where is that business case?  In part, the Minutes to the October 20, 2015 Council meeting read as follows: "Councillor Reynolds requested a report regarding the Maley Drive Extension including a business case and economic benefits be brought to Council for discussion and information." At the following meeting, a report was presented, prepared by David Shelsted, Director of Roads and Transportation Services, "In response to Council's request at the October 20, 2015 Council meeting, staff have prepared the attached summary of information related to the Maley Drive Extension and Widening Project."  This report consisted of a number of documents, including the new AECOM Cost/Benefit Analysis (November 2015) and correspondence dating back to 2009 from former Mayor John Rodriguez.  But there is no business case.

Responding to another matter at yesterday's Operations Committee meeting, Councillor Vagnini was quoted as saying, "As everyone is probably aware I have a relationship with Mr. Price so I tried to stay completely out of it and I wasn't involved in setting up the initial presentation, but now it concerns me that we've been here for a year and we've seen the cost benefit analysis but we have not seen the business case on Maley Drive," (see: "Ops committee clashes over questions of transparency," the Northern Life, January 18, 2016).

The Sudbury Star reports, "Cecutti said the agenda for the next meeting of the operations committee has already been laid out, and staff have been busy working on budget presentations, but they would be happy to provide a report on Maley Drive in coming weeks."  Although it's not clear at all whether such a report would include a business case.

This seems incredibly odd to me.  A business case would have already been prepared for the Infrastructure Canada submission back in 2014.  Councillor Reynolds specifically requested to see the business case in October, 2015, but it was not provided in the package of documents made available to Council at the very next meeting.  Now, in January 2016, Councillor Vagnini says that Council still hasn't seen the business case. The excuse given by staff is that they've been busy with the budget - but being busy with the budget certainly didn't stop staff from putting together documents pertaining to Maley for the early November 2015 meeting.

And since a business case would have already been submitted to Infrastructure Canada more than a year earlier, how difficult would it have been to include that business case in the November package to Council? Especially since there was a clear motion that they provide this information.  For that matter, how difficult would it be to simply present it now to Council or Operations Committee, given that it remains outstanding since October?

Which leads one to conclude that maybe there never was a business case.  Which kind of defies logic, given that the submission of a business case is a requirement for Building Canada funding as per Infrastructure Canada, and we've been hearing for months now just how close an announcement from the feds is (we may have had one, save for the early by-election call, followed by a general election, and then a change in government).

And that makes these further remarks yesterday at Ops Committee by Tony Cecutti all the more perplexing. The Star reports Cecutti saying, "There's no indication yet from the federal level of a specific program where there are applications for us to fill out," and that in the meantime, staff are "making sure we have as many projects as we can that are shovel-ready."

Why would the federal government have to provide an indication of a specific program for infrastructure funding, given that Building Canada has - and remains - the program to apply for funding for projects like Maley.  While its true that the new Liberal government may be evaluating that program, there doesn't appear to be any suggestion that projects going through the evaluation process will all have to start a new process from scratch.

Is there a business case for the Maley Drive extension or not?  If there is, why hasn't our Council seen it?  If there's not - given that a business case is a requirement for Building Canada federal funding - well, if there's no business case, just what the heck is going on at City Hall?

(opinions expressed in this blog should not be considered consistent with the policies and positions of the Green Parties of Canada or Ontario)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Question of Priorities: If We Want Better Transit, Let's Pay For Better Transit

The following post appeared as a comment appended to a post in the Valley East Facebook Group.  The original post was about a malfunctioning sensor at an intersection in Val Caron (MR 80 and Valleyview Road) which was delaying traffic to a considerable degree over the past couple of days.  At some point, the discussion veered off a little to a conversation about what else we can do to improve the flow of traffic from the Valley into Sudbury, and of course, building the Barrydowne Extension came up as the preferred solution for some posters (I've written about Barrydowne before - if you're interested, see: "Speaking Against the Proposed Barrydowne Highway", Sudbury Steve May, June 30, 2010).

I suggested perhaps a shift in focus would be a better, less expensive outcome.  Better transit, encouraging carpooling, and using transportation demand management.  Eventually, our municipal councilor added his two cents, pointing out quite accurately that the Valley was never designed for transit.  His solution focuses on growing the City, and infilling areas to make transit a better option - but for him, growth is predicated first on building more roads, including Barrydowne.  Needless to say, I don't subscribe to this approach, given the reality which our City is facing: only a small amount of growth is predicted here over the next 20 years - just 10,500 people for the entire City.  With this in mind, we're not likely to improve our transit system by relying on a strategy of infilling and road building.  Something has to give.

Another comment with regards to amalgamation was added, which got me thinking after the fact.  Maybe Greater Sudbury should start looking at deamalgamation - but not for the reasons often cited by many on the Valley East Facebook page.  My rationale: with limited resources, there's only going to be so much that we can do.  Maybe Sudbury would be better off it could cut its losses - and by that I am referring to the outlying areas, which are expensive to service, and which bizarrely are taxed at a lower rate than the inner city because of the lack of transit and fire service provided at the time of amalgamation.  Outlying area residents believe that they were better off before amalgamation - and maybe they were.  But if they were, it was entirely because of the way in which senior levels of government built subsidies into the cost of creating a sprawling, low density form of development.  Perhaps I'll have more to say about this idea later.

In the future, of course, we will start to get our act together and set the prices of things right.  Until then, if we value transit, there is a lot we can do.  Here are my comments:

Better Transit in the Valley

Just a comment on other viable options for reducing congestion on MR 80. First, about transit. Robert is absolutely correct when he says that the Valley was never designed to facilitate transit. In fact, that’s true of most of Sudbury, and most post-1950s development in Ontario and North America. Unless taxpayers are willing to provide a more significant subsidy to transit, than a sustainable system requires a degree of population density which is largely absent from most of our City (but may be present in the older parts of Sudbury, closer to the downtown). As a result of our sprawling built-form, self-supporting transit just isn’t an option. Some cities are discovering this reality, and are choosing to intensify their existing built-up areas to increase density there. That’ likely not a viable option for Greater Sudbury, as our expectations for growth are quite small over the next 20 years. 

That being said, our current Council – as past ones have done – continue to go out of their way to facilitate low density development on the fringes of our built-up areas, even in circumstances where this isn’t in keeping with the City’s Official Plan. As long as decisions like those recently made for new exurban housing on Deschenes Road in Hanmer keep being made, we’ll be moving in the wrong direction for transit sustainability. Proposed changes to the Official Plan which will make it easier for developers to create new lots in rural areas are extremely problematic. There is some that we can be doing on this front, but we're moving in the wrong direction.

So, what are our options? If transit can’t support itself, it needs to be subsidized. If we want better transit in the Valley, we as taxpayers are going to have to be the ones to pay for it – recognizing that it’s not sustainable. Sounds pretty terrible, doesn’t it? But let’s put that statement into context; right now, we taxpayers are massively subsidizing our roads system for the benefit of drivers. It is a fact that drivers do not pay more than half of the bill for the roads which they use. If we have made this choice with regards to our road system, why not shift some of that subsidy away from roads – especially new roads which aren’t needed given our low levels of development – and bolster our transit system?

It’s all a matter of priorities. And frankly, transit has never been a priority of the City – and is certainly not a priority in the outlying areas. As for amalgamation, yes, we may have had a chance to create a transit system that worked for the benefit of commuters (remember: the more people using the bus, the better that is for drivers), but we made a conscious choice not to. In fact, we deliberately chose to ignore the transit needs of those living in the Valley and other outlying areas by area rating property taxes in acknowledgement of the lower service standards for transit. And as long as these area rated property taxes remain in place (giving Valley homeowners a tax benefit over their inner-city counterparts), why should the City of Greater Sudbury think about improving our transit system in the Valley?

Again, this is about priorities. Had we prioritized transit back in 2000, there would be no area-rating on property taxes, and there would have been justification for better transit. If we prioritized transit now, we could assuredly find the funding needed to subsidize an improved transit system for users – just as we are subsidizing roads now. While it is true to state that the Valley was not designed for sustainable transit, it’s still a cop out. Frankly, the Valley wasn’t designed for sustainable road travel either – leaving property taxpayers stuck picking up that bill.

By making a shift towards a better transit system, providing more options for Valley commuters – even at a higher cost – it’s clear that all users of our transportation system will benefit. It’s just a question of whether we have the political will to prioritize doing what makes the most sense over uselessly spending money on new roads that we don’t need and which won’t improve the lives of residents. Forwarding thinking can help us get to where we need to go - quite literally for morning commuters!

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Northern Policy Institute Embraces Junk Science in Post Urging the Use of Evidence

Evidence-based decision-making is important for the implementation of sound public policy.  I don't know how many times I've written that.  That's why I was pleased today to discover a new post from Northern Ontario's Northern Policy Institute - a social and economic policy think tank which purports to advocate for the use of evidence in public policy decisions.  Today's post from President and CEO, Charles Cirtwill, "Government must avoid decision-based evidence seeking," (Northern Policy Institute, January 11, 2016) seemed to be one which would likely resonate with me.  I eagerly sat down to read Mr. Cirtwill's thoughts on the use of evidence to inform public policy.

Much to my surprise, I discovered that one of the examples of "evidence" which Cirtwill used in today's piece to suggest that decision-makers are engaging in decision-based evidence-making had to do with the junk science claims made by well-known climate change denier and University of Guelph professor of economics, Ross McKitrick (see McKitrick's entry in DeSmogBlog for more information about how McKitrick has been involved in systemically undermining the science of climate change over the past decade).  McKitrick has been advancing this notion that the small "pause" in the rate of global warming, not in keeping with the expectations of some climate modelling, leads to a larger question of whether warming is actually taking place at all ("an absence of warming over the past 15 to 20 years amidst rapidly rising greenhouse gas levels," see: "Junk Science Week: The global warming hiatus? Climate models all wrongly predicted warming, so let's call it a discrepancy," the Financial Post, June 16, 2014), and if there isn't any warming, that public policy created as if warming were real would lead to our economic ruin.

Why on earth would the Northern Policy Institute's head want to embrace anything which McKitrick has offered as "evidence" when his position is one which is clearly counter-factual and non-evidence based?  Not only has Charles Cirtwill devalued his own message about the need for good public policy to be informed by evidence (by holding up a junk-science example of "evidence" and chastising our governments and public institutions for not using it as a starting point), but he's brought the entirety of the Northern Policy Institute into disrepute by throwing in his lot with the climate change deniers.

Cirtwill suggests that since there remains a debate about the data, that public institutions ought to base their decisions on what essentially amounts to the lowest common denominator.  What Cirtwill fails to grasp is that the debate is not a reasl one - not one based on evidence anyway.  It's one which is manufactured by people like McKitrick.  By trotting out McKitrick and his debunked claims about the soundness of the IPCC's science, Cirtwill is suggesting that "nuanced evidence" should lead in terms of public policy development - even in a situation where the "evidence" is counterfactual.  Which really turns Cirtwill's original point completely on its head, and leads the reader to wonder whether he has a clue about what "evidence" actually is.

Again, there is no debate about the science of climate change.  Questions that we might have had about humanity's influence on warming the atmosphere have long been answered, and with each passing year, they've been answered with greater precision.  We know that the climate is changing and we're responsible for it with a higher degree of certainty than that which links cigarette smoking and lung cancer.  The only "debate" remains in the minds of the climate deniers like McKitrick and their junk-science disciples.

In its 5th Assessment Report, the IPCC acknowledged a small variation in the rate of warming versus expectations of warming based on modeling - which some have referred to as a "pause" or a "hiatus".  Neither are correct terms, as the world has continued to warm - it's just the rate of warming is fractionally less than what has been expected.  But this slowing of the rate has led to further scientific investigations and the clear conclusion that there is no evidence to support a "pause" or "hiatus" (see: "No substantive evidence for 'pause' in global warming," Science News, November 24, 2015).  The IPCC's 5th Assessment Report was clear: global warming is happening, and it presents a clear and present risk to society.

By repeating McKitrick's debunked claims about the "pause" in global warming (in which McKitrick uses the pause as a wedge to try to force the whole question of the validity of climate change modelling back onto the agenda, despite the IPCC and 97% of the world's climate science being in agreement that the world is, in fact, warming, based on actual evidence), the head of the Northern Policy Institute perpetuates the myth that what McKitrick has on offer is something akin to actual "evidence".  Again, McKitrick is *not* a climate scientist, but rather an economist. His "evidence" is cherry-picked and ignores the considerable volume of work which has been undertaken to determine that the world is actually warming.  Anybody who knows how to do a quick Google search could quickly turn up enough critiques of McKitrick's work to ascertain that it has little to nothing to add to the public policy discussion about how our governments and institutions ought to be reacting to the facts and evidence before them with regards to climate change.

But Cirtwill here goes further.  Not only does he put McKitrick into play by referencing his debunked "pause" position as actual "evidence", but Cirtwill suggests that since McKitrick and others are maintaining that there is a debate, that our government ought to be listening - and unbelievably - that our governments ought to be basing important public policy decisions on the lowest common denominator in that debate.  Finally, Cirtwill asserts that since governments, like individuals, are most likely to listen to evidence which agrees with their current biases, that we the public have to hold the government's "feet to the fire" to make decisions based on "analysis and evidence".  The sentiment is good, but by embracing McKitrick's junk science as an example of the sort of evidence which governments ought to be using on which to base decisions, well, it really comes out as being incredibly bizarre.

The Northern Policy Institute was created by the government of Ontario out of a recommendation contained within the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario.  The Institute's mandate is to provide policy evidence and recommendations to help guide northern governments.  Clearly, any institution which embraces the counter-factual work of McKitrick - and which then holds it up as the sort of "evidence" which public institutions ought to be paying attention to, well, that's a grave disservice to the very people and public institutions that NPI should be helping.

The government of Ontario, through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, along with Northern Ontario's two universities are listed as partners on the Northern Policy Institute website.  Perhaps it's time for public sector organizations to disassociate themselves from a think tank which embraces junk science and tries to pass it off as "evidence".  Our taxpayer dollars shouldn't be supporting this kind of nonsense.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)