Time for high speed rail in Canada

As part of the federal election, the Green Party has challenged all parties to agree on a few fundamental improvements to our economy, environmental, and society. I couldn’t agree more with Elizabeth’s ambitions for high speed rail: it’s time.

Given the billions of dollars that the Conservatives would like to spend on F-35 jets, we can certainly afford this investment. This is not something we can outsource; the jobs for building such infrastructure are right here, in the communities that will be served by high speed rail stations. Many of the companies that build these systems, and the equipment that runs on them, are headquartered right here in Canada as well.

High speed rail will drmatically expand the talent pool for employers, meaning they get a better shot at finding the ideal person to fill every position for a highly productive economy. This is because the commuting range is doubled or tripled. This also allows train travel to compete with both driving and flying for trips over medium distances (between one hour’s drive and one hour’s flight), reducing congestion on our highways and at our airports. Of course, the lifestyle that such infrastructure provides is attractive to the kind of highly mobile global talent that our urban regions need to compete.

There are many more reasons why high speed rail is an ideal investment. Personally, it’s quite simple: I want to ride a 21st century system.

We need democratic debates

I am furious that the secretive Broadcast Consortium has again left Elizabeth May without an invitation to the televised leaders’ debates, despite the fact that she arguably represents the views of at least a million electors.

The representatives of CBC, Radio-Canada, CTV, Global, and TVA, have no right to decide that the Green Party is second class. This is insulting to supporters of the only party that had growth in the number of votes earned between the federal elections of 2006 and 2008. The Green Party runs candidates across the country, and currently polls regularly at 10% of the projected vote. To rationalise this ridiculous decision by saying that Greens do not have any seats in the house simply ignores the failings of our electoral system. If we had full proportional representation, the Green Party would have dozens of seats in the House of Commons. How is the party to gain seats without a fair opportunity to reach out to voters? It’s like a server at a restaurant refusing to bring you any food because you are not already eating.

Not all hope is lost on this issue. Remember that in 2008 the consortium made the same foolish decision. After other federal party leaders were forced by public outcry to admit the unfairness of the situation, the decision was reversed. In the period between, the GPC raised $100,000 per day, and dominated the news coverage. If the other party leaders want to prevent such fundraising, and want to get a word in edgewise for their policy announcements, they would be wise to insist on May’s inclusion very soon.

If you are an elector, of any degree or direction of partisanship, who is also upset by this undemocratic situation, please get involved. Tweet, email and phone the five member TV networks. Sign the online petition at demanddemocraticdebates.ca, and spread the word.

Together, we can ensure that our choices on Election Day are presented fairly.

Comments to the RofW Rapid Transit study

Here are the comments I submitted to the Region of Waterloo Rapid Transit team…

“My choice would be Option L9, all LRT, or L9 adjusted with termination at Ainslie Street and Conestoga Mall (without service to St. Jacobs). The most expensive option is to wait. I would project that costs of such infrastructure will rise quickly, as will the costs of automobile dependency for potential riders. We urgently need this kind of investment in our community. We must act with ambition, and make the best use of the generous funds available from provincial and federal sources. As a resident of Kitchener, my region includes Cambridge and I agree with many residents there that they deserve to see rail in the first phase (what a dynamic way to inspire transit mode share growth in their city). Rail provides the best results for my tax dollars, moving passengers more cost efficiently and with less pollution. It is just what the developers who invest in our community need to inspire core area intensification, and it is what will attract and retain highly mobile talent for our future economy. Building any section of the RT corridor with a short-lived BRT or aBRT is wasteful and lacks vision. I am confident that once the LRT is in service, our conservative ridership projections will be rapidly eclisped, and (as has happened in so many other communities) neighbours in other areas will be arguing for the next line to serve them.”

So, there you have it, my position in a nutshell. Looking forward to the process wrapping up soon so that we can get some construction jobs underway. To learn more about Rapid Transit plans in Waterloo Region, check out their website.

We want May, too, on May 2nd

I’ve been reviewing the latest political opinion polling results. Luckily, we have multiple major polling firms doing work most days during the federal campaign. This means that we can determine a multiple-provider three-poll average for greater accuracy, while maintaining a focus on recent results. Many of the sites that report multiple poll results (308, electionalmanac) also produce seat projections. What does it all add up to at day zero of the campaign? Very close to exactly what we got on Election Day 2008. So, is this election not needed or wanted, as some would have us believe? Nope.

First of all, I never mind an opportunity for Canadians to have a voice at the polls. We’re lucky to be solving our problems this way (ballots not bullets). Also, these are just the opening polls. Who knows what the next five weeks of campaigning will bring for the fortunes of any party.

Secondly, there is a great deal of potential for one significant change: a breakthrough Green Party seat in Saanich-Gulf Islands. Elizabeth May is running in a close race with Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn, and far ahead of the Liberal and NDP candidates. I think that this is the best potential for a meaningful change in the next Parliament, that Canadians will find interesting, engaging, and a breath of fresh air on the important issues we face.

Nearly a million votes were cast for the Green Party of Canada’s candidates in 2008, and we deserve to have those wishes respected and represented. We want our Parliament to include May, too. If you want May, too on May 2nd (election day), join me in supporting her campaign. One simple way to do this is to tweet with the hashtag #May2onMay2 – and of course visit her website (ElizabethMay.ca) to provide deeper support from anywhere across the country.

Worth Repeating: The region needs to get on the commuter train

Here is my final contribution to my one-year (2010) term on the Waterloo Region Record’s Community Editorial Board, printed December 17th. Quick note on the headline: contributors don’t write them – so yes, I know that LRT is not a commuter train. Of course, feel free to get on the GO trains as well. Thanks to everyone who tweeted this about on the day it was published. Apparently I saved the best for last. I certainly enjoyed the time on the CEB, and wish all the best to this year’s contributors!

(http://www.therecord.com/opinion/article/301276)

“The region needs to get on the commuter train

Standing with hundreds of my fellow citizens on a chilly afternoon in Uptown Waterloo, I found myself startled by the need for a Rally for Rails in our community. How did the so-called “debate” on this issue manage to get derailed?

It doesn’t matter how often we hear that light rail transit is too expensive; repetition won’t make it true. Are the costs high? Absolutely. The project will demand investments in the hundreds of millions. It would be foolhardy to forget that this price tag pales in comparison to the billions we would otherwise pay to accommodate new and widened arterial roads, or a bus rapid transit system that would need to be replaced with rail not long after the cut ribbon hits the ground.

It doesn’t matter how loudly it is asserted that the system will just run between two malls. Could it be said that the Conestoga Parkway just runs between St. Jacobs and New Hamburg? It seems those of us living in between those points find some use for that indispensable piece of infrastructure. The new light rail stations will be within walking distance of a great portion of existing jobs and residences, and will further concentrate development in our core areas.

It doesn’t matter that the arguments against light rail are simple, and the arguments for it are more complex. It may be easier to attack the proposal, but I’d rather take a few minutes to hear the complicated and accurate side of the story.

What matters is that we have a serious and rare opportunity to shape our community in ways that will protect and enhance quality of life for many years and even generations to come. We cannot pay for an endless supply of roads and sprawling suburban form that stretches our civic services to the limit. We cannot afford to lose the local farmland and watershed that sustain us.

What matters is that light rail transit, and the urban form it inspires, is just the kind of boost our economy needs. It will be less costly than the alternatives, keeping our related tax increases in check. It will provide real attraction to developers who are able to invest billions of dollars, creating vibrant spaces for our homes and workplaces. With it, we will be the kind of community that can attract and retain the best talent, and their employers.

What matters most is that we have allowed our discussions on the issue to be guided by the frequent, loud, and simple arguments instead of the truth.

With light rail transit, life in our region will be less costly, more convenient, and less polluting. Light rail will provide a desperately needed core for a revolutionized bus system. Fed by higher frequency bus service, and additional express routes, many of which are already budgeted for outside of the rapid transit program, light rail will finally allow us to graduate to a fast and linear transit system we can all be proud of and imagine ourselves using.

After a multi-year public engagement process, careful analysis by respected professionals inside our municipal staff and beyond, and with more funding from senior governments than we would normally enjoy, we have an excellent plan. If anything, it is a first step of many on the path to a responsible vision for sustainable transportation in our community. It should not need a rally; it is strong enough to stand in the spotlight of honest evaluation, if we have the desire to seek and hear the facts on the matter. The train is coming, and we should all be on board.”

Getting back to the blogoshpere

A quick hello to everyone rss-feeding on jasonhammond.ca – it’s great to be back after a few months of blog-fasting. I’m also swimming about in the twitterverse (@JasonHammond). Look forward to connecting with you.

Regional Council debates for Kitchener Candidates

Thanks to the Working Centre for their leadership in presenting the Regional Council debate for Kitchener last night.

Head over to The Working Centre’s All Candidate Meetings site for the audio from our debate, as well as two other recordings for city candidates in Wards 9 and 10. Click on the player to hear your candidates, or use the download link to see a page that breaks down the timeline of the debate for each question.

Here are the time points for the recording that will allow you to hear what I had to say in about twenty minutes. If you do have time to listen to all the candidates (just under two hours), please do so!
Preamble 14:00-14:44
Intro 14:44-17:06
Why Light Rail Transit matters 25:38-27:15
LRT for lower taxes 34:37-36:13
GO buses and other transit issues 44:49-45:59
Our water supply 51:45-53:22
Role of schools in the community 1:07:30-1:09:00
Other cities’ successes 1:13:29-1:14:45
Out of the Cold & transportation 1:19:05-1:20:14
Open Data 1:25:59-1:26:59
Tax increases 1:31:34-1:33:02
Closing remarks 1:38:50-1:40:15

As you may know, there was also a televised debate on Rogers TV (20), but there are no current plans to put that online or rebroadcast it. So, I am very thankful for the chance to encourage voters throughout Kitchener to listen to last night’s event.

Worth Repeating: The region has to be ready for the green economy

Here is another look at my contribution to the Waterloo Region Record’s Community Editorial Board, printed August 16th:

(http://news.therecord.com/article/761197)

“The region has to be ready for the green economy

August 16, 2010

By Jason Hammond

At least once a year, I try to get a canoe in the water and put in some quality time paddling. I had the pleasure of doing so recently, keeping it local with a few hours on the Grand River. While I enjoyed the chance to see fish, herons and countless geese, the wildlife that got me thinking most were the cyclists and golfers.

You see, I’ve become a fan of Richard Florida and his popular series of books about what he calls the creative class. I’m sure that in his mind, the ability to stay in the city while cycling on a long-distance trail, golfing beside or paddling down a major river, or taking in an afternoon of downhill skiing is just the kind of amenity that attracts the creative class. These activities, as well as the presence of three leading post-secondary educational institutions, the planned light rail transit, and so many other quality-of-life enhancers, encourage people who can live and work anywhere to happily make their home right here. This is fundamental to keeping our community prosperous.

That prosperity has taken a few hits lately. This newspaper has recently reported that while more people are at work in the region than ever before, there are still some 20,000 or more who are struggling to find employment. While many local businesses are creating jobs, the talents offered by these job seekers simply don’t match up. I’ve heard just such a scenario predicted by distinguished University of Waterloo economist Larry Smith: the dreaded skills gap.

Of course, the current economic bruising is also an opportunity for us to reinvent our community as we recover. In Florida’s most recent book, The Great Reset, he shows that previous significant downturns have been “the eras that ushered in new economic and social models and whole new ways of living and working.”

For example, his first chapter notes the recent surge in car-sharing. In our own local experience, Grand River CarShare has certainly felt the effects of a shifting economy. While we provided just one permanent full-time position two years ago, recent growth allows us to employ three dedicated staff today. With hundreds of members saving thousands of dollars, the urgency of financial relief for households has joined with the original social and environmental goals to create a whole new motivation for change.

As our community struggles to create employment for so many jobless citizens, I believe that the power of green enterprise is ready to be harnessed. After all, waste is the enemy of ecologist and capitalist alike. We know that many of our neighbours are highly skilled at the manufacturing work that built our local thriving cities. While some may want to retrain for new careers, we should also attract the manufacturers of the next economy: the green economy.

We already have the beginnings of a green employment cluster, with several solar technology firms as just a small sample. When one of them, ARISE, opened a new factory a few years ago, the necessary incentives were not available here, and Germany was rewarded with the investment. By doing more to make our region the best choice for green manufacturers, we can regain our pride in making what is needed most.

Once it was leather for our soldiers in the trenches of the Great War. Tomorrow it could be solar cells, wind turbines, smart meters, and other efficiency tools. If we are to enjoy a green and prosperous future, many such things must be made. We have thousands of people desperate to be making them. Let’s get to work.

Jason Hammond of Kitchener is the president of Grand River CarShare.”

You’re Invited: Election Night 2010

Less than a week to go until election day, so it’s that time of the campaign: the invitation to the party!

Come out and join the team for a celebration of the past six weeks. We’ve been sharing a vision of green prosperity for Waterloo Region, and have had great support from electors across the city, and from all sorts of diverse backgrounds. As the polls close on Monday, it will be time to share some quality time and some tasty appetizers.

We’ll be gathering at Crabby Joe’s (King and Frederick, Downtown Kitchener) from 7:00pm to 11:00pm on Election Day (Monday, Oct. 25th, 2010). Some appetizers and soft drinks will be provided, and you are welcome to support our hosts by purchasing your own meals and other drinks. We will have our own space with live television coverage of the results.

Of course, our work is not done. We are running at full speed, with a variety of campaign activities every day. If you can help in any way at any time, we have a job to suggest and great people to work with!

Please RSVP so that we can plan for the right number of guests (email jason@jasonhammond.ca). I look forward to seeing you there and thanking you in person for your support!

Imagine: “Except Waterloo Region”

Just imagine what would be possible if we went beyond simply keeping up with the good practices of other municipalities. I believe we have the capacity to become an exemplary community that will inspire leaders throughout Ontario and across Canada. Wouldn’t it be great to force people distraught with the general state of our health, wealth, and ecology to add “except Waterloo Region” to the end of their exasperation?

“Ontario has terrible air quality in the summer, except Waterloo Region.”
“No major Canadian city has been able to eat mostly local foods in season, except Waterloo Region.”
“North Americans are so darned addicted to their cars, except Waterloo Region.”
“If Ontario gets another recession soon, it’s going to hit employment very hard across the province, except Waterloo Region.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? What can we expect if we stand out among other municipalities? We’ll be able to attract even more highly talented neighbours, and their employers. The value of living here will be reflected in the value of our homes, and in the increased capacity for quality municipal services. In all the many ways we can measure quality of life, we can imagine improvements that are possible when we have the proof of living in the finest community around.

More importantly, the allure of these benefits will engender a spirit of friendly competition among our peers, and bring other governments to follow our lead. We can leverage our own success in becoming a green, healthy, and comfortable community, and bring our province and country along for the ride.

That’s the kind of community where I want to live.