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.

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.

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:


“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.”

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.

Eating our way out of sprawl

The Fertile Ground team
This is Andrew and Angie, just two of my farmers; and it’s good to know your farmers.
Perhaps the most powerful focus for the local consumption movement is what we really do consume: our food. Many of us are familiar with various arguments in favour of local food. It can taste better and be more nutritious. There are three other primary benefits that I’d like to highlight today. My vision is that we can develop strong relationships between farmers and eaters and create a Waterloo Region where four townships feed three cities. Tasty, tasty policy.

Local food is a sustainable transportation choice, just as much as carpooling to work, or cycling to a friend’s place on a weekend afternoon. Did you know that our very own Regional staff at Public Health have done important research into food miles? Kudos to Marc Xuereb, also a founding member of Grand River CarShare! Food represents an enormous portion of the world’s “stuff” that we burn through every day. However, much of this resource use is unnecessary when we eat local organic foods.
When we grow certain crops for bulk markets far away, on land that is less than ideally suited, it requires chemical support. Monocultures are also a pest’s dream (they have an endless supply of their favourite victim plant, with no pesky interruptions). There’s also the packaging, the extra water for irrigation, and so on. All of this must be shipped and pumped. Then, the product itself is shipped through the whole value chain, processed, packed, distributed, retailed… and then it finally comes home to your table. The 100 Mile Diet was Waterloo Region’s “One Book, One Community” selection in 2008, so I’ll presume that I can move on.

The second important factor is that this represents an enormous opportunity for more local green jobs. Waterloo Region Record reporter Terry Pender recently noted that some local farmers are already converting their land to locally destined produce, to support our growing urban farmers’ markets.
When we keep our diet local, we will also keep our food budget local. This means more stable and lasting income for our local farm families, giving them a brighter future and a deeper connection to each of their urban neighbours across the region. Perhaps the best way to provide real resilience for our farmers, and share what Angie calls the “inherent risk of farming,” is Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). There are many CSA operations locally (Fertile Ground, reroot, Transpire Organic, Garden Party, etc.), where you pay the farmer at the start of the season, and enjoy your share of the bounty.
Picking up local veggies by bike.
So, here’s the big deal that is discussed most rarely. I am a firm believer that Community Supported Agriculture can finally put a halt to our sprawling ways. By eating locally, we begin to truly value and respect the farms that surround us. That’s not a subdivision waiting to happen; that’s dinner. Working in partnership with programs to inspire developers to invest in existing urban spaces (light rail transit, brownfield incentives), and restrict them (strict countryside line for planning regulations), the ultimate backstop for sprawl prevention is thousands of local food eaters declaring their support for our farmers. This also addresses the need of farmers to retire securely, knowing that their land is more valuable growing three square meals, not three car garages.

Pipeline feels like giving up

I was happy to hear John (@JMacArch) asking this very important question of our local candidates, and James (@KingandOttawa) spreading the word…

KingandOttawa RT @JMacArch: Are pols along Grand Rvr elected in ’10 deciding on multi-B $ pipeline from L Erie or growth with present resources? #Vote WR

This is a fundamental issue, and represents another opportunity for our local policy to evolve.  Here are some of my thoughts on the proposed pipeline to Lake Erie, and why it concerns me:

  • our perceived water scarcity in this region has developed a cluster of researchers and experts on the subject and technologies of water conservation and efficiency.  As the whole world faces greater challenges posed on water supplies by our changing climate, we can combine our local expertise and entrepreneurial inspiration to provide the support they need.  These are just some of our current and future local green jobs.
  • we have a tremendous amount of wasted water in our daily lives, at our workplaces, and through the delivery system itself.  In addressing these losses, we can find new supply within our current and projected capacity.
  • the cost of the project was projected by the Region at $500 Million over a decade ago, and as John notes it could easily climb so much higher.  What else can we do with those hard earned tax dollars?  How much are we willing to spend to avoid local improvements in favour of a far-flung gamble?
  • we’re not getting off the hook that easily regarding the protection of our local sources on the surface and below.  Let’s improve our land use planning to secure the water that’s right here, where we need it, and where it brings our wild spaces to life.
  • check out the comments that GREN (Grand River Environmental Network) made in this Record article by Greg Mercer for this year’s Earth Day.
  • we are most definitely speaking of a pipeline to Erie, not Huron (as many folks may recall was an original option).  The laws that govern our Great Lakes prevent the mass movement of water between the lakes’ watersheds, and Nature provides free of charge a proven way to return water to Erie (the Grand).
  • it’s all summed up rather well (harhar, no pun intended) by the University of Waterloo’s Rob de Loë, as quoted in this Imprint Article last year:

Rob de Loë, professor and research chair in water policy and governance at the University of Waterloo feels that the issue of a pipeline becomes a philosophical question concerning whether or not we respect natural limits. “The pipeline suggests that we are not prepared to change our existing ways of water use,” he said. “I don’t feel that it is necessary right now. Just because we can take water from Lake Erie doesn’t mean we should.”

The Region must act accordingly to create adequate policies for both water conservation and land use planning. “We can go further” said de Loë. “We need to make efficient use of existing supplies before we entertain an alternative supply.”

The current Canadian average for water use is 329 litres of water per person, per day. “This number is very high and speaks to our attitudes as Canadians — that we maintain an endless water supply,” said de Loë.

So, let’s challenge each other to be wise with our water, and apply such incredible sums of tax dollars to projects that move us forward into a more sustainable and resilient future, instead of sliding backwards into old ways of planning that no longer serve us well.