Give Other Cities a Shot at “Official” Canada Day Ceremonies

Every July 1, people from across Canada take time to celebrate our great nation. When this statutory holiday triggers a long weekend and coincides with sunshine and warm temperatures, it can also make for wonderful memories.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve made it a habit of turning on the television to watch the “official” Canada Day ceremonies in Ottawa. It is my small way of demonstrating a bit of patriotism.

Attending the event in Ottawa this year were Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his family, the Governor General and James Moore, a B.C. Member of Parliament. Moore is Canada’s heritage minister and technically in charge of the event.

In addition to the obligatory singing of God Save the Queen and O Canada, the opening act included an acrobatic troupe of dancers prancing on stage and carrying over-sized street signs.

Once again, the event failed to capture the vitality and youthful spirit of our nation. Not all the performances were bad, but there is something about the event taking place on Parliament Hill that leaves me yearning for more.

That’s why I think the time has come to shake things up a bit when it comes to our official Canada Day celebrations. One idea might be to begin moving the event around each year.

This would not only immediately inject some life into the party, it would transform it into a truly inclusive national celebration — not simply just another Ottawa-based event.

Once upon a time, Canada’s top music awards ceremony also used to be held in the same city each year. When ratings began to plummet, the Junos decided it was time for the show to hit the road.

Now the Junos are held in a different city each year and their new format has proven popular with music fans. In fact, cities even compete for the rights to host them.

Ottawa could easily conduct a similar process for our official Canada Day ceremonies. Starting in 2014, they should ask our big cities and local sponsors if they’d be prepared to co-host this major event.

I have no doubt Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver would put in a bid in a heartbeat. Even smaller centres such as Winnipeg, Hamilton or Quebec City would get in on the act.

While Ottawa residents may balk at the prospect, decentralizing this special event would prove politically popular outside the beltway.

Time for BC’s Capital To Make a Move

Some people might not realize this, but at one time New Westminster was the capital of the “colony” of British Columbia. After the mainland and island colonies merged around 1866, the capital was eventually relocated to Victoria. The time has come for us to rethink whether having our capital on the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island makes good business and political sense.

If one were to ask Premier Christy Clark about the merits of moving the capital back to the Lower Mainland, she might have a sympathetic ear.

During the 2011 BC Liberal leadership race, Clark stirred controversy by saying Victoria had developed a “sick culture.” She made no bones about the fact that given the option, she’d rather spend time away from the insular nature of B.C.’s legislative precincts.

Whether or not you agree with Clark’s assessment, the fact remains that having our capital on an island no longer makes financial sense.

A government “purchasing card” published online reveals just how much provincial public servants spend on helicopter and plane travel to and from Victoria — helping make the case for relocating the capital.

Take, for example, the Ministry Children and Family Development. During the 2011-12 fiscal year, this ministry used government credit cards to purchase $303,316.43 worth of Harbour Air and Helijet tickets. These boutique airlines primarily service the Vancouver-to-Victoria market. Numerous additional flights were also purchased on Air Canada, but they were not itemized separately.

And remember, this is just one of many ministries spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on these flights.

The report didn’t factor in the enormous costs to the private and non-profit sector, which are also forced to do business in Victoria. Few could argue against the fact this money and time would be better invested delivering front-line services.

Maybe a citizens’ group should start a referendum forcing government to issue a request for proposal (RFP) asking which Metro Vancouver city wants to become the new “working capital.”

As part of the RFP, the old legislature would remain standing and be used solely for ceremonial events. This would immediately save taxpayers an estimated $250 million in seismic upgrades.

A series of modern buildings would then be constructed in Metro Vancouver where the real capital would be located.

Cities such as Coquitlam might get creative and propose to work with developers to densify large tracts of land, such as the Riverview Hospital site. Burnaby’s bid could include a new legislature next to the Metrotown SkyTrain station. Heck, even New Westminster might have an interest in regaining the title of capital again.

Before traditionalists set their hair on fire, they should remember one thing. Relocating our capital back to its original roots in Metro Vancouver is as traditional as it gets.

Historic Pattullo Bridge Can’t Get No Respect

HEY TRANSLINK, WHY NOT RESTORE HISTORIC PATTULLO BRIDGE INSTEAD OF SCRAPPING IT?

It’s late into the evening and I’m just digesting a lot of what was discussed at the Pattullo Bridge Community Forum co-hosted by fellow New Westminster resident Keith Mackenzie and myself. We hadn’t really set any grand expectations regarding media coverage or attendance at the event, but were pleasantly surprised on both fronts.

Over 100 residents from New Westminster, Surrey, Vancouver, Burnaby, and West Vancouver took a couple of hours out of their busy schedules to listen to our guest speakers. The Forum also garnered extensive media coverage from almost every major outlet. We’re still working on the Vancouver Sun and CBC to see if we can get them excited on this topic too!

Pattullo vs Lion’s Gate

A number of folks were skeptical heading into the forum last evening. They thought that because the focus of the discussion was around saving the bridge and repurposing it for the next 75 years…that somehow Keith and I were resigned to the fact a new six lane bridge is a fait accompli. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I happen to oppose the construction of a new six lane bridge for many reasons. Probably the most notable is the fact we just spent billions to build the Port Mann II (which includes 10 lanes of traffic). Therefore, I think we should take a hard look before we throw even more money at further expanding the road network to accommodate even more cars and trucks.

Unlike the City of New Westminster and TransLink, who both seem to think the bridge is past its prime and needs to be demolished, I think we should be discussing alternatives. Regardless of what those alternatives end up being, they certainly won’t cost anywhere near the $1B price tag slated for a six lane Fraser River connector.

While I enjoyed the presentations, the best part of the evening for me was the question and answer session with local residents. One fellow stood up and made what I thought was the most salient comment of the evening.

He pointed out that when it came time to decide the fate of the historic Lion’s Gate Bridge, almost nobody advocated tearing it down. Doing so would have been nothing short of heresy and political suicide.

The government decided to invest hundreds of millions to restore the three lane bridge in order that it could get another lease on life. Looking back, most people now agree that was the right decision.

So why is it that almost everyone is now saying the historic Pattullo Bridge (named after a former BC Premier) is not worthy of restoring or repurposing? For Heaven’s sakes, even the City of New Westminster seems less than enthusiastic about keeping the current bridge.

That’s why this citizen’s comment was so right on the mark. An old bridge connecting Vancouver, West and North Vancouver is considered a provincial treasure…while the historic Pattullo connecting North Surrey and New Westminster is considered junk. A double standard or simply good policy making?

I’ll admit I was a bit frustrated with the content of the presentations from our speakers this evening. Rather than talking about the Pattullo as an historic bridge worth saving, they spent more time talking about peak oil and rehashing the Port Mann II debate.

I suspect TransLink (they were invited but declined to attend) must be rubbing their hands in glee. As they continue with their $100M planning exercise to replace the Pattullo, they can only pray that nobody makes an effort to keep it.

While I appreciate the broader discussion on peak oil, Port Mann II, benefits of rail transit etc…I think it distracts from the main issue of keeping the bridge intact. If the community can rally around a single issue like saving the Pattullo, I believe a lot of the concerns regarding a new six lane bridge will sort themselves out.

The biggest challenge around saving the Pattullo is the fact that so many New Westminster residents see it as the bane of their existence. It is the major source of pollution, traffic and in local neighbourhoods. However, tearing it down might have the unintended consequence of even more traffic and pollution.

I want to extend a big thanks to all of the guest speakers and concerned residents who attended the forum – as well as the media that covered it. I’ll have more to report on this in the next week or so regarding where Keith and I want to take it from here. We have some very exciting news that we’ll be sharing with all of you soon. Stay tuned.