New Years is fast approaching, and the media is full of lists. By way of good news, I thought it would be fun to update readers on just three of the issues discussed this year on the Effervescent Bubble.
1. Cyber-Seniors, that innovative program to encourage high school students to mentor seniors about computers, email, the internet and YouTube, is expanding. In November, they announced that the ‘Special Edition 3-Disc Set’ of the Cyber-Seniors program (with public performance license) is now available. This set includes both a 52 min and 74 min version of the film, as well as a Discussion/Activity Guide and DVD on themes, such as dispelling agism, youth volunteerism and community service, bridging the generation gap, and cyber-safety. The filmmakers and participants from the film are available to attend screenings and answer questions. To buy the package or find screenings, check their website or call 1-844-217-3057. Special pricing is available for organizations and individuals wanting to bring Cyber-Seniors to their community. The hope is that this film will find its way into schools, libraries, retirement communities, and other public institutions enabling people of all ages to witness what happens when generations bridge the gap and explore new ways of connecting.
2. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in September directed Ted McMeekin, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, to undertake a review of the Municipal Elections Act to give all 444 Ontario municipalities the option of using ranked ballots in future elections, starting in 2018, as an alternative to first-past-the-post. It will be fascinating to see how many municipalities actually make the reform and with what results. And will we see other municipal law reforms, like shorter periods for electing the mayor of Toronto? and new powers in municipal governments to discipline or impeach elected officials engaging in discreditable conduct?
3. The Regional Vancouver Mayors Council has reviewed various revenue sources to fund future transit plans in the area (including a regional carbon tax, a vehicle registration tax and a regional sales tax) and concluded that a half percentage point (0.5%) increase to the provincial sales tax (PST), collected within Metro Vancouver, is the most fair, efficient, and affordable revenue source. They have requested that the provincial government approve a referendum question to that effect to be put to the public for a mail-in vote beginning in mid-March 2015. They also asked that the government support their efforts to raise awareness of the proposed investments and the referendum so that voters can make an informed choice, and commit to carry out the results of a successful referendum. The sales tax increase would be dedicated to the specific needs identified in their transit plan which includes expansion of bus service and express bus lines, two new light rail transit lines in Surrey and Langley, a tunneled extension of the Skytrain Millenium line along Broadway in Vancouver, and expanded SeaBus and West Coast Express commuter train services. All revenues raised by the tax, together with provincial and federal contributions, will be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting.
The Mayors also gave notice that they want to move towards comprehensive mobility pricing for roads and transit within the next five to eight years, and that they need a Mobility Pricing Independent Commission to oversee the work required to carry out that objective. The Mobility Pricing goal is separate from the proposed increase in the regional sales tax, and is unprecedented in Canada, although not elsewhere. One wonders about the strategic advantage of linking the short-term referendum on a higher sales tax with the long-term mobility pricing aim. Although the referendum question refers only to the increased sales tax, will the electorate become confused? Or is the long-term goal an essential means of creating context? Primarily to educate the public about the realities of the future? Or to give an alternative that might need be more immediate if the referendum fails? Will the broader community of business and government interests rally to encourage support of the referendum? Is a mail-in ballot a useful tool to encourage (or discourage) voter participation in the referendum? All these questions will be vital to the future of transit in the B.C. lower mainland and will be an amazing case study for the rest of the country.
The sun is rising on the new year. May whatever grey clouds that appear on the horizon be met with vigor and determination, and dissipate in good humour. Have a good year, a good day at a time, every one.