Universal PharmaScare vs PharmaCare

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PharmaSCARE not Pharmacare.

Canadian politicians have been promising some mode of publicly-delivered pharmacare for some time.

Even since the dawn of universal medicine in the 1960s.

I’m a conceptual level, I’m in.

However, when it comes to the practical economic considerations behind it, I’m not too sure. I just don’t trust the implementation.

Pharmaceuticals have become vastly overpriced and the leaders of various for-profit companies have been paying themselves ENORMOUS bonuses, salaries and other perks just for simply checking in.

I’m not really keen on funneling vast sums of public money into the pockets of these folks until we have a VERY clear understanding of the costing behind the components of pharmacare and the resulting pharmaceuticals.

My hunch is that the politicians – most of whom spend more time meeting high-paid pharmaceutical lobbyists than they do meeting the average voter – will not insist on some kind of ‘audit’ or investigation of the true costs associated with public pharmacare.

Instead, this will be the one last massive cash grab / bonus handout to ageing Baby Boomers, the generation of people for whom ‘universal’ is synonymous.

Hands out. From cradle to grave.

Yes, politicians will just plow ahead with this sense of blissful ignorance, pretending that pharma companies have the best intentions when it comes to the public good.

(please note my *hint* of sarcasm).

If this is going to happen, I would stick to a basic requirement that should happen when any level of government recruit the services of a private company: they are forced to open the books, if only if it’s to a group of bureaucrats that can evaluate the costs and benefits, at which point the public can identify if we’re getting screwed or not.

And as I write, this, I know that the answer to such a demand would be puffed up indignation with a pretense that their ‘competition’ might be able to see or assess their background numbers.

As a ‘younger’ voter (I’m in my 50s now), I would much rather we make the investment in permanent infrastructure that all future generations can enjoy: facilities, hospitals, buildings that tend to the care and kindness of our seniors.

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We Need Bike Paths, Not Bike Lanes

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crash

63% of Canadians believe there is a need for further investment in cycling infrastructure in their community.

(I just don’t think the ‘sharrow’ concept will work to anyone’s benefit … see my thoughts below …)

I got into a brief chat with a relative this weekend about cycling in urban areas and was greatfully relieved to find that we agreed nearly 100% on our ideas about how things should be done when it comes to cycling in urban areas.

The thought process about how to make things happen from a cycling standpoint is pretty much … wrong.

Right now, cyclists get maybe a metre of lane, or about 10% of a VERY busy set of roads, packed with vehicles that are substantially heavier, faster and prone to blind spots than us measly cyclists.

Planners and builders everywhere say ‘look … here’s a small tract of land … make goods things grow from it … us it … and maybe you won’t lose it …’. Or something to that respect.

It’s a little like throwing lambs in with the lion’s cages. As cyclists, we really don’t stand a chance.

Despite best efforts, pedestrian and cyclist-related accidents and deaths continue to rise. ‘Serious’ cycling-related accidents are estimated to be roughly 7,500 per year, resulting in about 1% of these accidents (roughly 75) causing death. Unfortunately, these are likely to be substantial underestimates because cities like Toronto don’t even track cycling-related accidents.

Add in the number of pedestrian accidents and deaths (in Montreal, for example, the number of injuries has been pretty constant over the last 8 years, at about 1,000-1,200 per year).

The only good news is that fatalities per 1,000,000 people seems to be on the decline, although it’s not clear if this is because people are giving up on their bikes or because they’re choosing other modes of transportation.

This compilation of stats also pointed out a number of important truths about cyclists:

  • 1-in-3 deaths: rules of the road were not followed by the cyclist
  • 56% of deaths were in an urban setting
  • 6 out of 7 deaths were male
  • Only 13% of fatalities were with cyclists that were actually wearing a helmet

Clearly, there’s an opportunity for cyclists to improve their attitude about cycling and about the potential death that literally lurks at every corner of any given road they might travel on.

The Cyclist Perspective

I am an avid cyclist.

I do my best to respect the rules of the road. I wear highly visible and reflective clothing. I’ve stopped trying to battle and engage drivers. I let them pass. I step aside. I stop at red lights and stop signs. I try to avoid ‘gutter runs’ (the act of speeding down the right-hand column between cars and curbs – it’s stupid and begging for issues).

That said, I fear one day I will be hit by a car or a door. I just hope it won’t cause any long-term damage or death.

I think there are other cyclists out there and then there are those that are chronically pissed about cars and, per the point of this article, bike ‘lanes’ because they are typically clogged with delivery trucks, parked cars, emergency vehicles, people out for a walk or, in the winter, snow and ice.

Bike lanes sometimes seem to create rather than mitigate animosity and tension between cyclists and drivers.

So what do we do?

We need 100% commitment.

We need a NATIONAL directive that basically says ‘we’ll support your public transit and your new roads, but you (as city planners and builders) have to commit to eliminating road traffic with 5% of your routes and committing those roads to non-car traffic ONLY’.

Let’s give an example: College Street in Toronto is jam-packed with people trying to avoid parking spots, street cars, delivery trucks and other vehicles all the while trying to commit to cyclists and pedestrians as well.

What would happen if the entire length of College Street, say from almost High Park all the way through to Riverdale Farm and the Don Valley Parkway (essentially the entire length of east-west Toronto) were converted to only cyclists, pedestrians and street cars / public transit?

Mayhem would likely be the immediate response, but what if, as part of this process, we REMOVED bike lanes that were created on other busy streets, effectively freeing up space for car-related traffic on those streets?

Another example might be Earl Street in Kingston. Just get rid of ALL public traffic. Because there are a number of residences there, of course, you’d have to allow some parking and some through traffic, but you could get away with shutting this street down to mostly bikes and pedestrians.

OK … another example: Ottawa, Ontario has already been very well planned in that there are bike-only paths along the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa River and other naturalized areas. The network is quite extensive. Expanding on these networks and keeping them better maintained through the year might result in more usage, again opening the argument that the city could remove the small lane allocations on busier streets.

Let me know if you’ve got an example (from anywhere, not just Canada).

In summary, everyone is trying to please everyone, but it is NOT going to work. 44% of Canadians say they would cycle more if they felt safer when riding. Dedicated bike paths and NOT lanes would make a substantial difference.

The paths will have to cross at certain points, but if cities start planning with at least two specific groups in mind needing separate functionality and services, we might actually be able to chip away at the number of fatalities and casualities we see each year.

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Micro-mobility = Macro Results

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As the West argues about how to keep burning dinosaurs, some folks in the rest of the world are intent on finding solutions to our mobility problems.

I’ve ranted about the suburbs before. We don’t need to repeat that 🙂

I’ve also ranted about how design of these suburbs presents unique opportunities to think differently every time we lay down a new series of 5-lane urban highways that aren’t safe for anything but the biggest, chunkiest cars.

Even if you go electric, you’re still not thinking in terms of micro-mobility.

How are we getting EVERYONE around?

This article from CityLab lays out the history, problems and questions concerning massive road and car-related infrastructure.

in particular, they identify just FOUR key planning points when it comes to cycling and other non-car commuting:

Rethinking the “bike lane:” The name “bike lane” is yet another reason this infrastructure is seen as a special-interest demand. The conversation has started about renaming these lanes, but as of yet, there is no mutually agreed winner. My suggestion would be “micromobility lanes” to include the very diverse set of current and not-yet-imagined little vehicles.

Protected micromobility-lane network: Today protected bike lanes are usually the most ambitious infrastructure component of the twig-based model; here, it will be the least ambitious component: merely a starting point. A bold bike-micromobility vision likely starts with a complete citywide network of protected lanes, providing safe and equitable access to everyone, everywhere.

Priority or high-bandwidth streets: Priority streets would have bus-only lanes, several lanes for micromobility to accommodate increased riders and varied speeds, and large, broad sidewalks. Cars are the slowest, lowest-bandwidth forms of urban transportation. If we aren’t going to ban them outright, we need to at least start putting cars in their proper places.

Such streets would excite transit agencies fighting for bus-only lanes, as well as ADA-advocacy groups and pedestrian-advocacy groups. If communicated well, they could get find support from homeowners who have seen cut-through traffic skyrocket. Priority streets would also create opportunities for package delivery companies like FedEx and UPS that are seeing faster package deliveries with e-cargo bikes. And local business owners should also be on board, since bike-walk street can often increase sales.

And, finally, micromobility elevated freeways: The arrival of battery-powered micromobility modes like electric bikes and e-scooters has radically transformed the capabilities of the humble bicycle. Now, almost anybody can go for miles fairly quickly without breaking a sweat. Often electric micromobility is faster than cars in cities: One study found that e-scooters could reduce trip times in congested U.K. cities by 70 percent.

Recognizing these technological upgrades, shouldn’t our grand plan be to eventually provide a completely new infrastructure to support it? Once it is built, bikes and other micromobility modes could be lifted both literally and metaphorically and fly above cars on elevated freeways.

The only minor grievance I have with these recommendations is that we shouldn’t make allowance for any mass transit that isn’t pedestrian in nature. Making a whole array and network of bus-only lanes only perpetuates carbon-producing vehicles taking up public space. Transit junkies might beg to differ with my opinion, but until we properly track the EFFICIENCY of bus-related public transit, I’d be OK with backing down on this item.

Just as a reminder, here’s why: buses are great, but no city in North America uses them efficiently. We don’t use available technology and data collection to limit the number of empty buses cruising around our cities EMPTY. This poor planning only compounds congestion and road decay.

I also argue that NATIONAL directives have to be put in place that demand cycling and pedestrian advocates be at the table any time roads or transportation infrastructure are in the PLANNING stage. This way, we could red-flag any ‘traditional’ ideas about construction and lobby for better independent networks for non-car commuters.

What are your ideas behind building a stronger, more effective micro-mobility network? Have you seen best practices that are worth sharing?

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WEXIT: Assessing the Costs

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For the record, I don’t want Alberta or Saskatchewan to separate from the rest of Canada. There has to be a better solution to making Confederation work.

Unfortunately, Andrew Scheer, Jason Kenney, Scott Moe (Canada’s Three Wexiteers) and many others like to talk about the benefits of ‘WEXIT’, or Western-Exit. Like I didn’t hear enough of that garbage with Britain.

Now immature and assinine ‘separatists’ want to leave Canada so that they can get their pipelines built for shitumen.

Like this one.

Because who doesn’t want a multi-billion dollar bilge pump in their own backyard? Why would Ontario and Quebec want to invest in green energy and the future when they could be steamrolled by dirty oil?

FFS, I mean even SAUDI ARABIA is getting out of the oil business and is moving to sell it’s state-owned oil company, ARAMCO.

(I’m sure the Wexiteers will find a way to blame Trudeau for that mess, too).

Assessing the Costs and Not Just the Benefits …

For starters, there’s the massive subsidies that Canada pumps into the West in the form of direct and indirect subsidies.

To the tune of $1,650 for every single citizen of this country.

$60 billion is the estimate from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for 2015 ALONE.

Canada continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry in myriad ways. First, it provides tax breaks under the federal Income Tax Act. For example, in 2015 the federal government introduced a new accelerated depreciation rate for equipment used in LNG facilities, which was a change proposed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Second, government provides funding to the fossil fuel industry at favourable rates through direct financing and loan guarantees. A recent example is Export Development Canada’s administration of a nearly $5 billion loan to support the government’s controversial purchase and operation of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Ottawa has no plan to recoup that principal cost from industry — and is also subsidizing half the interest expense with taxpayer dollars.

Third, Canada provides direct funding to the fossil fuel industry through research, development and other services provided by federal agencies.

For example, the federal government is paying $1.5 billion for the Oceans Protection Plan, an initiative to safeguard bitumen transport through the Port of Vancouver. This plan was necessitated by new oil tanker traffic — and should be paid for by oil shippers.

Finally, there is the $60 billion subsidy that the IMF focused on — the “social costs” of carbon that governments pay, instead of fuel producers.

Lacking adequate carbon taxes, governments continue to pick up the tab for the impacts of climate change — for example, repairing damage from extreme weather events, building new levees, sea walls and storm sewers and paying for wildfire control and increased health costs.

Here are some other potential costs to the west if they were to seriously consider / implement separation:

  • Treaty agreements would be reopened and, as the saying goes, Westerners won’t have anything but the dirt under their fingernails once Canada’s First Nations people are finished with them (with Canada’s support, of course).
  • Open-ended natural gas lines to eastern consumers would vaporize. That recurring cash flow you get from the rest of Canada? It’ll dry up sooner than you think. Canadians would quickly adjust their building code and find ways to replace gas heaters.
  • Reclamations costs to bring what they had back to what it was. The cost of repairing and replacing massive leaching ponds and waste disposal. The incalculable damage that’s been done to line the pockets of Albertans
  • Loss of their portion of the CPP and other pension funds. Let’s see if Canada wants to give it back to the west.
  • Complete loss of leverage for building additional pipelines in the future without over-the-top penalties or royalties for the east as part of the plan.

A Reminder …

Under a decade of Stephen Harper, Ontario and Quebec suffered.

I won’t let anyone in the west forget that.

We sacrificed millions of good, reliable, full-time jobs for the benefit of western oil producers (a high dollar meant our manufacturing exports were uncompetitive, but oil exports were incredibly profitable). Stephen Harper did little to stem the tide and we don’t want those kind of Conservatives back at the table again. Ever.

And it was Stephen Harper who was whispering in the ears of people like Donald Trump during NAFTA renogtiations

As people’s lives were thrown into complete disarray en masse, did the east talk about separation? Well, Quebec always does, but I don’t know what to say about that. Ontario has held strong despite the losses.

As I said, it would be a tragedy to treat these children like adults and give them the opportunity to separate from Canada without a good discourse about the VERY REAL COST of separation.

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Wexit, Canada, Norway and $1.3 Trillion

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I snapped this quote the other day and wanted to share it:

I’m putting this here for a LOT of reasons. $1.3 trillion reasons.

That’s right: the Government Pension Fund of Norway is worth $1.3 trillion and is moving on from oil-based investments.

1.3 trillion reasons why anti-Canadians like Jason Kenney, Scott Moe, Andrew Scheer and other Conservatives are content to stick their heads in the sand and ignore global issues associated with dirty oil.

1.3 trillion reasons why no one wants your dirty shitumen.  (Get it? Shitty bitumen? I mean, if you can do it with western exit, I can do it with something that’s a more realistic reflection of reality.)

1.3 trillion reasons why oil prices, especially those concerning shitumen, are plummeting.

1.3 trillion reasons why blaming Ontario and Quebec for your lack of diversification and lack is not a good idea and why people in the east of Canada don’t think dumping hard-earned tax dollars into pipelines is a good idea.

1.3 trillion reasons why 40 years of Conservatives is destroying your province, dig by dig doesn’t justify blaming the ‘blip-in-time’ NDP government, Trudeau or anyone other than yourselves.

1.3 trillion reasons why the future is not based on carbon production.

1.3 trillion reasons why we ALL need to look beyond OUR shitumen resource base and start some serious planning for Canada’s future.

1,300,000,000,000.

C’mon Cons: even zeros like you should be able to recognize something on the positive side of ledger.

PS be careful what you wish for with exit from Canada threats. 100% of lands in Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and even BC are based FIRST on treaty agreements with Canada’s First Nations people that were signed BEFORE these provinces joined Confederation. Separation would legally nullify your existence as provinces and put 100% of the power into the hands of the people that should have it: Canada’s First Nations people.

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