Sunday, February 18, 2024

Guilbeault's announcement about roads wilfully misinterpreted by Tories

Federal Enviroment Minister Steven Guilbeault stirred up another hornets' nest this week. Well, he must be getting used to that; the environement is currently a bĂȘte noir throughout much of the country, as we are going through a (hopefully short-lived) period of denial and retrenchment in all matters environmental.

So, what did Mr. Guilbeault (never the most engaging or flamboyant politician) say that has so upset conservative, mainly Western Canada? Merely that the federal government is to "stop investing in new road infrastructure". You might think: hold on, the feds don't really invest in road instrastructure anyway! And you'd be right. Other than the TransCanada Highway and a few other major interprovincial projects, road building is a provincial and municipal responsibility. 

And Guilbault didn't even say that the federal government would stop maintaining its own roads, just that it won't build any new ones. So, no new TransCanada Highways, which was very unlikely to happen anyway. Then, in the usual (recent) pusillanimous Liberal fashion, Guilbeault amended the announcement to say that the feds won't be investigated in any "large" new road projects, and that "of course we're funding roads, we have programs to fund roads". Sigh.

Building more roads has never been a solution to traffic congestion. In fact, quite the reverse: it tends to make traffic even worse. This may be counterintuitive, but decades of experience and research tells us that. (Can you say "induced travel effect".) So, at least philosophically and theoretically, Guilbeault is quite right.

But, nevertheless, Conservative premiers like Danielle Smith and Doug Ford, and many conservative MPs and journalists - particularly in Western and Central Canada, which is increasingly becoming a foreign country, and not one I want anything to do with - have of course come out swinging, outraged that the Liberal government is going to rip up all the country's roads and stop people from indulging in their God-given right to drive cars.

Danielle Smith: "Does the Minister understand that most Canadians don't live in downtown Montreal. Most of us can't just head out the door in the snow and rain and just walk 10km to work." (Actually, nearly four-fifths of Canada's population is now urban, well served by public transit. Our rural population is actually very small, but let's leave that for now.)

Conservative Transport critic Mark Strahl called the announcement "radical and extreme", claiming that "million of Canadians will find it impossible to go to work or pick up their children from school". A right-wing newspaper columnist warned that million of Canadians would be deprived of their cars and be "forced into cramped spaces in in city cores".

Can these people hear themselves? Do they even listen to the announcements being made, and then think about them? Increasingly, Conservative reactions to everything are excessive,  and outrage is their default setting. More likely, they know that their reactions are disproportionate and disingenuous, but they make them anyway because their political base laps this stuff up, and kicking the Liberals when they are down has become a national sport. 

It's the whole populist, dog-whistle approach popularized and normalized by Donald Trump (yes, that's really where all this came from!), and taken up gleefully by conservative politicians the world over. Truth and balance no longer matter, it's all about getting the partisan message across by any means possible. It's depressing.

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