By Lana Popham
We all know the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about the self-absorbed emperor who foolishly believes he is wearing a suit made of cloth that is visible only to those who are intelligent and upstanding. He can’t see the cloth himself, but pretends otherwise so as to not lose face. As he parades naked through the town, a child calls out “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” and the obvious truth is revealed.
I was reminded of this story recently while watching a video clip from 2008 on the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Web site. Premier Gordon Campbell is dressed in his finest cycling outfit and proudly announcing $31 million for cycling infrastructure.
The video is still featured on the government’s site, and the press release of $31 million is still trumpeted as news. Their promise is exciting:
Cyclists throughout British Columbia will benefit from new, safe and high-quality cycling trails, bike lanes, bike lockers and more, thanks to Bike BC, a $31-million program for cycling infrastructure.
Bike BC is one of the largest investments the Province has ever made in building and improving cycling infrastructure in communities across the province. This will enhance cycling as an option for people to commute, run errands or spend their leisure time.
The program is a strategic investment to build important cycling corridors of regional and provincial significance and will be awarded province wide over the next three years. Some possible projects are new bike trails and cycling lanes, improvements to existing cycling infrastructure, and providing for bike lockers and other equipment that makes cycling a safer and more convenient option for travelers.
Cycling is a key component of the Province’s strategy for encouraging healthy living and addressing climate change, in conjunction with the Climate Action Plan and the Provincial Transit Plan.
This was an exciting moment for cyclists, cycling advocacy groups, people who support green transportation, and people who believe fighting climate change should be a priority. And it was a moment of relief: the government promised three years of support for initiatives that could address so many things for so many people.
But it was not to be.
No matter how long they continue to try and take credit for this progressive step, the fact is it is a step that was never taken.
The $31 million was cancelled just as surely as the cycling infrastructure was never completed. In fact, funding for cycling support was cut in the budget this month by more than 66 percent. Another broken promise.
And to add insult to injury, the HST will create a seven-percent increase in the cost of bikes, bike gear, and bike repairs. For 30 years there was a PST exemption for these expenses, with successive governments recognizing the health and environmental benefits of cycling. With the imposition of the HST, this government is creating a new disincentive to cycling.
So here is the problem for the government. And believe me it’s a big problem. They have disappointed and deceived a very potent constituency in British Columbia. This is a group who is not necessarily defined by their political stripes, by their age, by their income level, or by any other demographic. This is a group that spans the political spectrum and the province, and they are frustrated and bewildered by this flip flop. It’s three years until the next election—and these people are going to remember.
I think everybody understands our province is going through a period of economic turmoil. We get that. What we don’t understand is how a government can change its values. Values should not be affected by the economy.
In the case of this government, they have gone from touting cycling as key component of the province’s strategy for encouraging healthy living and addressing climate change, to creating a new tax and pretending it’s to fund healthcare.
So it is left for me to say it: the bike clothes are gone and this premier isn’t wearing anything at all.
Lana Popham is a avid cyclist and the MLA for Saanich South on Vancouver Island. Her Web site www.squeakywheels.ca/ is bringing together cyclists who want the B.C. government to be bike-friendly again.