Eric Doherty: Alex Fraser Bridge climate misrepresentation must be challenged

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      Catherine McKenna, Canada’s newly appointed minister of infrastructure and communities and former minister of environment and climate change, just told a whopper about the climate impact of urban highway expansion.

      In a December 12 joint media release with the government of B.C., McKenna says the “Alex Fraser Bridge project shows how we are working closely with our partners to...reduce carbon emissions for our children and grandchildren.”

      December 12 was one of the closing days of the United Nations COP25 climate negotiations.

      The media release was about the addition of a $70-million counterflow lane on the Alex Fraser Bridge in Metro Vancouver, to move more cars during peak periods. And as everyone should know by now, adding capacity to urban highways makes traffic worse and increases greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution.

      As Joe Cortright recently reported in City Observatory: “California...has adopted a new policy which officially recognizes that adding road capacity in urban areas leads to more miles of travel and greater greenhouse gas emissions.”

      The Liberal government’s climate reporting includes similarly misleading statements to McKenna's.

      For example, the 2018 implementation report on the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change includes the claim that federal spending on “transportation infrastructure, including...airports...and roads...contribute to reductions in GHG emissions by addressing bottlenecks.”

      This is the opposite of the truth, and the truth has been acknowledged by Parliament and in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

      In 2016 the NDP and Greens helped pass Halifax Liberal MP Andy Fillmore’s motion M-45 calling for analysis of the greenhouse gas impact of all infrastructure funding proposals, and for giving funding priority to projects that reduce climate pollution. Fillmore, formerly director of Dalhousie University's School of Planning, is now parliamentary secretary to Minister McKenna.

      Later that year, North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson, then parliamentary secretary to the minister of environment and climate change, stated that this climate analysis would favour “public transit over building of new highways, there is no question about that.” Wilkinson is now the minister of environment and climate change.

      Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson's mandate is to cut emissions even as his government promotes highway projects that increase them.

      The intent of motion M-45 is also reflected in the 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which commits the federal and provincial governments to “shift from higher- to lower-emitting types of transportation, including through investing in infrastructure.”

      The examples include shifting from driving to transit and cycling, as well as shifting freight from trucks to rail.

      Then in 2018, the federal and provincial governments pretended to implement this important policy.

      “Going forward, the environmental and climate change impacts of a project will be assessed when making new public infrastructure investments" said Amarjeet Sohi, then minister of infrastructure and communities. I thought he might be serious.

      In reality, while some important new transit funding was announced at that time, the analysis of climate impacts does not apply to highway expansions like the Alex Fraser Bridge counterflow or other projects likely to result in significantly increased greenhouse gas pollution.

      Catherine McKenna falsely claimed in a December 12 news release that building more road capacity can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

      The main effect of Trudeau’s "climate lens" is to add to the paperwork burden on transit projects. The federal Liberals seem intent on shovelling billions into urban highway and airport expansion, without any analysis of climate impacts, until at least 2024.

      The Canadian government reports a 43 percent increase in transportation GHG pollution between 1990 and 2017. The biggest driver of increased GHG pollution in transportation has been government spending on road and highway expansion in and near urban areas. And Trudeau’s highly qualified cabinet ministers fully understand what they are doing. They are knowingly, deliberately and cynically choosing to spend our money to destroy the lives of Generation Greta.

      As Greta Thunberg said at COP25, “without pressure from the people, our leaders can get away with basically not doing anything, which is where we are now.”

      Will you let Trudeau’s cabinet keep raiding our public purse to destroy the future?

      Eric Doherty is a Victoria-based transportation planning consultant. Follow him on Twitter @Eric_Doherrty.

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