Stephen Harper and the no voters in the upcoming transit plebiscite

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      I've been pilloried for a column I wrote earlier this week suggesting that older voters could play a key role in defeating the upcoming transit plebiscite in the Lower Mainland.

      Among the sobriquets thrown my way were "moron" and "ignorant little twerp". How endearing!

      The progressive Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives joined in the chorus of condemnation, saying the "misinformation" in the article was "inflammatory and incorrect".

      I've even been accused of whipping up intergenerational conflict as people have focused on seniors and not on wealthy, car-driving, aging, male baby boomers who tend to vote Conservative and who are among those most likely to vote no in the transit plebiscite.

      Here are some facts.

      • A recent poll by Insights West revealed that 58 percent of those 55 years of age and older intend on voting no in the transit plebiscite. That's the highest among any age cohort.

      • Women are equally divided on the plebiscite, whereas 61 percent of men plan on voting no, according to Insights West.

      • In municipalities south of the Fraser River, there was the lowest percentage of yes voters.

      The most likely no voters, therefore, are older men who live in the part of the Lower Mainland with the highest percentage of Conservative voters.

      Now, let's look at year-end poll results from the Angus Reid Institute. They revealed that the federal Conservatives' strongest support comes from voters who are 55 years of age and older. According to the Angus Reid Institute, the Conservatives have "relative strength with middle-aged and older voters".

      The Conservatives' gender gap was six percent—i.e. 37 percent of men but only 31 percent of women supported the party, according to the poll.

      When respondents were asked who would make the best prime minister, 33 percent of men but only 26 percent of women replied "Stephen Harper". It's another sign of the Conservatives' gender gap.

      Therefore, I've concluded that the most likely people to vote Conservative in the next federal election are older men.

      Are you seeing a pattern here between the Conservatives' base and those most likely to vote no in the transit plebiscite?

      Social scientists would describe this as a correlation. That's the degree to which two or more attributes—in this case age and gender—show a tendency to vary together.

      This is not a cause and effect.

      It simply means that being 55 years of age and older and being male indicates a higher likelihood of voting Conservative and voting no in the transit plebiscite. 

      It does not mean that all people 55 years or older will vote no. Nor does it mean that all people 55 years or older will vote Conservative. It would be foolhardy to suggest something like that.

      This simple analysis does not account for differences between those who use transit and those who don't, although men are more likely to be drivers in our society. It also does not suggest that every Conservative supporter will vote no or that every non-Conservative supporter will vote yes.

      Earlier this year in an interview with the Straight, SFU professor emeritus Donald Gutstein highlighted the links between the no campaign and the federal Conservatives.

      Obviously in addition to young people, there are also many poor seniors who rely on transit and who are planning on voting yes. They're going to get the shaft from a no vote, but the biggest impact will be felt by younger people simply by virtue of how reliant they are on the transportation system to become educated and earn a living.

      I'm also aware that some seniors are being kicked out of their homes because of rezoning decisions by various municipal councils. Other seniors are eating dreadful food in publicly funded hospitals. They have my sympathy.

      But at the same time, there is also a fair number of healthy and wealthy male executives and homeowners living in the suburbs in their late 50s and early 60s who can afford a 0.5 percent increase in the sales tax to fund better transportation for young people, but who still plan on voting no. Many of these no voters form part of the Conservative base. And by voting this way, I would argue that these people are not giving much consideration to intergenerational equity. 



      Finbarr Saunders

      Mar 11, 2015 at 3:37pm

      Some of the early winners in this debate are the online newspapers with comment sections. And The Georgia Straight is doing their utmost to milk this issue for every drop it can squeeze out.

      Seems like the editors are sitting around trying to guess which buttons to push to get people clicking. Oh I know - let's compare No voters to Harper, that always stirs up a hornet's nest! And if one article works we'll publish a second one that doesn't really say anything or add to the conversation, but it's another stick to poke that nest and get people buzzing.

      Sorry Charlie, it's becoming obvious.

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      A fair tax?

      Mar 11, 2015 at 3:38pm

      I'm voting no. I'm a diehard transit user and NDP supporter. I'm also a woman in my 40s living in Vancouver. I'm voting no, not because I don't want better transit, but because this is an unfair way to go about funding it. A .5% sales tax might mean nothing to many of the wealthy in our society, but it means a lot to the poorest of the poor. This is a hard to pill to swallow when the Liberals just announced an $879 million dollar budget surplus and rolled back a temporary tax hike on people earning more than $150,000 per year.

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      Mar 11, 2015 at 4:00pm

      The most important intergenerational justice issue is climate change and ocean acidification, both caused by CO2 pollution released by burning fossil fuels. I suspect that the hard core of the No side are also soft climate deniers. And soft climate deniers are over-represented in the over 55 white male demographic.

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      It has to happen ...

      Mar 11, 2015 at 4:09pm

      Well, I nearly make the target demographic: I'm 53 and male, and well enough off to drive a car (but a Honda, not a Mercedes or BMW). I respect that many "no" voters are doing so because they're opposed to Translink. I also agree that increasing the sales tax is regressive. But despite all of that, I'm voting "yes". The need for better transit is urgent now, and will only become more so as the city's population increases. Improved transit will benefit car drivers as much as transit users, by taking cars off the road. It will benefit everyone, by making the air cleaner. We don't live in a perfect world, sadly. Sometimes you just have to settle for "better than the status quo." You can't wait for perfect - the need is too urgent.

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      Here's a thought

      Mar 11, 2015 at 4:36pm

      Seems to be twisted piece of logic for transit users/supporters for vote no on this because 'Translink is poorly run'. Newsflash: most of social benefit programs are poorly run. Are we going to stop funding education and health care because they leak cash like a sieve?

      A well run public service is a Europe thing, not a B.C. thing.

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      Charlie's Right

      Mar 11, 2015 at 4:48pm

      Even without knowing the details of the poll I knew right away that Charlie Smith was right. Older people in general, but especially men, are leery of tax increases and also have a lower threshold for what they see as a wasteful operation - Translink. They do have a lot in common with the Conservative base, which also is generally anti-tax.

      I'm sure many people also accused Charlie of ageism, but after seeing him on TV I know that he's no spring chicken and was not slighting older people, or poor seniors.

      I not only support the Yes vote, but also Charlie Smith's campaign for it and hope he keeps it up. The real challenge facing the Yes vote is that so many of the supporters are in that age group (under 25) that is known to be unreliable when it comes to voting. It'll be an uphill battle but hopefully the majority will see the wisdom of starting to save now for the inevitable expansion.

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      Mar 11, 2015 at 4:50pm

      You really believe that the results of this referendum have any effect on what will happen in the future? Wow, I got a couple of bridges to sell you.
      It's a heads I win, tails you lose non binding referendum. It's a joke (on us).
      If the one percenters feel that traffic gridlock is interfering with their pursuit of happiness, then transit infrastructure gets built. Otherwise it doesn't. Wake up, it is not a democratic society anymore.
      Maybe Charlie is getting nervous and starting to believe the propaganda. The sky will fall if we vote no!! Kids, if you want real change you have to be courageous & make change happen through direct action. Your vote is almost worthless. The system is stacked against you
      By the way, I'm 63 & bike everywhere

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      Mar 11, 2015 at 4:56pm

      Charlie- you should point out that the insights west poll also concluded that no longer a majority of transit users plan to vote yes. it also shows a stark decline of under 35's shifting to the no column. Your thesis is just way too simplistic.

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      Stan Lee

      Mar 11, 2015 at 5:44pm

      What an incredible waste of ink not to mention an obvious, yet pathetic attempt to backpeddle on your ageist article of two days ago.

      Charlie, about this plebiscite - to resurrect an expression from a past U.S. election: it's about Translink stupid! (along with a few other important bits like accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility). May I suggest that instead of trying to convince us to vote YES with your rather lame commentary, how about instead being a journalist and report on something substantive such as WHY so many people are voting NO, or why so many (like myself) are voting NO but really would rather be voting YES? May I suggest that you write about how we can effectively take the inevitable NO result to the steps of the legislature in Victoria and start to address the frustrations/concerns of voters? I would welcome an article on how we re-structure Translink and its governance structure to be: democratic, accountable, transparent and fiscally responsible.

      You know, if the Mayor's Council, Translink and yes, the provincial government actually took a moment to listen to us instead of trying to convince us, they would be well informed of our concerns, voters would feel acknowledged (when was the last time anyone reading this actually felt your opinion was heard and that it mattered?) and they could start to fix the problems and address our concerns. Then they can ask us to support a local transit plan and it would almost surely be approved. How about devoting some energy to writing about this type of reasoned, collaborative, constructive and truly democratic approach?

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