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Dual nature 

Tim Bousquet asks why we don’t live up to our tough environmental talk.

To call our political leaders "schizophrenic" risks insulting mostly decent people struggling as best they can with tough issues. And I have far too much respect for schizophrenics to do that.

But what's the word to describe city and provincial pols who spew out a bunch of feel-good nonsense about caring for the environment while simultaneously doing everything in their power to damage the environment? Liars? Hypocrites? Fools?

Take, for example, the Halifax regional council, which has spent a gazillion dollars over the past few years developing the Halifax Regional Plan, an (evidently) mostly bullshit document that is supposed to make sure we develop the city in intelligent ways.

One of the foundational goals of the plan is to pursue "fiscally and environmentally sustainable transportation options," and to make sure that happens they'll continually monitor a series of performance measures, including the average number of people in each car, the percentage of people

making use of mass transit and the "number of pounds of greenhouse gas emission avoided through public transit."

The council adopted the plan as the law of the land over a year ago, but the back-slapping and self-congratulatory speechifying still echo through the corridors of City Hall to this day. The Halifax council is now officially anti-global warming. Just ask them.

So what's the second significant bit of planning business before council after approving the plan? (The first was gutting the plan's park funding formula.) That's right: Widening Chebucto Road. Which—obviously—will only serve to discourage car-pooling and transit use and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

The regional plan says that by 2025, 23 percent of us will use transit to get to work, up from 18 percent that take transit now. If that sounds too good to be true, it is. In fact, those numbers don't have anything to do with how many of us actually take transit, now or in the future.

"Those numbers probably aren't right," admits Dave McCusker, the city's manager of transportation planning. "They're based on census data. People tend to stretch the truth a bit when they fill out their census forms—if they ride the bus once or twice a month, they report they ride transit. But our ridership doesn't reflect those numbers."

Still, McCusker repeated the numbers without qualification in a report he wrote to council on the Chebucto Road project.

Councillors could read the report and feel OK about increasing car use on Chebucto Road because, after all, look at all the people on the bus! Except, you know, they're not.

And sure enough, there was McCusker again at Tuesday night's city council meeting, admitting that a consultant hired to look at the transportation numbers straight out laughed at the bus ridership numbers. McCusker's spin was that the laughing proved just how serious Halifax is about transit.

Hey, I just report these things, you figure it out.

About 50 citizens opposed to the widening project showed up at the meeting to demand that the project be delayed for a year, so that maybe cooler heads can prevail. But council wouldn't have anything to do with it: they voted 9 to 13 against the delay.

I have just one question for those 13: Wouldn't it be easier to just go kick little children directly, instead of spending $1.7 million dollars to ruin the planet they'll inherit as adults?

Our provincial reps are also full of lying hypocritical foolishness. Remember the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act? It too is the law of the land, and requires that the province reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. (We are presently 17 percent above 1990 levels.) The provincial government issued two press releases on November 13. The first announced a "public workshop," a sort of travelling dog and pony show, to discuss the emission goals. The second announced continued planning for the eventual twinning of Highway 101 through the Annapolis Valley, at a total cost of $188 million. This came four days after premier Rodney MacDonald committed $50 million to twinning Highway 104 through Antigonish.

That's right: the province is officially committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and just to prove it, it's going to spend almost a quarter of a billion dollars to build bigger highways for cars and trucks.

Two hundred and thirty-three million dollars could pay for a pretty effective intercity bus system in Nova Scotia, or it could get passenger rail service reinstated through the valley or to Sydney, or even a light rail line through the Armdale Roundabout, eliminating the "need" for the Chebucto Road widening. Any of those projects would result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to the meaningless bullshit emission reductions the politicians talk about.

Feeling the need to emit? Email timb@thecoast.ca.

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