Politics

Patrick Brown Has Opportunity to Restore 'Progressive' to PC Party

Playing urban and suburban/rural resentments against each other has been an ugly, noisy, harmful distraction from our common interest in thriving communities of all kinds.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 01, 2016

As we reach the midpoint of the current Ontario government, thoughts turn naturally toward the 2018 provincial election and how the outcome of that election might look.

The Liberal Party is currently riding low in the polls after winning a surprise majority in 2014. There is an opportunity for the Progressive Conservative Party and its new leader, Patrick Brown, to present a viable alternative for voters. Indeed, in many ways the 2018 election will be Brown's to lose.

Of course, the 2014 election was former PC leader Tim Hudak's to lose, and lose it he did.

Misreading the public's appetite for new public investment after years of cuts and austerity, the party came out with a "Million Jobs Plan" based on reducing Ontario's corporate tax rate to the lowest level in North America and eliminating 100,000 public sector jobs.

The plan was widely panned, not only by unions and progressives but also by economists from across the political spectrum, who pointed out the basic math error of counting eight person-years of employment as eight jobs.

Ontario voters were still wary about another right-wing Mike Harris-style government (Hudak had spent two years promising to make Ontario a "right-to-work" jurisdiction before backpedalling in early 2014). Yet they were also unimpressed by the Ontario NDP's platform, which came late and appeared slapped together at the last minute.

Rejecting both alternatives, Ontario voters handed the Liberals a majority mandate on their 2014 Budget plan, which the opposition parties had just defeated in a confidence vote, triggering the election in the first place.

That budget was big on infrastructure spending, and particularly transportation infrastructure, which Ontario had systematically neglected since the 1990s. Its centrepiece was the Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, a 25-year plan to knit the GTHA together with intracity rapid transit connected to regional express rail.

Transportation Infrastructure in Hamilton

In Hamilton, that plan entails a light rail transit (LRT) line running east-west between McMaster University and Queenston Traffic Circle with a north-south connection to the new West Harbour GO Station, expanded GO service to a new Centennial Parkway station in Stoney Creek and a future north-south rapid transit line connecting the waterfront to the airport.

Notwithstanding Council's current bout of nervousness about the LRT plan that it has consistently supported over dozens of votes since 2008, the project has a tight timeline. The goal is to get a detailed design completed and approved by 2017 so it can go out to tender for a consortium to build it. The contract will be signed in 2018 and construction will start in 2019.

In the last provincial election, the PC Party took a clear position against the LRT plan. There is fear even now that if the City and Province do not get a contract signed before the 2018 election, a PC win might mean the project gets killed before it ever gets a chance to breathe new life and energy into some of the city's most vulnerable neighbourhoods.

Interestingly, in the last Provincial election, Liberal candidates running to represent the Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and Hamilton Mountain ridings ran on anti-LRT campaigns that went against their own party's platform. They both lost to NDP candidates who favoured LRT - and in the two ridings where LRT support is considered weakest.

I don't mean to suggest that they lost because they opposed LRT, but that their opposition, calculated to tap into imagined anti-urban resentment, did not work for them.

Cities are Economic Development Engines

Hamilton is a city still figuring out how to reinvent itself after the historic decline of its once-robust manufacturing industry. Over the past two decades our economy has diversified considerably, and several neighbourhoods that were recently being written off as beyond help are now enjoying an exciting resurgence.

Some of this is driven by comparatively low property values, but that is only part of the story. The other part is that Hamilton is a city - a place with a distinctly urban form, buildings that have character, streets that behave as public spaces and not merely as conduits for automobile traffic, and a transportation system that provides a variety of choices in how to get around.

Paul Graham, the famous American tech venture capitalist, made this point in a talk he gave about Pittsburgh's prospects for establishing a local startup economy: "What's special about Pittsburgh is not that it's cheap, but that it's a cheap place you'd actually want to live." I would argue that this applies to Hamilton as well.

Cities have always been the main engines of economic development. The essential urban economies of scale, agglomeration, density, association and extension reduce costs, increase margins, accelerate innovation, drive growth and generate wealth.

As economist Edward Glaeser put it in his book Triumph of the City, "Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies. They are proximity, density, closeness. They enable us to work and play together, and their success depends on the demand for physical connection."

Transportation Infrastructure Enables Urban Economies

With supportive land use and transportation policies in place, investment in LRT attracts new transit-oriented developments (TOD) that increase the density and diversity of land use around the LRT line, boosting economic development and increasing the effectiveness of the essential urban economies.

A recent study [PDF] by the McMaster Institute of Transportation and Logistics notes the mutually-reinforcing benefits of TOD:

Higher levels of population and employment densities around stations create a larger market for transit ridership, which can increase farebox revenue and balance flows on a transit network. Mixing of land uses also increases the potential for interaction between trip origins and destinations, and pedestrian-friendly 'Complete Street' urban design facilitates increased walking trips to and from the transit station and other local amenities (Higgins & Ferguson, 2012).

In terms of travel behaviour outcomes, implementations of TOD have been shown to result in increased transit ridership and reduced automobile dependence as well as higher levels of internal trip capture rates around transit stations compared to traditional automobile-oriented suburban developments (Ewing et al., 2011).

Furthermore, Complete Streets have been shown to increase walking and cycling (Pucher et al., 2011) and have even been associated with greater levels of economic development (Ferguson et al., 2015). More active transportation choices can promote healthier lifestyles and reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Such benefits can also be self-reinforcing, as a network of TODs can create more opportunities for interaction along a transit system and potentially reduce the need for a private automobile.

Finally, TOD has been shown to be particularly appealing for certain segments of the population, namely those in the baby-boomer cohort and their children (Cervero et al., 2004; Dittmar et al., 2004), a group Foot (1998) refers to as the 'echo boomers'.

The study concludes: "This policy and planning framework is essential for helping the region to grow in a way that is more environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, and economically prosperous."

Common Interest in Thriving Communities

It would seem to be obvious that a political party that stands for a competitive economy should also stand for cities. Yet for more than two decades, the Progressive Conservative Party has positioned itself as a anti-urban party, hostile to the values and interests of people living in cities.

I cannot imagine any PC leader in recent memory taking a principled stance in the vein of Premier William Davis in 1971, when he decided against a plan that would have destroyed what are now some of the most valuable urban neighbourhoods in the country:

If we are building a transportation system to serve the automobile, the Spadina Expressway would be a good place to start. But if we are building a transportation system to serve people, the Spadina Expressway is a good place to stop.

The Party's current hostility to people living in cities is a major drag on its ability to build a winning coalition.

Ontario needs its cities to thrive in order to thrive as a province. It needs the essential urban economies working at their full potential to create new businesses, attract new investments and generate new employment opportunities.

We need parties and leaders who understand what cities need to thrive. Playing urban and suburban/rural resentments against each other has been an ugly, noisy, harmful distraction from our common interest in thriving communities of all kinds.

Indeed, urban neighbourhoods feel and behave much like small towns, providing a variety of amenities and services in close proximity, where people know their neighbours and look out for each other. The so-called "new urbanism" movement is really a movement back toward traditional neighbourhoods.

The Progressive Conservative Party has an opportunity to reassert the "Progressive" part of its name and its history, and move past the divisive, zero-sum identity politics of the past two decades.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted June 01, 2016 at 10:35:13

Good piece, Ryan. I'd also argue that there is an opportunity for the party to also embrace the "Conservative" part of its name - that which is based on the root of the word "to conserve".

Modern conservatism has become about anything but conserving, whether it be our traditions and values, our quality of life, our financial and material resources, or the natural environment that we depend on for sustenance.

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By Mr.T (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2016 at 11:39:50

This along with all of your pieces are excellent Ryan. Any educated person will appreciate what you're saying. We need to get this information out to people that can't or don't like to read.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 01, 2016 at 12:12:46

Great article! Indeed, I consider myself to be a small “c” conservative. I am against waste and against behaviour that seriously harms other people. I am for traditional urban and suburban built form that fosters health, prosperity and human happiness.

I consider myself to be a fiscal conservative. That means I am against governments spending billions of dollars which effectively dictate that people must live a certain harmful lifestyle, and then spending $13.7 billion more bailing out unsustainable private businesses.

I believe in freedom of choice, except when it comes to harming other people. In particular I believe in freedom of housing choice; people in Hamilton should have the opportunity and freedom to be able to live in a car-free neighbourhood.

Look at all those conservative values in which I believe!

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-06-01 12:13:14

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By juantrippe (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2016 at 13:14:57 in reply to Comment 118965

You think auto manufacturing business is unsustainable?

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 02, 2016 at 13:29:41 in reply to Comment 119009

What do you call it when an industry has to keep getting bailed out?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 01, 2016 at 12:14:58

I'm really trying to give Brown an honest chance despite his history of pandering to the social conservatives - he really seems like he's trying to drag the OPCs back to the centre. But I'm seriously unimpressed with the way they handled the Wynne government's leaked idea about moving the province gradually over to green heating - whether the plan was good or not, their petitions on the subject blatantly misrepresented it.

And as for the urbanist angle, Skelly herself isn't a good representative for the brand either. During the last Ontario election, when asked what to do about the school closures, we had a hilariously bad set of options here in the West End:

  • Alex Johnstone, who was complicit in the school closure process as a board trustee

  • Ted McMeekin, of the party that initiated the school closure process

  • and Skelly, who had a great opportunity to set herself apart from the others... and she did, but recognizing how small towns and rural communities had distinct needs that should be respected on the school closure process.

Not one of them gave their voters in Ainsliewood who lost their school any sense that they gave a crap.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2016-06-01 12:32:45

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted June 02, 2016 at 09:13:17 in reply to Comment 118966

Pxtl, I feel like I'm always going after you, but that's because I only tend to speak up when I disagree, even though that's rare.

I actually think the green energy file is a great opportunity for Brown to positively differentiate himself from Wynne. Rather than setting arbitrary targets in individual areas of the economy and throwing huge amounts of money at favored projects (geothermal heating, electric cars, etc.), he could propose a simple, transparent, equitable carbon tax (replacing some current forms of taxation, in order to be revenue neutral) and let people decide for themselves how to respond.

I'm appalled that someone is going to get a $15K rebate on an electric car when someone who doesn't drive a car at all gets nothing, and I'm appalled that homeowners are going to possibly get $30K for energy efficiency upgrades when people who don't own property, or just keep the heat on low, get nothing.

Brown has a real opportunity to speak out for better governance. I'm worried he'll blow it, though, by denying the magnitude of our environmental problems.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 02, 2016 at 10:07:41 in reply to Comment 118979

No, I agree with you. If the PCs took that angle more in their criticisms of the Liberal government - "end the boutique programs and we'll use a strong carbon tax to get the same effect without creating dozens of overlapping credits and offices", then I'd have more respect for him. But their reaction to the leaked green-home-heating plan sounded like more of the same-old same-old.

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By tory phony (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2016 at 13:26:59

mgrel against whitehead in next election?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 01, 2016 at 13:42:53 in reply to Comment 118967

Doesn't live in the ward. Then again, neither did Skelly, and technically Aberdeen area is close to Ward 8 as the crow flies.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 01, 2016 at 14:21:10 in reply to Comment 118968

As the crow flies? Or perhaps as the human being walks up the stairs at the south end of Dundurn Street.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-06-01 14:21:39

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By checker (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2016 at 12:47:47

the toronto paper the globe got to all this about Ontario PCLeader brown before 'Mr T's' hero did. That's diffrent then the Globe column writer who gets stuff someplace else and puts it into the globe and then they give her a couple of weeks to cool out. and somebody went and looked at the old Spectator, well, they put in the paper years ago what Mr bill davis said in 1971 so good for them, when the city was going to build that exprsway in east hamilton, somebody got the spec to remember what mr davis said

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By checkmate (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2016 at 12:58:40 in reply to Comment 119007

wat

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By wha? (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2016 at 13:59:09 in reply to Comment 119008

what's a "wat?"

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