The People’s Alliance: Where to go from 2014?

Being the fifth out of five parties is not an enviable position to be in for the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick. It’s been six years since the party was first formed and it is interesting to note the direction it has taken in those six years. Formed seemingly as a protest party it has developed nicely into a fringe party in the province, slowly eating away at the popular support of the bigger parties. But where do these votes come from – and where will they come from in the future?

Despite garnering only 2.14% of popular support in the 2014 election there is a bit more going on than that. Running a slim slate of 18 candidates (in 49 ridings) the party received 5.88% of popular support in ridings it ran in. The highest  received was leader Kris Austin’s 28.48% in Fredericton-Grand Lake. Due to the joys of vote-splitting within the first-past the-post electoral method, Austin lost his riding by a mere 25 votes behind the PCs Pam Lynch. Liberal Sheri Shannon finished 47 votes behind Austin, meaning that all three finished within a percentage point of each other.

Other PANB candidates saw varying degrees of success. Former Liberal Leroy Armstrong received 10.39% of the vote in Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins, good for third behind the PCs and Liberals. Wes Gullison received 8.61% in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin, again good for third in that riding. Three other PANB candidates received over 5% popular support in their ridings. Compare this to 2010’s results where only three candidates received over 5% in their ridings (with Austin topping at 19.95%) and the improvement is obvious.

panb-top-five-results-2010-2014

The overall improvement is a popular vote total increasing from 4,389 in 2010 to 7,964 in 2014, a total improvement of 1.18% to 2.14%. What is even more important to note is where these votes come from, and in what ridings the PANB does well in. All of the ridings are similar, and all of the areas where they succeed in receiving votes are similar as well.

In the Albert riding, where Bill Brewer received 7.66% of the total vote, these votes were gleaned from the more rural areas of the riding. Hillsborough voted 11.58% for PANB, and 12.20% in Riverside-Albert. This is compared to sub-4% in the more urban Riverview. LeRoy Armstrong’s results in Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins are similar. His total of 10.39% is buffeted by 12.84% received in areas like Bloomfield, Passekeag, and Moosehorn Creek. Armstrong was second in voting in Apohaqui and a consistent third place through Roachville and Penobsquis. However, in more metro Sussex, he lost ground to the NDP and Liberals, the latter of which he would push for second in some rural areas of the riding.

 

Similar numbers can be seen in Joyce Wright in Charlotte-Campobello and, of course, with leader Kris Austin in Fredericton-Grand Lake – where Austin easily swept Chipman and Minto before losing support as the riding moved towards Fredericton. Gullison’s numbersare aided by a 28% showing (and 2nd place) in Upper Miramichi, which evaporates to just above 2% in Baie-Ste-Anne.

The ridings where the PANB received more than 5% of the total vote are the following:

  • Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin
  • Albert
  • Sussex-Fundy-St.Martins
  • Charlotte-Campobello 
  • Fredericton-Grand Lake 
  • Carleton-York

None of these ridings are within the Big Three cities of New Brunswick, although a few are on their borders. These ridings are mostly rural and encompass some medium-sized centres, most notably Sussex and St. Stephen.

So what does this all mean? Simply put, the PANB does well in Angolophone, rural New Brunswick. This isn’t an overly shocking revelation. For the PANB, they’re a simple, easy, and rather straightforward party with simple, easy, and relatable policy points. They do have some lofty goals that I think would be difficult to implement (such as free voting for MLAs in the Legislature) but I think some of their policies are well-intentioned moving forward.

With the future of rural NB very much up in the air (as noted on this blog frequently), and a population increasingly becoming urbanized, are the PANB going to be the party that represents the dwindling rural population of the province? Perhaps. For the PANB to increase their support they’ll need the rural population for sure, but will also need to break in a bit more in more urban areas. Of course, the PANB would benefit from a larger slate as well, and would do well with candidates in Gagetown-Petitcodiac and New Maryland-Sunbury. The issue of Francophone voters will have to be resolved over time: PANB candidates in Kent North and Kent South received 1.44% and 1.96% respectively in 2014.

In 2010 PANB only fielded 14 candidates in 55 ridings (25% of ridings). In 2014 that number increased to 18 candidates in 49 ridings (37%). For 2018, i’d imagine a good goal for them to have would be having candidates in at least half of the province’s ridings. That means finding seven more candidates. The PANB fared decently well in some ridings in 2010 for which they had no candidates in for 2014, including areas like Miramichi, Saint John and the Fundy Isles. Expanding in areas like suburban Fredericton and filling in the remainder of the rural anglophone ridings would likely see them poke above the 10,000 vote barrier with their current trending.

What would help the PANB immensely would be Austin winning his riding in 2018, similar to the Greens breaking through in Fredericton-South in 2014 with David Coon. Having that exposure and ability to have an outlet on the public stage would be huge for the party in legitimizing itself. A lot of voters in NB think that the PANB are an anti-Francophone party and are keen to place their votes elsewhere. Having their leader in the Legislature would legitimize them immensely and help with their exposure moving forward. Exposure to the public is key, as well as not looking like a temporary fixture. The PANB are moving there slowly but surely, which will require patience and a keen eye for policy points. So far the party and Austin have done well in that regard.

In terms of other parties, a lot depends on the future of the PC Party Leadership race. The PANB are surely hoping a candidate like Monica Barley comes out as the winner. Having other hopefuls win, like Jake Stewart or Mike Allen, would almost certainly eat into PANB’s rural vote and provide for a big roadblock for their increased exposure. Having Barley win wouldn’t affect their goal areas as much, it has to be said.

The Liberal Government’s policies have come across varyingly in different areas of the province. One area that should be noted is St. Stephen, where the Liberals were pushing for the alteration/reduction of services to the hospital in that town, leading to protest. PANB has garnered over 6% of the vote in Charlotte-Campobello the past two elections and one has to think that number will rise as more and more pressure is applied to the rural area from Fredericton and the larger urban centres. The PANB must be watching the situation closely, just as leader Kris Austin was with the Potash Mine closure in Sussex earlier on in the Liberal mandate. These are prime areas for the PANB to make some serious gains in 2018.

panb-municip-results-2014

Advertisements

On Electoral Reform

Yesterday the New Brunswick government announced potential reforms to the electoral system in the province. These changes are wide and deep, looking at potential changes to the voting age, changes to donation limits, and how New Brunswickers vote; either online or changing the entire electoral voting procedure as a whole.

Electoral reform has been a sticky subject in Canada as of late with the Federal Government proposing similar changes at the national level. The opposition Conservatives feel that a referendum is needed to provide enough public support to implement these changes. The argument, at least from the ruling Liberals, is that because they ran in the 2015 election on the promise of changing the electoral system, and subsequently gained a majority government, that this is support enough for the government to enact these changes.

The Federal Liberals have also had to jump through hoops regarding how the electoral reform committee is composed and also are facing difficulties regarding their timelines for implementing a full range of changes in time for the next federal election in 2019.

The New Brunswick proposal faces similar issues. No committee has been struck as of yet and this committee is supposed to be publishing a final report on these proposals in January 2017. For anyone who has had any experience working with government at any level should know this is an ambitious target and it seems doubtoful it will be met accordingly. Even if it is met it would still have to be put through the legislature and all of the due diligence that comes with that.

In the event the Liberals are able to pass the electoral reform legislation in the Spring of 2017 it leaves the government and Elections NB with roughly 12 months to implement changes in time for the next provincial election in the fall of 2018.

What’s more important than timelines of course is what these proposed changes are! So let’s take a look:

The Good:

Changing donation limits
The most important of these reforms is the possibility of reform or (hopefully) complete removal of corporate and union donations to political parties or independent candidates. Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, and the Federal government have restricted and removed corporations and unions from donating and thus holding influence over candidates. It’s a smart move for a province as unique as New Brunswick with such large industry for such a small population. Removing these donations removes possible foul play and undemocratic practices that generally floats around with private and union forces affecting politics and really forces parties to look for donations from citizens – the people actually voting for them.

Allowing for permanent residents to vote
Permanent residents are people who live in the province much the same as anyone else. There have been calls recently for permanent residents to gain the vote in municipal campaigns which was not mentioned in this discussion paper. Still, it looks like progress.

Fixed election dates
This proposal is pretty straightforward and has already been implemented at the federal level. A fixed date for an election every four years provides for stability and reliability, particularly for organizations such as Elections NB which needs to make preparations for elections. This does not mean elections cannot be held more frequently than four years (no confidence votes, snap elections) but does mean that they’re set in stone and must be held within a four-year time frame.

The Unlikely:

Online/Internet voting
Internet voting poses a number of difficulties which were previously found in Quebec when the Chief Electoral Officer in 2005 found issues with online voting mechanisms. A lack of transparency, accountability, ability to verify voters, and costs are among many of the issues surrounding online voting or the creation of online voting kiosks. As of yet, none of the costs for this have been outlined, so it remains to be seen what the financial implications would be.

“The technical audits and tests helped to determine that electronic voting systems are exposed to many risks since they have limited or no formal protection and security measures, thus making them vulnerable to technological attacks. In addition, the systems are thus exposed to major service or network defects and breakdowns.” – Elections Quebec, 2006

I see no issue in making things easier for voters to cast their vote but I have seen nothing proposed by the government in terms of a serious plan on this to offer any reasonable yea or nay at this point. Perhaps the January Report will glean some light on this.

Anything > FPTP Voting
There’s no doubt that first-past-the-post is a wildly inefficient system of voting. It’s the simplest, and it works, and that’s about it. The major issue revolves around convincing an electorate that it would be wise to tinker with it, and so far four of those votes have been rejected in various provinces across the country in the past twenty years. As of yet there hasn’t been much support or momentum for a change in voting system in New Brunswick despite reports developed over a decade ago recommending them.

Is FPTP a flawed voting system? Sure. Is it the easiest to understand? Absolutely. Do I think New Brunswickers would support a change in the way they vote if it was put to a referendum? Not a chance.

The proposed alternatives are outlined very well in the discussion paper and it provides good graphics and explanations of how they work. I am supportive of the current one-member-per-riding system with a ranked ballot with the victor requiring 50% of the vote to be elected. Other alternatives, like party lists, get into the murky waters of party officials not tied by area or region ending up in the legislature and opens up the door to fiddling…and not the kind on the roof.

[I’m also supportive of the province further cutting down on the number of ridings in the province from the current 49 to a more reasonable 45 or 41, but that recommendation is nowhere to be found]

The Bad:

Lowering voting age
Although an admirable and understandable goal I don’t see much from a policy perspective to support this. The negatives, such as allowing those to vote who may not have a full understanding of what their vote is going towards, far outweigh the positives on this file. It would be wiser for the government to provide for more education on civics and allow interest to swell from that.

It’s clear that lowering the voter age is an attempt to increase voter turnout in elections but lowering it may very well have the opposite effect. Allowing a whole new segment of the electorate to vote is great but if they vote at levels below the average they’ll only serve to drag down turnout further. There’s nothing that I can find that shows that 16 and 17 year olds are kicking down the door to be heard….the discussion paper mentions that there will be fewer and fewer of them in the coming years. No growth in this demographic.

What government should be aware of is that turnout in elections, although important, isn’t the be-all, end-all measuring stick of how interested an electorate is in the political process. Turnouts rise and fall based on elections and can swing for many different reasons. Elections with higher turnouts generally have a specific issue or decisions revolving around them that leads to more people heading to the polls. An example of this would be the 2010 election which reversed a trend in NB of successive falling turnouts. Why did turnout rise in this election? It likely had to do with the incumbent Graham Liberals seeking to sell NB Power. Big ticket issues like this generally drive turnout up. NB either doesn’t have these issues come up during elections or political parties are too afraid to step on toes to bring them up in the first place.

The idea that government can create a more “effective” legislature by making it easier for underrepresented groups to become elected to the legislature is laughable at best. Having elected members from more diverse backgrounds doesn’t provide for a more effective legislature –  it simply provides for a more representative legislature (and that is always up for interpretation). The issues surrounding the legislature would still persist whether the entire legislature was made up of women or visible minorities or not. Many issues remain, like the lack of sitting days, overall lack of decorum, and many others.

There are many ingrained issues surrounding the legislature and political culture in New Brunswick as a whole. Creating reforms for electoral reform with the goal of fixing these issues points the finger at the electorate as the cause for these issues – this is simply untrue. New Brunswick’s voters haven’t driven the province to economic stagnation. New Brunswick’s voters haven’t restricted legislature sitting hours this session. These issues rest with the elected members of the legislature and the ministers and premier of the province. Surely efficiencies can be found within the political system rather than pointing the finger at voters.

New Brunswick voters do, and can, have the power to change who sits in the legislature after all.

It remains to be seen if all of these proposed changes will make it to the (presumably very rushed) final report in January but from what I can see I would be particularly surprised if all of them were implemented in time for 2018. Why is the government deciding now to push this issue? The Liberals did mention some parts of this in their 2014 Election Campaign [“Investigating means to improve participation in democracy, such as preferential ballots and online voting.”, pg. 37] but made no mention of changing the entire electoral process.

If that’s the goal why not tie a referendum vote onto the general election vote in 2018? It would be simple, a good election platform for them to build off, and would negate the negative press of a government trying to force reforms on an electorate that didn’t really ask for them. Perhaps they think they would lose such a vote.

A referendum tied to the general election in 2018 would almost certainly raise voter turnout – isn’t that what’s being sought for in the end?

On Celtic Affairs

Earlier this week the Gallant Government announced a shuffling of its provincial cabinet positions. The most notable, or perhaps most notorious of these changes, was the creation of a Minister Responsible for Celtic Affairs. The creation of this portfolio can be construed a number of ways, but i’m of the opinion that this is merely politics on behalf of the government to appease Anglophone voters who have been feeling hard-done-by this government’s policies. It can perhaps be assumed that the government has been leaning more towards Francophones in some of their decisions since coming into government, so the creation of this portfolio is to appeal to the other linguistic group.

Celtic Affairs is, at least in appearance, a position which is purely political posturing and an office that nobody requested in a time when the Government should be focusing on more pertinent matters. Job creation? Education? Healthcare? Celtic Affairs. That’s the sweet spot.

Was anyone asking for a Celtic Affairs portfolio? Any individuals? Non-Profits? Non-Governmental Organizations? I find it doubtful. So why create it in the first place?

Along with this, the size of Cabinet has increased by two, up to 14 Ministers plus the Premier for 15 members of Cabinet. This goes against various pledges the government has made in the past of reeling in the size of government, or committing to a smaller cabinet. As a comparison, when the Alward PC Government was defeated in 2014 it had a Cabinet of 18 Members for a Legislature of 55 Members. Currently this government is sitting at 15 Cabinet for a Legislature of 49 Members. Effectively, the Liberal cabinet consists of 31% of total Legislature members compared to the 33% the PCs enjoyed. The Liberals, at this stage, have only decreased the size of Cabinet relative to the size of the Legislature by 2%. Smaller Government.

In my opinion smaller government should actually be smaller. Currently the 15 Cabinet Members in New Brunswick share 37 separate titles. Some of these, like Deputy Premier and House Leader, are of course creations of political conventions handed down through Centuries of Government in New Brunswick. Other positions, like Celtic Affairs and Literacy, are purely creations to improve government exposure in certain areas. So, is it possible to merge these portfolios to make Cabinet smaller and more efficient? Absolutely:

EDUCATION: Education & New Economy Fund; Innovation; Post-Secondary Education; Education and Early Childhood Development; Literacy

INTERGOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS: Rural Affairs; Intergovernmental Affairs; Regional Development Corporation; Local Government; Service New Brunswick; Northern & Miramichi funds

SOCIAL & HERITAGE: Women’s Equality; Aboriginal Affairs; La Francophonie; Celtic Affairs; Official Languages; Poverty Reduction and the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation; Liasion for Military Affairs; Tourism, Heritage, and Culture

JUSTICE: Justice & Public Safety

INDUSTRY: Training & Labour; Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fisheries; Trade Policy; Economic Development; Opportunities NB

ENVIRONMENT: Environment; Energy & Resource Development

HEALTH: Health; Families & Children; Seniors & Long-Term Care

TRANSPORT: Transportation & Infrastructure

FINANCE: Finance; Treasury Board

This is a proposed Nine-Member Cabinet (without Premier), meaning that you could have a Ten- Member Cabinet with the preceding layout. If the Government feels that these broader portfolios would need more support they could create Ministers of state (Or Province?) to help with larger portfolios such as Industry or Education, but on the whole in a province with 3/4s of a Million people this shouldn’t be too time-consuming or difficult. Finance is straightforward. Health is straightforward. Justice is straightforward. Intergovernmental affairs should be straightforward.

Social and Heritage (and “Culture”) portfolios in New Brunswick are the most bloated and, in my opinion, the easiest to merge. Because of New Brunswick’s seemingly persistent “cultural” divisions, which I won’t get into with this post, many of these posts seem to be required, but there is a lot of overlap in what many of them are responsible for. Is there overlap between Official Languages and La Francophonie & Celtic Affairs? Is there Overlap between official Languages and “Heritage and Culture”? I would imagine it would be easier to have all of these aspects under the same portfolio rather than splitting them between three or four Ministers as is currently the case.

There are clear overlaps or redundancies to be found in Intergovernmental affairs. Rural Affairs, Regional Development, and Northern Funds can be merged. Surely they can be accommodated under one title. What’s the difference between Local Government and Intergovernmental Affairs? If Intergovernmental Affairs leans more towards Federal Issues can this not just be put under the auspice of Justice? Or Industry?

In the end 15 Ministers and 37 Titles is a bit too many for a province of 750K. That’s a Ministerial position for every 20K residents.

Interprovincial Trade Barriers

Recently Interprovincial Trade Barriers (IPTBs) have been in the news in New Brunswick for the case of Gerard Comeau, whose alcohol purchased in Quebec was seized upon re-entry into NB. Since then the entire case has been a roller coaster giving us a pretty good example of why IPTBs are so terrible to begin with.

 

Recently I had the opportunity to write on IPTBs which will be posted below. Although it focuses on Alberta’s economy (as was required at the time for the article in question) the same can apply to New Brunswick. IPTBs are a Provincial mechanism used to protect the Province in question from being taken advantage of by other provinces through export/import variables in trade. Consider it like children building forts in the living room and bothering each other whilst the parent, in this case the Federal Government, ignores or pretends they’re not doing this at all. Over time the lack of cooperation will be detrimental, but it’s difficult to convince one province alone to remove their IPTBs whilst the others still benefit from them.

This is precisely why Federal leadership needs to happen on the IPTB file, or more ridiculous cases such as Comeau’s will continue to occur.


Interprovincial Trade Barriers

Interprovincial Trade Barriers (IPTBs) in Canada are denying access throughout the country to export-oriented businesses seeking to move their products outside of the borders of their province. As the Federal Government continues to sign free-trade agreements with dozens of countries around the world the domestic trade environment within Canada is stymied – trade barriers prevent many businesses from expanding and capitalizing on new and emerging markets. This Policy Resolution recommends abolishing current trade barriers in Canada and proposes the Federal Government take action in creating a trade-free domestic zone throughout Canada for Canadian businesses.

The MacDonald-Laurier Institute’s report on IPTBs (2010) titled “Citizen of One”  estimated a very conservative figure of $8 billion per year was lost due to provincial trade barriers – or roughly $242 per Canadian; $940 for a family of four. Due to changes in national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year, that number can swing up to 2% higher or lower each year.[1] Canada’s Public Policy Forum, when exploring the impacts of IPTBs in 2013, found that interprovincial trade has increased despite these barriers – up from a total of $107B in 1984 to $177B in 1998. Alberta had consistently the third highest interprovincial trade import and export numbers in Canada, only behind Ontario and Quebec.[2]

The agreement currently in place which covers trade barriers in Canada is the Agreement on Internal Trade (1994) (AIT) which was concluded prior to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) coming into effect.  Although the AIT benefited the procurement processes in many provinces by 2016 standards it is outdated and in need of replacing. Because provinces can individually sign trade agreements amongst themselves the AIT has become outdated. In 2010 Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan signed The New West Partnership Trade Agreement (NWPTA)[3].  This agreement was reached to remove barriers on labour movement whilst also removing some fees, levies, and taxes on services and goods moving between the provinces. Although beneficial for these provinces more still needs to be done as these barriers still exist with other provinces.

Goods and services that have extreme difficulty moving through borders are alcohol, professional businesses (accountants, dentists), chicken products, and dairy products. Because provinces are not standardized on items such as transportation of goods this leads to issues where each province has different rules for how transportation companies can operate. Many provinces have different standards and regulations for certification of different professions.

Provinces are individually responsible for accreditation of numerous professions which makes ease of movement difficult for relocating professionals as well as protecting residing professionals from competition. Regulations in place for the issuers of securities, for example, require them to comply to 13 different regulations across the country; one for each province and territory. Regulations such as this make Canada a less attractive market to foreign investors, and create unnecessary costs on Canadian businesses. [4]

Current trade barriers also mean that provinces give preferential treatment to local, provincially-based companies and corporations bidding on government contracts. Local companies can undercut a more qualified bid from a company in a neighbouring province quite easily.

In August 2014 the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released an open letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne asking that the Premiers reform the AIT and bring it into the 21st century. Headed by the CFIB, the open letter was signed by the CEOs of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, The Dairy Processors Association of Canada, Restaurants Canada, The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, amongst others. Their goal was to open domestic Canadian trade markets and make Canada more open for business for Canadian companies. [5]

Other countries have benefited greatly from reforming IPTBs and removing red tape for their businesses. Two examples are Australia and Switzerland; both have provinces (states and cantons, respectively) which are similar to Canada’s in the makeup of their federal systems. Their agreements were based on mutual recognition of products created in those countries. This would work in Canada by creating mutual recognition for any product created in Canada, meaning that if mutually recognized it could move to any other location in the country and not be subject to taxes or fees. Canadian provinces have agreed on mutual recognition in the past when attempting to update AIT.

Writing in 2014, the Managing Director of the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, Brian Lee Crowley, pleaded with then Minister of Industry James Moore to take a hard-line approach to the reform of IPTBs in Canada[6]. He argued that because the provinces have created the very barriers that exist today it is unfeasible to ask them to remove them on their own. Thus, it was proposed, that Ottawa take the rare step in leading on this policy file. Minister Moore estimated at the time that lost business in Canada due to interprovincial trade barriers totaled over $50 billion –

Crowley guessed it was a much higher figure than that – he was under the belief that Ottawa was playing too “nice” with the Provinces and it was time to take charge.

Resolving Interprovincial Trade Barriers

Recommendations:

 Encourage the Federal Government of Canada, via the Minister of Industry, to remove current IPTBs in Canada and to replace them with a Federal Act which would harmonize and open up the Canadian domestic market for businesses seeking to export interprovincially.

  • Create an Act of Parliament which would:
    • Remove and prohibit restrictive trade barriers between provinces. Take into consideration some provinces delicate economies
    • This would replace the AIT and BNA Act 1867 – both of which allow provinces to create IPTBs
  • Create a new Charter for Economic Activity in Canada, which would outline internal trade and open up provinces for business with each other
    • Create a Commission of Economic Activity which would hear grievances from provinces and companies and oversee larger-scale issues as they arise
    • Encourage accreditation of professional services to be aligned amongst provinces. This can include lawyers, dentists, accountants, etc.
    • Revise procurement practices in Canada and prevent local/regional monopolies over government contract bidding
    • Encourage the transportation industry to be harmonized throughout Canada. Create one national weighting, registration, and design system for vehicles transporting goods.
    • Ensure no overlap is made with past or retained trade barriers, if necessary (NWTPA, etc.)
    • Merge provincial boards into reformed national boards (Dairy, etc.)
  • That the Minister of Industry be responsible for said Economic Activity Charter and Commission.

[1] http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/citizenofone/

[2] http://www.ppforum.ca/sites/default/files/Beaulieu%20-%20Exploring%20the%20economic%20impact%20of%20AIT%20chapters.pdf

[3] http://www.newwestpartnershiptrade.ca/

[4] https://www.cdhowe.org/pdf/backgrounder_106.pdf

[5] http://www.cfib-fcei.ca/cfib-documents/5581.pdf

[6] http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/crowley-in-the-globe-fixing-interprovincial-trade-up-to-the-feds/

On Uber and Saint John taxis

In the past month city councils in Ottawa and Toronto have legalized the ride-sharing app known as Uber.

For those unfamiliar, Uber’s app on your smartphone can be used to find vehicles that operate the same as taxis without the need of having to call or wait for taxis. Uber drivers, unlike their taxi counterparts, do not have to operate under municipal taxi laws (like having very expensive plates) and generally use their own vehicles in their spare time to make extra income on top of jobs they usually already have. The bonus of the Uber app is that you can watch via GPS where your car is in relation to your position; can split-fares with friends; never have to physically exchange money in the car; and, you can rate drivers (as well as drivers rating you as a passenger).

Because Uber does not pay the (sometimes obscene) price of municipal taxi plates their rides are generally much, much cheaper. My experience in Ottawa has been rides with Uber being anywhere from 15% to 40% cheaper than regular taxis depending on distance….along with a better overall customer experience. I’m not going to sugar coat this: Uber is a considerable step up over taxis when it comes to reliability, convenience, and pricing.

Part of this is the reason why taxi companies have been fighting so hard in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. The Taxi industry’s monopoly over local transport has been under attack as it has quickly become superceded by new and better technology. Part of this isn’t the taxis fault; Municipal guidelines, when they’re not spotty and very outdated, are generally very expensive and costly for individual taxi  drivers.

This should all sound familiar to residents of Saint John who have a very vocal, and very outdated, municipal taxi industry. Whilst other cities in Canada are having conversations about using smartphones to hail cabs and how to make lives easier for both taxi drivers and transport users, Saint John taxi drivers are fighting against meters in 2016, something that other cities have had in place for decades.

Saint John’s taxi demands are dishearteningly out of place and time. Taxi drivers in Saint John believe that once a vehicle is inspected and deemed safe it should be permitted to be used as a taxi. That’s any vehicle ever. Regardless of age. Uber Ottawa cannot be used with a vehicle more than six years old. Toronto Uber vehicles must be inspected twice a year. These taxis in Saint John have resisted metres for decades on the claim of rising fares ( and their proof is using a metre on one taxi as a test for such a system with zero outside oversight. Just accept their findings as absolute truth, yes?).

Saint John has had a plethora of issues with its taxi industry in the past…from overcharging cruise ship passengers for simple trips, to this metre issue, to having a fleet of cars where a majority (65%) are older than seven years. Saint John is a large, vast city, with a difficult terrain; difficult to get around in without a vehicle. Saint John Transit, for all of its benefits, does not have a consistent enough frequency or coverage area to make it a reliable, dependable transit option off of the main routes. This is where taxis come in and where they can be an actual benefit to the population.

I see three options:
1) Seek out Uber, or a company like it, to completely revitalize the taxi and private transportation company (PTC) environment in the City. Allow competition between the monopolized taxi industry and newer private industry. With its large area for a relatively small population this sort of company should have a steady base of users so long as the company is not targeted negatively and viewed as outsiders.

2) Encourage current Saint John taxi companies to modernize and join the 21st century of taxi, spurred on in many areas by the entrance of competition. How difficult would this be given the taxis insistence on fighting even the smallest of changes (metres)?

3) Do nothing, and let the status quo remain.

Uber, and PTCs in general, allow normal citizens to make a bit of extra income by driving and delivering others around without the necessity of owning an expensive taxi plate at the behest of a taxi company, which require hours and times and places without your say. An Uber driver has their own free will to work as little or as much as they’d like, depending on their own preferences, and are encouraged to drive more with surge pricing during peak hours or days (think holidays, cruise ships, major events).

To put it simply: View Uber drivers as part-time workers. They can be a student trying to cover tuition at UNB, or a bartender trying to pay off car insurance, or a parent trying to save money for their child’s education. Taxi drivers do all of these things, as well, but they have to work taxi as a full-time job with much less personal freedom in their work environment.

Perhaps i’m making the assumption that something like Uber or another PTC would work tremendously well in Saint John – I don’t know for sure; but could their introduction be any worse than the status quo? Saint John is actually the perfect market for developing sensible, evidence-based urban transport: It has a reasonably-sized population spread across a very large and hilly area. It’s difficult and financially unfeasible to reach a lot of it by bus, and expensive by taxi due to its expanse and the zone coverage that the current taxi industry wishes to maintain for obvious reasons.

There’s more at play here than just taxis: the overarching theme that cities in the Maritimes are falling behind their Canadian counterparts in modernizations such as this. If NB is serious about wanting to attract back the young people that have left it needs to seriously consider having municipalities that are strong and able to adapt to changing technological times. Encourage entrepreneurship.

Urban and Suburban Voting Patterns and Trends

The past decade has been a turbulent one for sitting Governments in New Brunswick. In three consecutive elections in 2006, 2010, and 2014 the incumbent government has lost. The 2014 election continued this trend by ushering out the Alward PC Government and voting in the Gallant Liberal Government. There were various reasons for why this occurred – this article will examine urban and suburban centres of the province, analyzing how much the urban and suburban vote is increasing as a percentage of the total provincial vote.

New Brunswick’s three largest municipalities are Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John. Surrounding these cities are suburbs which are not within the municipal boundaries of these larger cities. For this article I have separated suburb voting from city voting and at times have also merged them to create something called “Metropolitan Voting”. The metropolitan areas break down as follows:

Greater Fredericton: Fredericton, Hanwell, Lincoln, Oromocto, New Maryland
Greater Moncton: Dieppe, Moncton, Riverview
Greater Saint John: Grand Bay-Westfield, Quispamsis, Rothesay, Saint John

Similar to proposals and recommendations found in the Finn Report on Local Governance (2009) which emphasized creating regional municipalities combining urban cities and their suburban municipal partners I have combined the two to create a voting bloc. There are voting trends within these municipalities, of course, as well as within their own metropolitan areas.

Official voting turnout dropped by nearly five percentage points between the 2010 and 2014 elections. Turnout in the Metropolitan areas were as follows:

Province of New Brunswick 2010 – 69.56%
Province of New Brunswick 2014 – 64.65%

Greater Fredericton 2010 – 64.39%
Greater Fredericton 2014 – 65.72%

Greater Moncton 2010 – 65.31%
Greater Moncton 2014 – 59.45%

Greater Saint John 2010 – 60.88%
Greater Saint John 2014 – 56.55%

Without spending too much time dwelling on why turnout decreased (varying pertinent issues, incumbent governments, policies, etc.) I will instead examine the change in the raw number of votes. New Brunswick’s demographics are slowly shifting away from rural voters to urban and suburban based voters. New Brunswick lags behind other provinces in this regard but it nonetheless is still happening (and will speed up as rural areas become older). This can be seen in the recent redistribution of provincial ridings in 2012 & 2013 where the overall number of ridings decreased from 55 for the 2010 Election to 49 in the 2014 Election. Northern New Brunswick lost the most ridings as a percentage of total seats as their demographic change has warranted it, whereas Southeastern New Brunswick, an area of growth, saw very little change in their ridings (losing 0.5 of a riding).

As a result of this the urban and suburban areas (“Metropolitan Areas”) have increased their share of ridings, and therefore influence in the legislature and government, as their demographic might has increased. In the 2010 Election the Metropolitan Areas accounted for the following percentages of total votes cast in the Province:
Greater Fredericton – 8.84%
Greater Moncton – 13.38%
Greater Saint John – 11.83%
Total Combined – 34.06%

Here are the same numbers for 2014:
Greater Fredericton – 9.83%
Greater Moncton – 13.77%
Greater Saint John – 11.71%
Total Combined – 35.31%

Overall the Metro Areas combined saw a 1.25% increase in their share of total votes cast in a four year span. This increase includes a lower turnout percentage (63.47% in 2010 to 60.02%) in the three combined, meaning that their total number of electors as a percentage of provincial electors increased by a larger margin than their vote totals. We see a large gain in Metro Fredericton with modest gains in Moncton and Saint John. Although the City of Saint John saw its percentage go down the Metro area of the City still increased thanks to a population, and therefore a voter, increase in Quispamsis.

Metropolitan Area Voting Patterns
Metropolitan Voting Area figures for 2010 and 2014 Provincial Elections

Within the metropolitan areas the numbers become more obvious. Dieppe, New Brunswick’s fastest growing city, has increased from having roughly 13,000 electors (eligible voters) in 2003 to having nearly 19,000 in 2014. Because New Brunswick’s ridings average roughly 11,500/12,000 electors Dieppe’s influence has gone from the equivalent of one riding to one and a half (and nearly two by 2018) ridings in the span of a decade.

In terms of voting power Dieppe’s share of votes cast in Provincial elections has increased from 2.28% in 2003 to 3.32% in 2014. This doesn’t appear like a large increase until you compare it to other municipalities across the province:

Dieppe 2.28% – 2003 – 1.84% Bathurst
Dieppe 2.66% – 2006 – 1.91% Bathurst
Dieppe 3.03% – 2010 – 1.92% Bathurst
Dieppe 3.32% – 2014 – 1.62% Bathurst

 

You can do this for a number of different municipalities going in opposite directions. In the 2014 election Hanwell and Lincoln had more combined voters than Campbellton for the first time in the province’s history. Campbellton has had the biggest drop of any large municipality in the province in terms of voting power:
Campbellton – 1.82% – 1999
Campbellton – 1.24% – 2003
Campbellton – 1.27% – 2006
Campbellton – 1.19% – 2010
Campbellton – 0.96% – 2014

That’s Campbellton’s voting power in the province cut in half in 15 years, and a raw drop in voters from 7,185 in 1999 to 3,564 in 2014. Demographic trends mean that these numbers will continue to decrease for Campbellton and other municipalities not connected to the larger Metropolitan Areas.

Suburban and other Metro Voting Patterns
Although no mention of them was made i’ve included party performance in each municipality with no additional comment.

What’s most obvious is that New Brunswick’s suburbs of major cities are carrying the most growth in population and that means an increase in total voters. The suburbs of Dieppe, Grand Bay-Westfield, Hanwell, Lincoln, New Maryland, Oromocto, Rothesay, and Quispamsis accounted for 8.35% of total votes cast in the 2010 election. Four years later this figure increased to 9.97%. In raw numbers that is an increase from 31,100 voters to 37,066 voters despite total voter turnout decreasing.

To make things simpler, the total number of eligible voters in New Brunswick’s suburbs increased from 52,068 in 2010 to 57,867 in 2014. With most parts of the province stalling on population growth, and dropping in many rural areas, the suburbs are increasing their clout as a voting bloc in the province.