Stick it to the man!

No thank you oil truck, we're quitting! (at least until we get too cold and then we'll give you a call)
Sticking it to the man by saying no to fossil fuels!

Are you sick of paying taxes? Are you going to stick it to the man by voting “no” in the Provincial Transit Plebiscite that’s just begun?

Well, I think you should reconsider who the man is and how you can stick it to him.

Leanne and I just got our ballots in the mail today. Are we having trouble making up our minds? No, we’re voting “YES”.

It lurks in the corner like a time-bomb of atmospheric carbon.
The oil tank lurks in the basement under the fireplace…

On March 6, 2013 we bought 1100.7 litres of furnace oil at $1.2490/litre for a total $1443.51. That was over two years ago. Average that out over 24 months to about $60 per month for heating alone.

Oh, but we should note that we haven’t turned the furnace on since June, 2014. That means that our average monthly fuel bill for the last 10 months has been…$0.

We will never buy fuel oil again. If all goes well, we will never buy fossil fuels of any kind (including natural gas) to heat our home. It feels fantastic.

That’s our way of sticking it to The Man. Score 1 for us!

To me, The Man is not my government. As a Canadian citizen, I like to think I have some part in my government and so it is partly me. The Man right now is fossil fuels. That is due to how certain we are that they are the main cause of the planet warming and the climate changing with dangerous (and expensive) rapidity. By burning oil and gas we are pulling carbon out of the earth that has been locked there for millions of years and pumping it into the atmosphere.

An extension of The Man is all those in the industry who are pushing for irresponsible extraction and using tactics a la Big “smoking doesn’t cause cancer” Tobacco to convince the public everything is fine. Unfortunately, Canada subsidizes the multi-national corporations that make up the oil industry with hundreds of millions of dollars directly and, as reported on The Tyee, “The International Monetary Fund estimates that energy subsidies in Canada top an incredible $34 billion each year in direct support to producers and uncollected tax on externalized costs.”

The batteries are under my butt.

So, I also stick it to the man by riding an electric scooter to work or, if I’m too wimpy to face the weather, I stick it to the man by taking the infrequent C44 shuttle bus. I’m working up to cycling but I’m not there yet. If I may, I’d like to take another point for not driving much. That gives me 2.

I would be able to stick it to The Man more effectively if those community shuttles were more frequent. (See where I’m going with this?)

Let’s check in on our scoreboard:

James: 2                      The Man: 0

We’re not paying for oil anymore, but we did bump up our electricity bill a bit. We use an air conditioner (with a heating function set to 20 degrees) in the kitchen and a space heater in the kids’ bedroom at night. I feel fine about that because BC’s electricity comes mostly from sustainable hydro-electric power. I believe that’s another point for me.

Yes, we consume electricity and wood, but no gas and no oil
Yes, we consume electricity and wood, but no gas and no oil

James: 3                       The Man: 0

What is more, BC Hydro is a publicly owned corporation, so really I am using my own service instead of a private, multi-national corporation such as an oil or gas company. I don’t think that’s a point, that just speaks to who The Man is in this scenario and who he isn’t.

Also, we have been burning wood from neighbours, construction sites, parents, and our own stores in our wood-burning fireplace insert for most of our heat and that wood was free. Pointage!

James: 4                        The Man: 0

Unfortunately however, efficient as it is, the insert has still been polluting the neighourhood with particulate-heavy smoke.

James: 4           The Man: 0       Neighbours with respiratory illness -1

Hmmm, burning wood also releases greenhouse gasses–You can argue that those gasses would only have been trapped in the wood for a few decades anyway and that it’s better than burning fossil fuels but still I say

James: 4     The Man: 0     Neighbours with asthma -1    The Environment -1

DSCN2467Finally, in my last post I showed you the mountains of ash that we’re producing–several times the trash we normally produce. Take another point off the Environment which leaves us with


James: 4     The Man: 0    Neighbours with asthma -1     The Environment -2

If we just look at The Man and I, I seem to be doing OK. However, since I live in the environment and so will my kids for decades to come (not to mention all the costs of climate change) and since I care about my neighbours and help to pay for their healthcare, I think I should include their score with mine. If we take those three points away from my score we get

James: 1                   The Man: 0

Great, we’re barely breaking even! How frustrating! Makes me want to vote “no” to something!

Leanne and I are about to embark on our renovation which I hope will win back those lost points. Our house will no longer burn anything. We will shift to using much less power by dramatically improving the building envelope and what little power we use will be electric (hopefully–if we can pay for the heat pump we want!).

That is how we will stick it to The Man and we are applying for a $150K credit line to do it! I would rather pay up front now than pay The (oil) Man for decades to come.

The Man is not the Provincial government who collects the PST. It’s not the Mayors or Translink either. The government is us and we are the government. When we pay taxes we chip in to a fund because we can’t buy this stuff as individuals. It’s buying bulk. It’s working together. It’s being adults.

How many decades have our governments listened to statistics and research telling them the value of public transit, how it is good for the economy; how it is good for the environment; how it gives people more time with their families, increases health while reducing health costs and makes people happier?

How many decades have we debated how to fund transit in British Columbia?

Of course it is the Provincial Government’s job to decide how much tax to collect and what to do with it and they should have simply made this decision themselves, but remember the Harmonized Sales Tax?

stopHSTAfter that adventure, can we blame the BC Liberal Party for passing the buck to the Mayors’ Council? “It’s their plan, not ours!” Well, I can, but as much as I would like them to simply get on with governing, I can see that making the Mayors ask the question makes political sense.

Bundling the federal sales tax (GST) and the provincial sales tax (PST) into one sales tax (Harmonized Sales Tax) is a good idea. How much money do we waste on redundant administration of two separate taxes? Unfortunately, the BC Liberals kinda sorta specifically promised not to do that. People don’t like it when you say one thing and do another. There was a referendum and many people voted against the HST not because they hated (or knew much about) the tax, but because they felt tricked into it.

They wanted to make a point. The Anti-HST campaign managed to convince them that the government was The Man and they wanted to stick it to The Man so now we are stuck with an outdated, inefficient tax system and less in the public purse for things like, oh, say, transportation infrastructure.

This is how smart people end up voting against their own interest.

It’s interesting to me that the point of voting down the HST was to send a message to the BC Liberals but in the subsequent Provincial election we voted them back into power. Did we feel like we had punished them enough by killing the HST? I think we had it backwards: we should have kept the HST and reduced the number of Liberals in the Legislature.

“But James,” you say, “I feel taxed to death. I feel stretched to the breaking point. Why would I vote for higher taxes?”

I hear you, but it’s not taxes that are squeezing us. It is the way our taxes are being used. Now we have a chance to be heard. Buying transit infrastructure in bulk is a great idea and it will relax the squeeze on everyone in the region. It will even save you money–in gas and in time (because time is money).

It will also stick it to The Man.

In our system, when oil and gas companies ship more fossil fuels and when car manufacturers sell more cars it adds to our GDP. In simplistic terms, we like a nice big GDP, even though we know those things will cost us dearly in the long run.

To borrow from if we measured the economy in terms of “better” and not simply “more” things would be different. In that case, our economy would be more like the happiest countries on Earth: Denmark, Norway, etc. We would pay more taxes (and corporations and wealthy people would, too) and we would use that public money for smart things like better healthcare, better education and better ways to move people around, not just cars.

Sound too hippy dippy? It’s not. Climate change is real; trickle-down economics is not.

The right wing groups The Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (based in Saskatchewan) are telling us to vote “no” against our best interest. They clearly represent regressive policy and the oil and gas industry. Of course these groups don’t want more transit! They are standing up for their narrow short-term, self-interest. That’s their job. Future generations be-damned.

Let’s look at this plebiscite for a second.

The 0.5 percent increase in the Provincial Sales Tax only applies to goods and services that are already taxed under the PST.

It will go directly to the Mayor’s plan which is clearly laid out and based on decades of study.

0.5% means 50 cents for every $100 spent on PST taxable stuff.

It amounts to an average of 35 cents per family per day.

If you want to reduce that amount, you can buy less. Buying less means less waste anyway.

If you live in Maple Ridge like I do, you have the option of avoiding the tax by spending $5 in gasoline to drive to Mission to buy stuff. But make sure you plan to spend more than $1000 in Mission because otherwise your $5 in gas will cancel out your $5 in savings on the Transit tax. ($5 is 0.5% of $1000)

If you are planning to buy a brand new car for $20 000, you could save a whopping $100 by driving to Mission or further, but wait, no, they closed that loophole. You pay the tax based on where you register the car, not where it is purchased (sorry Mission car dealers!).

What other major purchases are you willing to drive out of town to buy so you can avoid paying that 0.5% extra? Jewelry? Appliances? Furniture? Well, if it makes you feel better, go ahead. Do please remember that we are already subsidizing the oil and gas industry and driving more is hardly sticking it to them is it? I would rather shop locally and pay a tax dedicated to improving congestion, health and the environment than spend more money on gas and make those things worse.

As I see it, the only way a reasonable person can be convinced to vote against funding transit infrastructure is if we believe Translink is corrupt and/or the government is corrupt. Few on the no side are using that word, but that is the implication when every mistake, delay, or bad decision Translink has ever made is trotted out with the catch phrase, “throwing good money after bad.” It’s an easy story to sell and a psychologically attractive one, too –especially when we’re looking for a Man to stick it to.

But this is not Egypt, Syria or North Korea. Our government is not corrupt. Translink is a publicly accountable body and information on its operations, budgets, successes and failures are freely available.

Not only that, but Translink does a good job. Our transit system is consistently rated by reputable international transit authorities to be one of the best in North America and Translink one of the most efficient.

Someone commented on Facebook that comparing us to other cities in North America isn’t saying much and that systems in Europe are much better. Well, those systems are in countries with higher taxes. I would like to get me some of that so I am voting yes.

I’ve heard people say they will vote no because the service sucks in their area (in Maple Ridge it’s not great) but that’s an argument for proper funding not against it. Vote yes.

So just who are we sticking it to if we vote no to the Mayor’s plan? Ummmm…
-people who commute on congested roads
-people who need transit because they don’t drive (like kids and seniors and lower income citizens)
-parents who will have less time to spend at home with their families
-businesses whose customers will stay home instead of fighting traffic
-future generations who will have to deal with the costs of climate change and air pollution
-municipal governments who will struggle with growing populations and inadequate transportation infrastructure
-provincial governments who will have to pay for the health affects of smog and stress as well as try to improve congestion without dedicated cash to do it
-federal governments who will have to increase transfer payments to provinces to deal with these costs on top of their own responsibility for disaster relief due to increasing extreme weather events
-and people like me who want to take transit to reduce my carbon footprint.

Who else can you think of?

Are we sticking it to the Provincial government? No, they will be unaffected.

Are we sticking it to Translink? No, Translink will not be affected, either.

Voting no is cutting off our noses to spite our face.

So let’s not do that.

Let’s say yes to the stuff we know we need.

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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