Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bridge for the east end?

Interprovincial Crossings – Question for Ontario Election Candidates

The National Capital Commission is currently working with the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau in a fundamental study of development in the region entitled “Choosing Our Future”.   One of the aims of this worthwhile project is to preserve citizens’ quality of life while encouraging more sustainable lifestyles, in particular in relation to transportation.  Yet while this study is under way the NCC is still pressing ahead with its partners, the governments of Ontario and Quebec, to choose a site in the eastern part of the region for a new bridge across the Ottawa River, a concept dating back over nearly thirty years.

An alliance of community associations and other interested citizens’ organizations, the East Alliance for Smarter Transportation, is firmly convinced that the construction of a bridge in any of the three corridors under consideration would not solve the current intolerable situation on the King Edward Corridor.  It would only serve to divert a portion of truck traffic from downtown Ottawa and would simply spread the current problem to additional communities.  Any of the locations being studied would interfere with a precious green shoreline and parkland and would direct heavy vehicle and commuter traffic towards residential neighbourhoods.

Citizens of the NCR deserve to have decisions on future transportation infrastructure made in light of current concerns over sustainability and recognition of the need for smart growth.  The “Choosing the Future” project should be followed by a thorough and open examination of transportation needs and sustainable options for the region before any further expensive construction projects are undertaken.

Therefore, as a candidate for election to the Ontario Legislature, would you both personally support the suspension of any bridge site selection process until a more comprehensive study of future transportation requirements is completed and urge your party and the Government of Ontario to adopt the same position?

David McGruer:  This question is a perfect example of what is wrong with our society: many decisions are made by pressure-group warfare as groups lobby politicians to use political force against other groups of citizens in order to accomplish their goals.  This constant struggle to override the rights of others is the logical consequence of a society based on the philosophy of collectivism – where the rights of individuals are subjugated by various groups claiming the good of “society”, “the majority”, “the community” “the neighborhood”, or worse, the non-sentient “green shoreline” or whoever or whatever they purport to advocate for. 

In the absence of property right protection, government force is used to build bridges wherever the few people who can influence decisions say it should be built. Since no individuals own the bridge, maintenance of it is also subject to political pull and often results in work being delayed until it becomes urgent – just look at the crumbling state of many roads and bridges across Quebec and Ontario.  Just look at the ancient and crumbling water pipes under the older part of Ottawa.  Bridge maintenance, since it is not a political vote-buying hot-button, receives little attention until it absolutely must be addressed. Attempts are made to plan long-term, but since the bridge structure is owned and operated outside the free economy, the normal price/value signals are virtually absent.  There is no rational way for central planners to decide if there are too many bridges, not enough bridges, big enough bridges or if there should be tunnels instead.

This is a stark contrast with a free society, where all economic arrangements are done on a voluntary basis and only occur when both parties find there is an advantage to them.  In a free society, the rights of individuals, property rights in this case, are fully protected by government.  If an individual or group of individuals wants to build a bridge, they are free to do so as long as the rights of other individuals are not violated.  The price system ensures that all considerations are properly accounted for – the price of land that needs to be bought, the price of construction materials, the price of design labour are all seamlessly integrated and guide entrepreneurs in their decision making. The price of a project must compete with all others who would tackle a similar project or an alternative to it.  If someone considers building a bridge, he must have a plan to recover his investment and make a profit, or else the bridge does not make economic sense.  The bridge must be maintained for decades and eventually replaced and again, the owner must plan to protect and maintain his long-term asset as efficiently as possible.  No rational bridge owner would wait until it is falling down to maintain it, he would want it to be run as economically as possible and have as many customers as possible.  If he does a poor job, customers will seek alternatives, others who are more efficient will take his market share away or will take over his whole business.

If a group of individuals disagrees that a bridge should be built in a particular location, a free society permits them to buy up the land by negotiating with the current owner and refuse to sell it to the builder, or to try to persuade the builder that there is a better location.  A free society does not allow groups to persuade government to initiate force against a builder just because they disagree with a project.  If they want their own rights to be protected, they must allow for the rights of all others to be protected too.  If they don’t want their interests to be sacrificed to political power, they must not call for the interests of others to be sacrificed.

Decades of government interference in the economy has created massive government ownership of assets that are properly in the realm of private property.  The resulting quagmire is referred to as “the tragedy of the commons”.  It would take a long time to undo all this damage and achieve a free economy and if elected, the Freedom Party would begin this process.  Our election platform contains only hints of what is needed to accomplish the full job and focuses only on a few things that demonstrate to voters the right direction to take.

Regarding the current bridge issue, while I am not an expert in all aspects of this question (and neither is any other politician), I believe this question has been studied long and hard for decades and until such time as property rights are protected, the most current Kettle Island proposal should proceed because it provides the most direct route to the 417 while avoiding downtown Ottawa.

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