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DOLPHIN: Photo radar cash cow saved from slaughterhouse by the Tories

For although euthanizing the cash cow would prove popular with the majority of the electorate, towns and cities have become reliant on photo radar revenue.

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EDMONTON, AB: For those of us who consider photo radar tickets an insidious form of taxation, Transport Minister Ric McIver’s press conference on Tuesday provided some hope that – unlike other provincial conservative governments before it – the UCP would finally outlaw radar cameras in the 27 Alberta towns and cities that employ them. (Provincial highways remain photo-radar-free.) 

No such luck. In similar fashion to NDP Transport Minister Brian Mason two years ago, McIver kicked the can down the road by announcing another study that he estimated will take two years and will determine to what extent photo radar—Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) technology in the jargon—is used for safety reasons, and to what extent it is merely a “cash cow” for municipalities. 

Mason had announced a similar third-party review in the spring of 2017, which he had originally said would be completed by the end of that year, but which took over two years.

That $190,000 review, conducted by the Calgary accounting firm MNP, found that although Alberta had more ATE’s than any other province, the decrease in overall collisions over a 10-year period – a 1.4 per cent reduction – was no greater than in jurisdictions without photo radar such as BC and Ontario. (One suspects the general ageing of the population might be more of a factor.)

In its survey of 1,200 Albertans, MNP also found that “63 per cent of respondents believed to a moderate or great extent that ATE is primarily focused on revenue generation.” In other words, a “cash cow.”

As a result of the review, in March of this year Mason announced guidelines that would force municipalities to disclose ATE locations and the rationale for their use. He also required towns and cities to submit reports to the governments, starting in March 2020, that would tie photo radar locations to safety.  

“I think in some cases photo radar in the province of Alberta has been a cash cow,” Mason said at his news conference. “It’s my intention that we are going to humanely put the cash cow down.”

Easy to say when – like Mason – one is fairly sure that one’s government is going to be defeated in the following month’s election. (A reliable source told us at the time that Mason retired because he had no desire to spend four years in opposition.)

For although euthanizing the cash cow would prove popular with the majority of the electorate, towns and cities have become reliant on photo radar revenue. And with the UCP government’s reduced grants to municipalities, revenue sources like this have become even more precious.

In 2016-18 Calgary – with 950 photo radar locations – raised $38.1 million while Edmonton – with just 272 cameras – brought in $50.1 million (suggesting that the latter city is more devious where it places its traps.) And of the total $220 million collected from ATEs in the province that year, $64 million was channelled back to provincial coffers.

Accordingly, Alberta governments are in no hurry to kill the cow that produces the golden milk.

For those of us who were hoping for some respite, McIver, at his presser, raised our hopes a little when he said,  “We will be freezing in time the use of photo radar devices effective Dec. 1, 2019. This freeze will remain in place while we work with municipalities to refine guidelines, and while we work with municipalities and police to collect better data on how photo radar is used.”

But rather than preventing municipalities from using their cameras, McIver said this merely meant that they would not be allowed to increase the number during the collection of “better data” that could take up to two years.

For the victims of photo radar – especially in Edmonton, where Mayor Don Iveson appears to be using it as another weapon in his war on the automobile – the recourse is to buy a prismatic license plate cover for around $45 and risk the $150 fine if caught by police, or to invest $900 in the latest generation of radar detector that can pick up a radar camera even when it isn’t actually taking a picture. There is also a spray available online.

A spokesman at JB’s Power Centre in Edmonton, reports that the licence plate covers are flying off the shelf.

There is another solution: drive slower. But for many of us, that seems a desperate measure.

Ric Dolphin is the Alberta Political Editor of the Western Standard. He has had a long career in journalism with Maclean’s, the Globe and Mail, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, Alberta Report, and the original Western Standard. He was previously Publisher and Chief Editor of Insight into Government. rdolphin@westernstandardonline.com

Ric Dolphin is the Alberta Political Editor of the Western Standard. He has had a long career in journalism with Maclean’s, the Globe and Mail, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, Alberta Report, and the original Western Standard. He was previously Publisher and Chief Editor of Insight into Government. rdolphin@westernstandardonline.com

Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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Opinion

LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.

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RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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