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Car-dependent carbon culture votes Green in B.C.’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith

by Greg Klein | May 6, 2019

The latest Canadian riding to go Green is a town that lives and breaths—literally—carbon fuels.

If Greens officially subscribe to a morally-superior hierarchy of CO2-reducing modes of transportation, walking would probably hold the apex. And Nanaimo-Ladysmith, in a March 6 federal by-election the latest Canadian riding to vote Green, offers great places to walk. But that’s provided walkers stick to the greenbelts and harbourfront pathway. Anywhere else they’re subjected to car culture at possibly Canada’s most overbearing extreme, far surpassing Calgary and Edmonton.

Speed limits surprise newcomers. So do the speeders, who generally exceed limits with impunity, routinely running stop signs, red lights and pedestrian-inhabited crosswalks. Apparently one recent exception will be the local RCMP superintendent’s commuting route. He’s finally gotten sick of getting the finger from drivers zooming past his unmarked vehicle.

Gasp! Carbon culture votes Green in B.C.’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith

“Honk if you’re Green”: The party woos its constituency.
(Photo: Green Party)

What accompanies the high speeds is the noise, that relentless Nanaimo noise. It drowns out all the sounds of nature that Greens should appreciate: the wind in the trees, birds singing, crickets chirping in late summer. You can hear them alright, during brief lulls in roaring traffic. But shortly after moving here, newcomers become acutely aware of how vehicles rocketing around at tremendous speeds make an awfully, awfully much louder racket than those roaming about at normal city speeds.

Intensifying the high-speed noise are the faulty mufflers. Do Nanaimo drivers actually tamper with them to accentuate their presence? Or does some regional malady cause Nanaimo mufflers to malfunction like nowhere else?

Driving habits might be considered a Green issue too, if they discourage walking and cycling. Most Nanaimo drivers reflect the city’s general good nature, but a significant minority bomb around with reckless disregard for others, especially pedestrians. People in Nanaimo who do a lot of walking (there aren’t all that many) get used to scrambling out of the way of drivers.

They’re not just young punks flexing their vicarious muscles or arrogant old farts who came of age in an era of driver entitlement. Far too many young, middle-aged and old men and women, even parents with kids on board, drive as if they hunger for pedestrian roadkill. Experienced Nanaimo walkers tend to avoid crossing streets at intersections, where dangerous drivers can tear towards them from four directions.

But getting back to living and breathing carbon fuels, especially breathing them—is there any place in Canada with so much really filthy vehicle exhaust? Experienced walkers try to hold their breath for extended periods as obviously filthy vehicles pollute their presence. Regular lungs-full of toxins occur frequently in a routine Nanaimo walk.

As a result frequent spitting, perhaps not the most environmentally conscientious habit, takes place in efforts to purge a body of Nanaimo’s carbon culture.

So who here voted Green—a crunchy granola elite detached from all this? Green winner Paul Manly’s lawn signs coincided unabashedly on residential properties with typically big-ass Nanaimo gas-guzzlers.

Although the riding had been considered a New Democratic Party safe seat, the incumbent NDP came in third with 23.1% of the vote, behind Greens with 37.3% and Conservatives with 24.8% but well above the Liberals’ 11%.

Certainly the third-place NDP asked for a rebuke. The federal seat came open after the former NDP MP resigned to campaign for provincial MLA. That seat came open after the previous NDP MLA resigned to campaign for mayor. Taxpayers have paid millions of dollars to satisfy these NDP career moves.

Another possible issue, although not one in which the Greens offer any realistic response, was last year’s very sudden influx of homeless people. As is elsewhere in southwestern B.C., the problem of how to help the poor and mentally disturbed becomes frustrated by addiction-driven crime.

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith victory gives the Greens only its second federal seat, but follows a string of provincial and municipal successes in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Ontario, Vancouver and Burnaby that have greatly expanded the party beyond its original vehicle-dependent Vancouver Island stronghold.

But Nanaimo, of all places—can this possibly be a sincere environmental movement? Or is something else, maybe confused disenchantment with the older parties or just attraction to a fashionable new brand, driving the Greens’ continuing success?

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