Photo: British Columbia Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure
British Columbia residents devastated by flooding and landslides in November have launched a petition demanding the province repatriate its infrastructure responsibilities.
“After 30 years of neglecting our infrastructure in the name of ‘small government,’ the Province of British Columbia has been brought to its knees. The government of BC and its contractors have grossly underestimated the adverse effects of climate change, resulting in poor planning and inadequate infrastructure building and maintenance,” writes C.L. Sleeman, who launched the petition.
“Numerous reports warning of the inability of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, under the current model, to adequately provide services which would ensure the safety & security of British Columbians, have been ignored. Most notably, the warning from a former senior member of the provincial Ministry of Environment, Jim Mattison written in November of 2010.
“Recent flooding and landslide damage to BC’s highways and infrastructure has made it clear that the province is not prepared to deal with extreme weather events. In order to maintain vital shipping routes, transportation corridors, and land-based access to remote communities, we are calling for the immediate repatriation (return to public service) of our Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure, including BC Ferries,” the petition’s preamble reads.
“The BC Ministry of Transportation & Highways, in cooperation with the Forestry Department, Department of Fisheries & Wildlife, Ministry of Environment, CN & CP Rail, BC Hydro, & BC Tel, used to ensure proper planning, building, & maintenance of our infrastructure. The Ministry was crucial in preventative maintenance and effective emergency response for landslides, earthquakes, avalanches, and floods in BC’s transportation corridors. It had a province wide state of the art communications system linked to media which was essential in advance warnings, and in providing crucial information to residents during times of emergency,” the petition reads.
“The Ministry of Transportation & Highways employed engineers, geotechnical experts, avalanche technicians, landscape architects, bridge design building and maintenance crews, equipment operators, paving crews, paint crews, accounting departments and more, including first responders trained in emergency procedures. Extensive training programs were in place to ensure a skilled & current work force. These jobs kept communities alive. Essential maintenance of our infrastructure was done on a regular basis, reducing the effects of extreme weather events.”
In 1988, the petition notes, the BC Ministry of Transportation and Highways was privatized and most work contracted out: “Their vast fleet of equipment was sold off at fire sale rates and tens of thousands of skilled, unionized civil servants lost their jobs. Rather than maintaining the health & safety of our infrastructure, the business model of the contractors who have benefited from privatization is to maximize profits from government contracts while minimizing work, and executing contracts as cheaply as possible. BC Ferries – the extension of our highways, transportation, and infrastructure, and the lifeline of BC residents on the coast who rely on them – engaged in a massive campaign of constructive dismissal & crews were minimized…
“Had the Ministry of Transportation & Highways been protected as a vital civil service, like schools or hospitals, the damage to BC’s transportation infrastructure would have been substantially reduced. Workers with private contractors may make a valiant effort, but they lack the resources to provide the services the province requires in an era of increasingly frequent and extreme weather events.
The petition then makes the following demands:
1) The immediate repatriation of The Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure and BC Ferries as a civil service, to the People of British Columbia, based on the model used at the time of privatization, with obvious consideration given to changes in technology & current environmental needs;
2) To ensure free, prior, and informed consent with respect to infrastructure projects proposed within indigenous territories, consultation be implemented with First Nations in all planning, & priority be given to First Nations communities in training & hiring for infrastructure located on tribal lands.
For these stated purposes:
1) To prepare for the effects of climate change on our infrastructure;
2) To provide for the safety, security, & well being of the People of British Columbia;
3) To provide thousands of good jobs for the people of British Columbia;
4) To plan for a sustainable future;
5) To depoliticize spending for Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure;
6) To benefit from the knowledge & experience of previous Ministry of Transportation & Highways employees who still exist & are able to assist in such repatriation.
On December 9th, the petition has received 3,311 signatures toward its 5000 signature goal.