Competitive streak



Here then are Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest making more damn-fool noise about a high-speed rail in Canada. Canada? Don’t they know Canadians throughout their history have resisted using railroads as a tool for economic development, transport and competitiveness?

This corner, it must be said, inexplicably remains attached to the idea of introducing high-speed rail to Canada. Here is a column I wrote on the topic last year.

Readers can, should, and will feel free to dismiss the whole idea. When they do, they will have much in common with Canadian political leaders going back almost to the first. But you should know it’s not a hypothetical question, because the picture above is an only slightly fanciful map of European high-speed rail as it may look by the 2020s, which is realistically the earliest moment at which Canada could string together a single piddling line of moderately frisky rail between, like, Montreal and Toronto. Fast rail from Portugal to Poland, from Italy to Sweden, with new technology shaving transit times every year. Is it really pie-in-the-sky to wonder why we don’t even begin to consider this?

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Competitive streak

  1. Gee, mebbe these ideas can come up before an election campaign. That’d be a helluvan infrastructure investment, but you know, money’s quite tight. Oh! Oh! How about we stop spending $ on things like Avi Lewis flying to Oz and Granny flaunting her vid in Soweto, and thousands of other stupid things our governments do with our money: Presto! Pay down the debt, cut taxes AND start turning shovels on the Wells Choo-Choo Line from Détroit to Québec: (French translation, more or less: La ligne de la Nouvelle France comme elle aurait pu être). I’m sure we can all justify the federal expense by promising a Rocky Mountain spur and a Green-Gables line, to make it a truly national project sometime in the next millenium.

    Better yet, if it’s such a smashing idea, maybe Lavalin & Bombardier would like to risk its own investment $ on building a line and profiting from its use. Oh, wait, Bombardier doesn’t risk its own money, it risks ours…

  2. “Readers can, should, and will feel free to dismiss the whole idea. When they do, they will have much in common with Canadian political leaders going back almost to the first.”


  3. Bring on the tolls and private administration of highways, absolutely, Paul. You’re making progress…

  4. Here comes a sheepish guilty confession of sin: I have even boarded a VIA train once or twice. Convincing me more than ever that government should get the H off the rails…

  5. Saying that VIA sucks, therefor ethe government should stay out of trains is not really an argument. One of the reasons VIA sucks is that government is not IN trains. Does VIA own its own tracks? No, it shares them with freight. And VIA is second class cargo. A high-speed train, on a dedicated line, beats the H out of flying in every single category, from price to convenience to time.

    At some point, I think Ontario and Quebec have to just forget about the federal government and do it themselves. If Harper (or the next PM whoever he or she may be) wants to take them to court, then so be it. And I think that if they do propose the line, they should deliberately leave Ottawa off of it.

    However, I think the better comparison with Europe will be the USA. Obama likes high speed rail and he will soon be sitting on several hundred billion dollars in infrastructure money. I don’t think it is farfetched to think that in 10 or 15 years there will be high speed links from Chicago to New York, Sacramento to San Diego, Miami to Tampa and Portland to the Canadian Border.

    And MYL, can you please name for me one long distance rail line that has been built without government money? Simply saying that something requires a subsidy does not ipso facto make it bad. you still have to make a case that it is not worthy of the subsidy.

  6. Canada was probably at it’s most powerful vis a vis the rest of the world towards the end of the 19th Century.

    Seems to me like we ought to try to get back to that.

    Forget high speed rail, let’s go back to steam engines.

    I’m also all for myl’s roads idea. I say we start installing toll booths at the foot of everyone’s driveway as soon as possible. Better yet, why do we have all these paved roads in the first place? I have two perfectly goo legs ending in feet. It’s nanny statism at it’s worst, coddling us all with roads when the vast majority of us are perfectly capable of walking. We all know the ancient Romans were communists, and it’s about time we put a stop to it.

    And don’t even get me started on bridges. What? People can’t be bothered to learn how to swim?

  7. Chris B: A high-speed train, on a dedicated line, beats the H out of flying in every single category, from price to convenience to time.

    Wonderful. Sounds like a venture that would be hugely popular, and quite profitable. Maybe somebody should start a business running high-speed rail between city centres that are not too far, like Mtl-Ott-Tor, and like Edm-Cal. Oh wait, it only beats air travel when all taxpayers foot the bill…?

  8. Chris B, my right wing laments that there is NO big business venture anymore that seems to escape sucking on my paycheque. I doubt very much that there is a major rail line that has not siphoned off the labour of productive citizens somewhere. Simply saying that it always requires a subsidy does not ipso facto make it good.

  9. [i]Oh wait, it only beats air travel when all taxpayers foot the bill…?[/i]

    Again merely saying “it gets subsidies therefore it is bad” is not an argument. There are OTHER policy outcomes that will come out of an investment in high speed rail. I think these are worth the investment.

    We have air travel today because a long time ago GOVERNMENTS went out and bought land to make airports. Those costs were charged to all taxpayers, on the understanding thatthey woud make most peoples lives better and the country stronger.

    So simply because air travel was subsidized by a previous generation of taxpayer, it is somehow purer? or are you being shortsighted and not doing for the next generation what the previous few have done for you viz. make your life better.

  10. LKO, governments “run” aerospace, airports, roads, bridges, ostensibly for the benefit of the citizenry. Cool, I am all for infrastructure that works. For air travel, more or less, it is user pay. Taxes, fees, tarrifs manage to overpower the priceof the ticket itself. The more you fly, the more you pay for the air travel infrastructure. No problemo.

    Roads? A brilliant idea to permit flexible travel by smaller units (cars). Gas taxes come closest to a toll on road use, but the government won’t maintain the road network in any decent shape because it prefers to blow the $ on some other sexy vote-buying project, like either still more roads somewhere else, or something else all together. But what happens if you slash gas taxes and slap tolls on roads operated by businesses? All of a sudden there is incentive to have well-kept highways to encourage customers to use the highway of whichever business wants the business.

    Bridges? Expensive structures that need to stay up. Tolls, more tolls!

    High-speed rail? All of a sudden the bilions have to be spent by taxpayers, to subsidize those who are in a hurry to get from downtown to downtown, all the while enjoying the comfort of not driving, catching up on work, chatting on a cellphone, whatever. Try to charge the high-speed rail customer the true cost of the service, including a reasonably amortized contribution for the infrastructure itself, and all of a sudden there are no customers. That should tell us something.

  11. Trains good. Make cuts into the defence budget. Build trains, lots of them.

  12. I drive the highway between Edmonton and Calgary two or three times a month. There are hundreds – no, thousands – of vehicles doing the same thing, spewing pollutants into the air. It takes three hours. To fly takes three hours also, if you take into account getting to the airport and waiting for the plane etc etc, especially as Edmonton located their airport halfway to Red Deer. A high speed rail link would take less than ninety minutes, downtown to downtown. The terrain is flat and there are no obstacles in the way e.g. mountains. Do we build one? Of course not – just waste our billions on rebate checks. Our grandchildren will curse us.

  13. Barry, are you willing to pay FULL PRICE for a business to build, maintain and profitably operate a high-speed rail line between Edmonton and Calgary? Or do you expect every Albertan to forego their Ralphbucks so you can feel better about telling your grandkids that you don’t drive between the two cities?

    People who really, really want to zip fast between cities for some reason really, really don’t want to pay for that luxury themselves.

  14. If Ottawa refuses to consider bringing “any” trains to most of the rest of the country, why should more of my taxes go toward subsidizing yet another service that I will never see. Build a railroad coast to coast – give people a reason to use it, jack up gas taxes to pay for it. Otherwise, quit whining and let Charest and McGuinty pay for their own darn trains.

  15. Barry, the Red Arrow still runs through Red Deer. If you are truly ashamed of the carbon you spew from your zoom-zoom, maybe you would like to take the bus? Downtown-to-Downtowm: 3 hrs by express. You will have reduced your carbon footprint AND saved the taxpayer oodles so that s/he may invest that $ in current & future prosperity, including for the grandkids. Hey, maybe with all the money you Albertans have saved, some of you enterprising folk may want to invest in a high-speed rail venture. Saw this hot tip online, see, apparently it’s a slam dunk money-maker…

  16. Charest and McGuinty doing it themselves translates as demanding that the feds pay for 2/3rd’s in preimier-speak.

    Wasn’t there a successful ballot initiative in California for a High-speed train?

  17. Long-time readers will know that MYL is also in favour of private, pay-as-you-go sewage treatment plants. He puts the mu in communis bonum.

    I’m totally in favour of this. Who would not be? The problem with the existing VIA service is that it takes so goddamn long. If you could cut the Toronto-Montreal trip from 5+ hours to 3, everybody and his brother would be lining up to ride the rails. With 5+ (including obligatory unforeseen standstill at Brockville), it effectively takes the whole day; but 3 hours would be noticeably quicker than cab+plane+cab.

    Hey, they could even let taxpayers buy shares.

  18. Incidentally, did they ever figure out how to coordinate the tracks between France and Germany on high-speed rail?

  19. I’m certain MYL’s distaste for public money spent on anything less than limousines for Bev Oda is honest; but a venture like HS rail will only happen, and is only happening elsewhere, due to gov’t involvement. Whether it means getting in the front door, or the back door, the gov’t is there. It seems there is slightly better chance of a good investment when it involves up-front funds and sponsorship of the idea — but just backing and helping people like Bombardier meet its payroll and finding corners of the world to expand also works, just less accountability.
    Of course, the first would require a gov’t with vision; the second, only a gov’t who’ll settle for votes. Seems like we currently have the latter.

  20. No-one denies that a high-speed train would bring benefits.

    The thing is, it also brings costs. And whenever I see a project whose boosters are people who will get paid real cash, paid for by people who may or may not see benefits that would justify those costs, I put on my anti-rose-coloured glasses.

    “Gee, wouldn’t it be neat!” is most emphatically NOT a convincing argument. Any government can make any city as well-off as Nancy. The hard part is persuading people those who don’t have the good fortune to live in Nancy to reduce their standard of living in order to bring that about to pass.

  21. Stephen Gordon: “The hard part is persuading people those who don’t have the good fortune to live in Nancy to reduce their standard of living in order to bring that about”

    Yeah, but, here’s the thing: the cities pay the lion’s share of taxes; they subsidise the hinterland to no end. Why shouldn’t they get a little something once in a while, especially when it will yield communal dividends in the future?

  22. I suppose we could. But maybe it’d be cheaper an easier to generate those benefits by sending cheques to residents of the Quebec City-Windsor corridor.

  23. So when will Macleans fork out the mega-$$$ and put in a preview feature?


  24. I just don’t think that uber-expensive European or Japanese style high-speed rail is necessary or even makes sense with our population density.

    Even with the current service — with level crossings and the like — the LRC from Montreal to Toronto is faster than car. Modest enhancements could improve on that.

    I was dismayed to see the California has opted for a high-speed bullet train-type system, when an Acela service with improved tracking (AMTRAK’s Northeast corrider system is hampered by having to share track) could deliver perfectly fine service, for half the cost.

  25. Jack, you keep misrepresenting me and I might have to start not liking you. Publich health and safety infrastructure can ONLY properly be handled by government. And if the dab gummint wasn’t so busy fussing with other superfluous stuff, it might even one day do a half-decent job of what it’s s’posed to.

    The road network pretty much goes everywhere, so all taxpayers and gasoline buyers pay. But I wish superhighways would have tolls. Forcing a family of five in Flin Flon to fork out for Jack’s comfy fast bullet to Montreal (and sparing him the indignity of a few minutes in Brockville) or so Barry can brag to his grandkids that cash was confiscated from everyone so he wouldn’t have to take the bus to Edmonton: immoral.

    You’ze guys want to pay the $975 one-way ticket to zip to your destination in speed, comfort and style, be my guest. Don’t make the rest of us go halves with you, that’s all.

  26. I would like to see some high-speed rail on Yonge Street.

  27. I missed a few nonsensical outbursts earlier so here goes.

    Blues Clair:
    Trains good. Make cuts into the defence budget. Build trains, lots of them. It no longer being the job of a federal government to provide for the common defence, apparently. Did somebody amend the Constitution while I was napping? Are federal powers now amended to “hauling fat asses hither and yon at great speed”…? Wow, Meech and Charlottetown ain’t got nothing on that one; I am sorry I missed that referendum.

    Yeah, but, here’s the thing: the cities pay the lion’s share of taxes; they subsidise the hinterland to no end. Why shouldn’t they get a little something once in a while… It being too much to consider that what everyone might deserve is a little more freedom from our stifling public debt and/or less taxes. The hick folk get subsidized. More! More! Shower the cities with more! This way lies insanity. Shh, everyone, what’s that Jack? You feel like a five-course dinner at the Royal York, followed by “good seats” at the next Lakers-Raptors game at ACC? Why sure, hold on a sec, I’m sure there’s a grant you could apply for somewhere, let’s have a look in the catalogue, shall we…

  28. I like this plan. Give GM/Ford/Chrysler taxpayer money to keep them afloat and building unwanted vehicles, then use taxpayer money to build a train so people won’t have to buy cars. Win – Win.

    Would someone care to explain all the benefits that highspeed rail is supposed to bring? I kind of get the value of it in Europe, but what exactly will it do for Windsor – Montreal or Calgary – Edmonton? Seems like quite a stretch to me. I mean, whole the heck has to get to Edmonton or Windsor fast anyway?

  29. MYL says: “Chris B, my right wing laments that there is NO big business venture anymore that seems to escape sucking on my paycheque.”

    Why don’t you divulge in what industry/commerce/gov’t job you “earn” your paycheque so that we can give your situation equally obsessive criticism.

    Past encounters suggest you have been a recipient of a highly subsidized public education. What other trough are you currently drinking out of, that might lead me to believe you are totally hypocritical?

  30. Dot, thank you for pointing out how worthless my opinions are because I might have stayed in school.

    As to my present occupation, well, Dot, what would make you happy?

    A) I am a dairy farmer, on an inefficient family farm sitting on a mountain of equity in this certificate that says I can milk 25 cows and sell the milk at grossly inflated prices to Sealtest.

    B) I am unemployed, living off generous EI benefits while I spend all day surfing the internet, um, looking for work, of course.

    C) I am a graduate student, currently slaving away in the eleventh year of my three-year program, cursing the evil governments for daring to support my essential learning by offering student loans instead of grants, the heartless neocon bastards.

    D) I am a fisherman, overlapping an awful lot with (B) above.

    E) I am a middle manager for a federal government department, supervising twenty employees on my half floor, and some supervisory role over a dozen others in an office I’ve never been to that opened up a 90-minute drive away in the riding of some MP with pull. Don’t ask me what we do all day, none of us are sure either. But at least everything is filed by about 2:30 PM and we can migrate to the foosball at the bar across the street.

    F) I am an immigrant to Canada for the last seven years, working two shifts at Mac’s Milk and a half shift for a friend whenever I can at the Esso across the street, in order to make ends meet so that I can bring my TB-suffering parents over here from my country. I hope they will be able to say “please” and “thank you” in English before they die.

    G) I am an Ojibway-white halfbreed; neither race wants me, so I spend most evenings staying warm at the public library and surfing the net when no one else wants to get around the family filters to check out naughty pictures.

    H) I am the wife of a Canadian soldier on his second posting to Kandahar. The evenings are really the hardest. Blues, can we please please please hold off on those nifty trains so that Eric and his buddies can protect themselves from the Talib with a couple more drones?

    I) I am a nurse fed up with all the forced overtime because so many of my colleagues are already in Texas. I am so stressed out I am ready to pop a gasket. As far as I know I haven’t killed anyone from being so dog-tired… yet. Where’s that Houston brochure again…

    You like any of those, Dot?

  31. This is typical you. You harp wide and far, criticizing others, yet when confronted with stating your actual situation (so we can equally scrutinize it), you blather on, avoiding the issue.

    You pick one, the actual one, and I will slice and dice it as effectively as you do to anyone else that you, for whatever reason, don’t qualify to be in their same company.

  32. Why? Simple. Improved mass transit saves energy and reduces pollution, including carbon emissions. Instead of spending on highways or airports, we should be spending on rail. We NEED the SUPERTRAIN!! Quebec City to Montreal to Toronto to Detroit to CHICAGO, home of OBAMA!!

  33. Maybe Dot can share with us what sort of occupations would make it hypocritical to wish we could all respect the taxpayer a litle more. If s/he can convince me, maybe I will have to convert and start advocating for still more and more government expenditure in every aspect of society, the taxpayer be damned. I’m sure it can’t be all bad, having such a philosophy — Lord knows I would have many like minded friends here at Blog Central.

  34. Case in point.

  35. I like Shawn’s point about the existing service in the corridor – eliminating the level crossings would go a long way toward speeding up the service while improving rail service as well. It would also cut down on accidents, speed up traffic on the roads that cross the rails, benefit freight and allow MPs to attend ribbon-cuttings. Same applies to any part of the country where there’s rail.

    One thing to consider – sometimes, investments in one area can remove the need for investments in another. Perhaps $1 billion in rail could remove the need for highway widening that costs $2 billion.

    And to go back to the airport question – the airports are paying for themselves now, but initially air travel was only for the well-heeled. Plane travel wasn’t widely available to us proles only a few decades ago. So could this be seen as an area where a strategic government investment paid off in the long run?

  36. Hm. DJ brings up the billion-saved-is-two-billion-earned argument. I would have to hazard a guess that a km of new high-speed dedicated track would cost a wee bit more than a km of added a lane in each direction to the 401, where “wee bit” means “gobs and gobs.”

    But I’ll bite. Oh mister conducter Wells, can you tell us passengers how many billion$ you figure it would cost for bidirectional high-speed trains on dedicated track (with no level crossings and separation from wandering wildlife) from Quebec City through Trois-Rivières, Drummondville, Montréal Downtown, Trudeau Airport, Hudson, Ottawa, Smiths Falls, Kingston, Peterborough, Oshawa, Toronto, Pearson Airport, Aldershot, Kitchener, London, Windsor? Sorry, Cornwall, this train is so fast there will only be one line and it’ll go through the nation’s capital. At that price, do you think the contractor will throw in Lethbridge – Calgary – Airport – Red Deer – Airport – Edmonton – Grande Prairie at half price?

  37. Not sure how that applies to the Seigneurial system, but I’m sure MYL will soon tell us.

  38. Wow Dot and MYL, I’ve been missing out on all the fun. Never should have taken that job.

    I sense there’s a bit of a history to your back and forth, but I hope I don’t offend you if I say I find it highly amusing.

    I have to agree with the *one* person in this discussion who indicated that there might possibly be a difference between the travel needs of Europeans and Canadians that explains the outrageous lack of high-speed rail here in the Winter wastelands that go for thousands of miles between stops.

    Could it be that our population density doesn’t justify it? Nah, such an explanation would obviate the need for a high-level conspiracy of rail barons, oilmen and large auto manufacturers. Clearly the answer is for the government to waste billions of dollars on rail infrastructure so that we can ship boxes of air from one city to the next.

    Do you city people even have a clue how big this country is?

  39. Steve, you like us now, wait for the movie: in theatres everywhere by Christmas…

    No argument on the it’s-a-big-country point. But, to come to the defense, ever-so-slightly, of those who want to pry my loonies from my cold dead hands, there is no desire that I see for a coast-to-coast-to-Churchill TGV. My understanding is they want 30 million Canadians to fork over (or for the non-taxpayers, forego other programs) for a Quebec-Windsor corridor only.

  40. Uh-oh. Mister Wells! Mister Wells! Don’t send the specs out to tender yet! We have to throw in the need to protect this vital infrastructure from terrorist threat. Got that? Good, now let’s put out the ads and wait for the big brown envelopes from the bidders. What’s that? Oh, no, stand by, Paul… Turns out we need to add fifteen more stops on the line, seems some ridings’ constituents are getting pretty vocal and putting the heat on some MPs. What? ORLEANS? GLOUCESTER? NEPEAN? STITTSVILLE? Do they realize this is not the Ottawa commuter train crap that… Wtf, did they just say Mirabel Airport and Gatineau? Aaaargh! Ah well, you get government to get something done, this is what happens…

    (PS sorry Dot, was the seigneurial line for another thread? It lost me totally).

    Will check back tomorrow AM for Paul’s bid. Good night, all.

  41. myl: You do have to admit, however, that spending the money building something like this and paying all the various construction workers and sub-industries beats the hell out of giving that money in the form of bail-outs to companies like GM and Ford where a good chunk of it will be siphoned off to the US and Mexico.

  42. MYL, I hate to highjack Paul’s post for some basic polisci, but you may have noted that, in the untaxed paradise that was the 19th Century and points east, there was a major danger of anarchy and massacre from the aggrieved peasantry. Without taxes, all the good things in life (including highspeed and commuter rail) tend to accrue to the top. If the average workingman then made the salary in today’s dollars he does now, $975 would pretty much have been the price of a first-class ticket in the 19th Century. The ruling class could easily afford it because, relatively, their income was wildly larger. But in order to prevent revolution, we introduced taxes and started spending government money on common goods. So when the libertarian fit shall fall, sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud, just remember that taxes and gummint spending are a sort of bribe you give to humble folk so that they won’t, as formerly, rise up and cut your throat.

  43. I think the point one commenter made about population density explains nicely why Canada does not presently have high speed rail. That being said, our population has grown extensively and perhaps now the density of people between Windsor and Quebec City is such that such a project is now justifiable. There are some 20 million people living in what is a, relatively, fairly narrow strip.
    As to the question as to why the other provinces should help pay. I would say that this is what happens in a federation. At times you have to contribute to projects that improve the lives of people, but not necessarily yourself. Just as people in the East support the building of the Pacific Gateway project or helped fund the interest free loans that got the oil sands started. In the end such ventures make the entire country stronger. Not everything can be reduced to what it does for me exactly.
    Now I am not saying that HSR will necessarily be such a project. It depends on a lot of variables. But I do think that the time has come to start seriously considering it as a potentially viable and reasonable infrastructure project. Not just “dismiss the whole idea”.

  44. There Jack goes again. I object to billions ‘n billions of taxpayer $ to prevent him from cooling his heels by the Thousand Islands, and now he’s got peasants slitting my throat. Jack, please sit down and pay attention, this won’t take long. I am not anti-government and I am not anti-tax. I am anti-theft. There exist already many ways to economically move about in this country. You want hi-speed luxury? Pay for it y’self, full price, and leave the rest of us taxpayers out of it. It’s that simple, Jack et al.

    I admit it must be fun living in your world of infinite resources and easy choices on the application of everyone else’s finances confiscated for your whims. Over here in reality, where “Canadian political leaders going back almost to the first” have to live, the menu is way more restricted.

  45. MYL – Where did you get he $975 per ride figure from? Looking at California’s proposal, they estimate that the 1200km system will cost $45 Billion. Montreal to Toronto (via Ottawa) is 640km. So let us say that the cost for that line is $32 billion canadian. Obviously, in this day and age, there will be a PPP, so we will divy it up with teh Fed putting in $10b, the provinces $12b, and the private partner $10b.

    After the initial construction, they estimate that the sysem will turn a small profit, on fares set at $55 (SF to LA)

    So, for $10 Billion of federal money, we have the potential to have a small High Speed Rail network. To say that the users should have to pay for anything beyond the running is like saying that airport users should have to pay back the costs to build the airports. Or that automobile users should have to pay for roads that wee built in the past, using taxpayer dollars.

    We all recognise (I hope) that infrastructure is both expensive and necessary. Our gas taxes pay for road maintenance – they do not come anywhere close to road construction. Your argument would mean that we have no new infrastructure spending unless done on a user pay basis. Which would mean no new infrastructure spending outside of the cities (Can you imagine how much it would cost to rebuild the road to Flin Flon, on a per kilometre basis when you have to recoup that money from the users?)

  46. Always talking about Europe and their rail, never talking about how much higher the population density is. Has it ever occurred to you that we do not use rail because rail does not work here? Apply Occam’s razor, it really is the simplest explanation. There are probably only about 3 areas in the entire country where high speed rail would have the population density it needs, maybe between Calgary and Edmonton, between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa possibly, and maybe there are only 2 areas after all. High speed rail between Saskatoon and Winnipeg, simply not feasible. Between Moncton and Quebec City, not feasible. I could go on.

    All the areas of the world with high speed rail are tiny countries with huge populations, millions of riders per day.

  47. I don’t believe a high speed rail will be built anytime soon. There is very little public demand for it and I wonder how many people who don’t already use VIA will stop using their cars because of TGV. I don’t think there will be that many, at least not enough to make the service sustainable without subsidies.

    Does anyone know if high speed trains can carry goods? It might make economic sense to build the line if the trains could carry goods between Montreal and Windsor and the massive trucks that now clog the 401 were taken off the roads.

  48. Chris, that $975 fare was pulled out of thin air. It was meant to highlight a guess (not an estimate, but that hair splitting is for Kady Vancouver South recount post) of a prohibitively expensive fare that would be charged if user paid full costs plus profit to the private enterprise that builds and operates this luxury. My point is that, with user-pay for full costs, your customers disappear: ignore that truth at your peril, fellow taxpayers.

    You see an affordable fare for users when two levels of government siphon off the taxpayer pool to contribute what looks like roughly two-thirds of the cost. The private P in PPP then gets to make operating profits on only a third of the “true” investment. I call “stop” because there is a boondoggle in the making with that siphoning. See above, Gatineau is really pushing big-time to have a federally funded modern station on this fantastic new rail line. Repeat for any number of communities within an hour’s drive of the proposed line. (preemptive to Chris: again, Gatineau as an example is pulled from thin air…)

    And it might not surprise you to learn that I believe air travellers and air cargo users SHOULD be contributing to the capital cost of the original construction. A case can be made about the need for a widely distributed road network as an ESSENTIAL social good, so capital costs go to the state. But let’s look at operating and some capital costs to the road network and make sure that gets recouped as much as possible in a combo of gas taxes and tolls. Prepare yourselves to embrace, lefties, for I am happy to allow that this may mean that gas taxes should even be raised.

    JWL, I will happily defer to someone who knows, but I think that freight ends up not going high-speed where facilities exist because the weight makes it extremely expensive to move fast. I suppose there could be some limited courier service just like intercity buses do now, but I doubt any high-speed network gets the job of the very heavy lifting. Can anyone confirm?

  49. France – Population density 113/km

    Southern Ontario – Population density 120/km (11.75 Million people in 122K sq. km – this is following the Ottawa River)

  50. “freight ends up not going high-speed where facilities exist because the weight makes it extremely expensive to move fast.”


    That is my impression as well but I don’t know for certain either. I think the only way a high speed train makes economic sense is if businesses can ship their goods on the trains. If the TGV is going to be solely a passenger service, it won’t be built for a very long time, but decent arguments can be made for a service that moves freight as well as people.

  51. While the map of Europe is enticing – and I LOVE traveling by rail – I think it would be instructive to see an overlay of the Canadian map in scale that graphically illustrates both the distances involved, and the differing population densities over those distances. High-speed rail seems like a good idea for SW Ontario and into Montreal, but other than that, I have the same concerns as Kevin in SK.

  52. In the first phase, a high-speed rail line between Toronto and Montreal through Ottawa would probably cost in the neighbourhood of $7 billion. Once the capital costs are in, the line would likely be decently profitable from an operational perspective. The fringe benefits are: fewer cars driving the 401 through eastern Ontario, possibly allowing the deferral of widening the 401 to the Quebec border at a cost of billions. It would also extend the lifespan of Pearson’s new terminal infrastructure, which could be at capacity much earlier than planned. As there is little room for improvement on Pearson after the complete rebuilding of it, the option would be to add another airport in Pickering at a cost of billions and the headache of connecting the two airports for connections between flights. Add to this the potential to discontinue money-losing Via rail service between Mtl-Toronto. Then there economic trickle-down of the spend, which usually results in 30 cents on the dollar or so in incremental government tax revenue.

    Now, Toronto contributes a lot to the federal government’s coffers, is rather congested, and would benefit considerably from this service. If the feds kicked in 1/3 of $7 billion and amortized it over 10 years, it would be a rounding error in their budget (the federal government will probably collect $2.5 – $3 trillion in tax revenue in that time).

    Why are so many of you so hysterically opposed? Why is this so different from government support of other infrastructure that will support economic growth?

  53. I can’t for the life of me think of anyone who is seriously suggesting high-speed rail between Regina and Churchill.

  54. jwl and myl

    Next time you are near a freight yard, watch how long it takes to couple/uncouple cars and move the freight.

    You are taling about two different animals and two entirely separate business cases.

    “Now boardng the high speed bauxite car to Chicago, followed on track two by the Canola Clipper from Regina”

  55. And Andrew, to be fair, I’m not sure anyone here is hysterically opposed. They seem quite contentedly opposed, in the manner of people who will probably keep winning an argument. It is true that, just as I can confect an interest in high-speed rail, anyone else could confect an interest in, say, building a proper subway system in Calgary or funding a decent national home-care system. Or someone else could defend the idea of doing none of these things and saving the money instead. I’m a little surprised that everyone keeps taking yet another run at MYL; he’s not going to change his mind, and he doesn’t seem to be changing anyone else’s.

  56. I am just enjoying the argument with MYL. Obviously neither of us is going to change our minds. He at least has a coherent, no/low subsidy argument.

  57. I too have been enjoying the debate (else I wouldn’t keep on keepin’ on). Although Jack’s threat to unleash the mob of knife wielding starving Canadians had me worried for a little while…

  58. I wonder if just having dedicated passenger track would get us partway there. I had the privilege of travelling cross-country on VIA (Toronto to Jasper) – and it seemed that once every hour or two we would have to stop on a siding to let a CN freight go by. Sometimes that meant stopping and sitting for twenty minutes or more. I’m not suggesting a third cross-country route, nor am I suggesting that the existing track be twinned (although that would speed up freight as well). But in higher traffic areas like the corridor, just having dedicated passenger tracks (like the GO has in parts of the GTA) could take us halfway there. Otherwise, I still say that improving the existing corridor with more grade separations, bypassing larger cities, etc. could improve things for freight and road traffic.

    As for the Edmonton-Calgary corridor, has any private sector investor expressed any interest in a rail service? Or is it just something that proponents have suggested that the provincial / federal government do?

  59. I’m sure we can all justify the federal expense by promising a Rocky Mountain spur and a Green-Gables line, to make it a truly national project sometime in the next millenium.

    This skepticism only makes sense if you assume that all current and future spending is fixed. Along with T. Thwim, I’d far prefer the government spend money on this type of forward-thinking transportation policy as opposed to, say, bailing out a failing, uncompetitive auto sector. People can lose jobs in the auto sector, and find them in the high speed rail sector. All they will have to do is trade in their car-makin’ tools for train-makin’ tools. Bingo Bango. (ps It works out pretty easy in my head.)

  60. I’m a little surprised that everyone keeps taking yet another run at MYL;

    Everything in small doses.

  61. “In the first phase, a high-speed rail line between Toronto and Montreal through Ottawa would probably cost in the neighbourhood of $7 billion.”


    I think you are feeling rather pollyannish this morning. Don’t know where you got that number from but I have been looking around a bit and the only feasibility study completed so far was in ’96 and it estimated $18 billion for line between Montreal and Windsor, I think (it might be Quebec City). According to cbc article published in Jan ’08, it would now cost $23 billion to build tgv, inflation included.

    So we are looking at least a $23 billion expenditure and that’s only if you believe governments ever get their estimated costs correct, which I don’t. I would be willing to bet that the cost would spiral above $30 billion quickly and we would be throwing good money after bad.

  62. 23 to 30 billion. Wow, that’s a lot of professors in a lot of university departments, eh Paul? Any other bids?

  63. I can’t for the life of me think of anyone who is seriously suggesting high-speed rail between Regina and Churchill.

    How about between Halifax and Sydney, Cape Breton Island? Probably just a “seat of the pants” idea from some green leader in the last election.

  64. Hey, I already came in with my $32 Billion, which was arrived at by halving the California estimate ($45 Billion for 1225 km), converting to Canadian dollars and adding 15% for cost overruns.

  65. With oil at $59/barrel – WTF, BTW – it doesn’t make much sense. Never having had a car while living in Ontario, I had not grasped how cheap it is to drive from Toronto to Ottawa until a friend gave me a lift the other day. Like, whoa, cheap city, makes the bus look expensive. (I didn’t chip in on her insurance, car payments, or anything, cad that I am, but still.) If gas is $0.85 at the pump, the non-business traveller ain’t gonna take the train.

    BUT — how long is it possible for this cheap gas world to last? 10 years, 15 years tops? Less, if anything goes majorly wrong in the Mideast? It’s quite clear that the future of the planet lies in mass transportation not in cars. The only real question is when we start planning for the future. In the case of our anti-theft comrades, that will be when the mob is at the doors of the Tuileries; for Mr. Wells it’s today; for Canada it will presumably be somewhere in between.

  66. An especially unique feature of the French TGV is its relatively low construction costs. The first TGV Sud-Est cost just $4 million per km, the lowest figure worldwide (Table 1). More recent projects cost about $10 million per km and the newest TGV Méditerranée with seven long viaducts (17.155 km) and one long tunnel (12.768 km) still cost only $15 million per km.

    source: http://www.jrtr.net/jrtr40/f22_ard.html

    Toronto to Montreal is about 540 km. I’m sure you can do the math, but that works out to about $5 billion – $8 billion, plus trainsets. I’m not sure if that cost estimate includes land costs, but I doubt they’d amount to $15 billion as you suggest.

  67. From way up:

    “Long-time readers will know that MYL is also in favour of private, pay-as-you-go sewage treatment plants.”

    Isn’t that kind of like being for pay-as-you-throw garbage disposal like those free-market right-wing ideologues on Toronto City Council? Or using smart meters to measure electricity use like those anti-government nutbars at Queen’s Park? Or making people pay for their own GHG emissions as proposed in some form or another by pretty much everyone? Pay-as-you-go sewage treatment isn’t that ridiculous if you look at where governments have been going. If you can meaure the water going in, why not measure the water going out and make consumers pay for the treatment of it? Then we could cut my taxes.

  68. What can I say? I’m a one-man libertarian think-tank. Just take my withering irony and implement it.

  69. Would love a high-speed train. I love VIA rail. Best way to travel to TO on business by far. Comfort. Easy to work with your laptop. Get drunk. High-speed just means get drunk faster.

  70. Ontario’s and Quebec’s future are agricultural. As manufacturing declines so must the population. They are going to have to move to the work as Atlantic Canadians were obliged to do. Why build a rail line in an area of the country with such limited prospects?

  71. “Ontario’s and Quebec’s future are agricultural. As manufacturing declines so must the population. They are going to have to move to the work as Atlantic Canadians were obliged to do. Why build a rail line in an area of the country with such limited prospects?”

    So now a region that is barely in recession is ‘a place with limited prospects’? Also, the region that utterly dominates finance, telecom, transportation, software, food processing, etc. industries in this country has no prospects? That’s just insane. I’d be more concerned about Alberta and its rapidly depleting fresh water supplies. When the glaciers are gone, it’s going to get ugly.

  72. Careful what you wish for, sbt. Jack’s now mobilizing the throat slitters to start throwing sewage out second story windows onto the city streets below.

    Dot, if you promise not to overdose, can you enlighten me on the seigneurial line from last night? I’m sure I should have figured out the reference but I am genuinely not on your plane of thought…

  73. ” finance, telecom, transportation, software, food processing,”

    Yeah, big winners all.

    The region is about making stuff and sending it out via the St. Lawrence seaway. That’s as over as the Big Three Auto makers. Things change, adapt. Or are Ontario and Quebec “entitled”?

  74. de
    Maybe you didn’t notice but there are Toyota plants and Honda plants in Ontario, not to mention RIM and a million tiny IT companies. According to StatsCan, Ontario alone accounts for 40.6% of Canada’s GDP. Which is to say that if Ontario stops growth, Canada will not be in very good shape.

  75. It can’t migrate elsewhere? I thought the country went from sea to sea to sea. Industry must be in Ontario and Quebec? That doesn’t work very well in a national context. The growth can and will move to other centres. Why are Ontario and Quebec entitled to forever be the nexus? Isn’t change possible or is Canada one great tit for the center to milk. Why not situate those Honda plants in Halifax and put the finished product straight aboard a shipping container? The cheap energy to make stuff competitively is in Newfoundland. Are they supposed to transit that power and not offer tit o industry in their own province? Canada can be in great shape but not necessarily the same shape. Yesterday is not forever. Change or … don’t.

  76. de: Of course it can.. assuming as a factory owner you want to spend the money and time to build a new factory, train new people, establish new shipping routes, and develop new business relationships in the area.

    Of course, were I a factory owner, there’d have to be some pretty strong incentive to doing so. Something stronger than a random person saying “Their future is agricultural only.”

  77. Energy, water, wage levels. cost of shipping to markets, proximity to those markets, there are many incentives to go elsewhere. Cleveland was once a thriving center of industry. Power in Canada is busy finding reasons not to do things differently, rather than exploring the opportunities to do so. The failure of the current model is there for all to see. Populations shift naturally, why resist it? Or is Canada a unique case where the status quo is a permanent condition, a country where Ontario is always the point? And if that is the case, stop telling everybody otherwise and let them know they are mere colonies.

  78. Dot, if you promise not to overdose, can you enlighten me on the seigneurial line from last night? I’m sure I should have figured out the reference but I am genuinely not on your plane of thought…

    It was mostly a red herring. A flashback from a grade school history project on Jean Talon, the Great Intendant. New France, taxes, habitants building roads etc. that sort of thing.

  79. Am I the only one who sees another major obstacle? The automobile and air industries will do everything in their power to block such a project. Air Canada will threaten bankruptcy, GM and Ford will threaten to close more factories, and the government will cave into these industries.

  80. de: sounds to me like you’re a jealous on-looker from the hinterland. Ontario has quite a robust and resilient economy, and far more diversified than some of the darlings of the future like Alberta and Nfld.

    And the list you quoted are things that DON’T GET EXPORTED. No, we don’t put banks and insurance companies on freighters and ship them to Taiwan, any more than we put software developers writing code for mobile devices in container ships bound for Germany, or fill tankers with logistics firms, air carriers, etc.

    In other words, you aren’t making any kind of sense. What evidence do you have to support the hypothesis that Ontario is spiraling the drain? Challenges in manufacturing are one thing, but those are probably somewhat fleeting and not anywhere near the entirety of the Ontario economy.

  81. Banking? Insurance? Air Carriers? Tell me, you run a mutual fund, right?

  82. Hi, I’m Keith and I live in high-speed rail land Europe. I figure oil will snap back to $120+ levels in 2010 because the crash going on now will result in a lot of investment getting mothballed from the oil sands to asia. Same as post 1998 on a smaller scale. So at some point Canada will be wallowing in cash again.

    Soo.. if we really end up swimming in it like Dubai or Qatar, i think a much cooler investment would be Calgary to Vancouver fast rail on a new alignment.

    As an expat in Europe the only part of Canada that anyone cares about here are the Rockies and Vancouver. The Trans-Canada highway should really be upgraded to a proper freeway at some point across the difficult BC terrain, but that is a huge engineering challenge and probably needs some new alignments and will be super expensive. Imagine if you could quickly hit the okanagan, the columbia valley, Nelson, taking off from the country’s two fast-growing western metropolises. The tourism potential is there in full force and like so many things in Canada unknown to the world compared to what it deserves to be.
    We could probably open up a lot of those areas for population growth if it was actually half easy to get in and out of them, too. A new high-speed rail alignment could probably have a fast road through it too. By new alignment I mean cool stuff like the swooping viaducts and tunnels you see in places like Switzerland and parts of Italy…

    I guess my point is that at some point we’ll need a big infrastructure upgrade on that axis, the existing road and rail is slow and unsafe and doesn’t go through some of the coolest places Canada has, so why not focus on that if the government is going to blow huge dough on something neat/ nation building?

    Montreal-Toronto-Ottawa really doesn’t excite me. The business travel and population density and city centre to city centre travel just isn’t the same – laughable when I compare it to the scene that exists on my monthly eurostar travel..

    Madeyoulook, your catalogue of Canadian archetypes is awesome and I am saving myself a copy of that rant.

  83. Yes, MYL’s catalogue of Canadian archetypes is indeed awesome in a Archie Bunker sort of way. Of course he was a fictional character in a sitcom.

    Perhaps there is another archetype myl forgot to mention – the over educated under utilized angry white person who lives a Walter Mitty type existence on political blogs.

    As per your idea through BC – “Build it and they will come” seems a bit dream-ish.

  84. Keith, the Mtl-Ott-TO axis is much more highly traveled than Calgary-Vancouver. Besides, the two cities are far enough apart that air travel is more logical. Maybe one day… I can see Calgary-Edmonton, though.

    de: No, I work for a large retailer. One you probably shop at. I, and Ontario, appreciate your patronage.

    Btw. Toronto is the second fastest-growing city in Canada, beating Vancouver, St. John’s etc. I guess by your logic, those cities’ residents should decamp for the big smoke?

  85. the thing is that calgary-vancouver could CREATE a new axis. Right now there’s no axis, just a long, scenic mountain drive on a 2 lane road and lots of West Jet flights. Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto is highly travelled yes but I just don’t perceive that big a problem with the existing train service. getting from downtown to downtown in 3 hours instead of 4 1/2, whoopee.. plus most trips are probably like Mississauga to NDG meaning transfers to taxis and local transit.. no net gain..
    Just saying if you’re going to blow the bank on something unnecessary but cool….. actually make it cool and game changing

  86. I think there are a few more engineering challenges getting a highspeed train from Calgary to Vancouver. Not least is the enormous quantity of snow that comes avalanching down off the mountains.

    As far as the claim that Europeans don’t care about anything ther than the Rockies, there are enormous numbers of Germans coming to NS, French coming to Quebec etc.

  87. keith, Just saying if you’re going to blow the bank on something unnecessary but cool, then bloody well DON”T BLOW IT IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!! And Edith, get me another beer wouldjaeehhh?

  88. Having a viable rail network doesn’t mean you put high speed corridors everywhere. Quebec City to Windsor makes sense. I’m weak geographically on eastern Canada, perhaps Moncton could be added?
    Chicago-Winnipeg-Regina-Calgary-Edmonton makes sense, too.

    Hacking more tunnels through the Rockies or trying to subdue the Canadian Shield and swamps north of Superior to put in high speed service there probably doesn’t make sense, but regular effective rail travel could still work for those areas if it was madea priority and supported to the same level of subsidy as highway construction.

    That could feed travellers into the highspeed corridors, as would a combination of automobile and bus travel. If I knew that a high speed train service was on the end of a six hour bus ride, I might do that rather than drive all the way, or spend my time in airports eating $18 sandwiches.

    Effective use of regular rail travel would work as feeder

    A mix of high speed and effective regualr speed rail travel could do a lot to connect Canada. I’m not sure that hacking a line through northern Ontario is viable, but I could see a line working.

  89. Oh, and keith, thanx for the compliment. I credit that talent to my parasitic tendencies of obtaining a taxpayer-subsidized education, thereby invalidating any authority to speak up over real or imagined public expenditures. Dot will explain it to you.

  90. i’ll happily admit i hang out mostly with London investment bankers and Eurotrash so it may be somewhat distorted (like my values after living here) but am just reporting the truth as I hear it in conversation. It’s all Whistler Whistler Whistler and isn’t Vancouver cool and heli skiing in the Purcells and Banff. I’ve never met anyone whose eyes didn’t glaze over at the thought of Nova Scotia and the French just mock the Quebec accent and say yeah, Montreal would be a fun vacation someday, after I have seen all of Italy, Greek islands, Goa etc etc etc. The rockies and BC are the only internationally sexy part for the world’s upper end tourist, i’m telling you. Are there Germans who love the random wide open spaces of other places, and young French who can’t get jobs looking to emigrate to a more dynamic economy, sure. But there really is no comparison to the Rockies.

    The engineering WOULD be a challenge which is why it’s cool. Engineering overpasses over the 401 = zzzz

  91. Wasn’t Reykjavik one of the latest “in place” to be for the crowd you hang around with, or is that so yesterday for their fickle tastes?

    Seems to me I read somewhere that Iceland’s bankers , financial sector etc. needed major bailouts recently. Ask the mates next time you’re out for a pint for the details. I guess it’s back to the unsexy fish and geothermal stuff in the short term.

  92. Reykjavik was the hippest 1997-2000 period, i even knew some Toronto broker raver guys who would go there for a day to party.. used to be lots of cheap flights on Icelandair when oil was $200. The dudes from Blur recorded some records up there too. What is going on there now is wild.. It is probably headed back to hipness as it will be the new Latvia for stag parties, costing nothing .. to get Icelandic kroons you need to go on craigslist now to broker individual transactions since the banking system is no longer functioning. Amazing amazing story

    Think of me as the Sebastien character from Les Invasions Barbares, you know? Macleans should love that I am actually hanging out here, i am an awesome demographic for advertisers.

  93. Keith – right now the ads on my browser are Home Hardware and BMO. Not exactly big players in EUrope.

  94. but think if Ferrari started advertising on here! then Ken Whyte could fly Paul Wells back and forth to Paris on a Jetstream. that would rock!

  95. Sadly for the next 30 years I would rather have the madeyoulook prescription of tax cuts and small government instead of my awesome Kootenay Shinkansen. If Canada actually worked at retaining its own wealthy and attracting overseas wealth the way Switzerland does, then developing BC into Michelin-starred, TGV paradise with a few more million people to go with the vineyards and heli skiing would happen on its own.

  96. You need to also consider the cost and time of the Environmental Impact Assessment, the biggest inhibitor to development we have today.

    And, TGV’s require very tightly controlled and constructed track beds, so using existing freight lines is not an option. So now you have land aquisition cost .

    Next, you have the potential of a new double track with overhead power wires going through a bunch of people’s back yards, and in kicks the NIMBY syndrome.

    Before you ever get to contemplating high speed rail, it gets derailed. All you armchair engineers can envisage the trains and the prospect of cruising along the St Lawrence River at breakneck speed while enjoying a glass of sauterne and a slice of brie, but the social challenges of building this thing are huge, let alone the expense of the engineering and technical challenges. It would be easier out West, but we don’t have the ridership.

    High speed passenger rail service in this country is a pipe dream and if it weren’t, we’d have it already.

  97. Consider that high speed from Toronto to Montreal would cost about $8 billion. Given those ‘fun’ engineering challenges, a line between Calgary and Vancouver would probably cost $15 – $30 billion, and be far less used. It makes incredibly little sense to do the second but not the first. Any argument to that effect can only seem to be rooted in anti-Ontario sentiments.

  98. I thought we had all decided that the Montreal-TO line would cost $30 Billion? That whould put the Vancouver-Calgary line at ~ $120 Billion.

  99. People in the rural areas between Toronto and Mtl have reason to support high speed rail. The intermediate stations would allow them to quickly get to a major airport when they are travelling, rather than driving ridiculous distances or flying in for a connection. High speed rail would also be heavily used between the satellite cities around Toronto (Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and London) as commuter service and business travel.

  100. All of this? All of this is why we can’t have nice things.

  101. Agreed, Paul. I wish things like this were a whole lot less politically charged, and done on some quantitative basis, such as NPV or something.

  102. It gets dangerous when we expect GOVERNMENTS to provide the “nice things,” Paul. Governments should provide the essentials that cannot be reliably provided by any other mechanism, regulate to provide for health and safety in those areas where the private sector activities introduce communal risks, and should otherwise stay as much out of the way as possible.

  103. Your creed never gets old, does it, MYL? It’s just a showstopper every time.

  104. myl:

    Question: Is infrastructure ‘essential’? If some is, and some isn’t, what quantifiable measure would you use to identify each?

  105. A road network to enhance our economy, and to provide for public health and safety: essential infrastructure. Superhighways to lessen time between major centres: nice to have, should have tolls. Public transit within densely populated areas: essential infrastructure to reduce congestion on the road network infrastructure (although having private sector businesses compete for operations contracts could help on the cost and efficiency front by busting the monopolistic nature).

    It would be nice to visit Ottawa for the weekend: Planes, buses and cars exist. (Government funded) rail exists to burn diesel and lose taxpayer money, and to unfairly compete with private sector planes on price and private sector buses on speed and comfort. (Government-funded) high-speed rail would devour still more public treasure to even more unfairly compete with existing private sector ventures. If there is anything moral about everyone’s taxes joining WestJet’s and Greyhound’s taxes to contribute to prop up their competition that will never be burdened with a profitability requirement (VIA Rail and hi-speed rail), I don’t see it.

    It would be nice not to have sit idle for a few minutes on the tracks in Brockville: don’t get me started, apparently I have used up my allotment of showstoppers.

    There is a whiff of the diff between essential and nice.

  106. The thing is that some of us consider some things essential for national dignity, not just nice add-ons. As do you, MYL, to be sure; it’s just that we all differ on what that means.

    To take an obvious example, none of us would want a ratty old pinked Maple Leaf to fly from the Peace Tower, though a case could be made that taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be wasted on buying a new flag when the old one performs the essential service of identifying what country the building belongs to.

    So I guess it comes down to whether one finds it aesthetically acceptable that Canada should have a third world train system for the next thirty years.

  107. So I guess it comes down to whether one finds it aesthetically acceptable that Canada should have a third world train system for the next thirty years.

    Jack, the private sector abandoned passenger rail for a reason. The public sector took it over because the government just can’t help itself. It is NOT and never will be an essential service, and it is an immoral competition with an unfair competitive advantage over private sector alternatives to long-distance transportation, and it STILL sucks. So the acceptability problem is having a taxpayer supported passenger rail system at at all.

    The day we decide the federal government is responsible for national aesthetic acceptability is the day I go berserk on the comment threads. Oh, make up your own damn joke, people.

  108. Wait, you’re not going to take my ironic pink Maple Leaf example seriously, are you? I already got paid $3.50 in royalties for the earlier every-man-for-himself sewage treatment idea and I’m ashamed to say I put it towards a copy of The Anarchist Manifesto.

  109. Don’t flatter y’self, Jack. Read my reply. I ignored it completely.

    Your $3.50 would have been more usefully spent on an umbrella and thick rubber boots. I forgot to thank you for getting those folk to throw their sewage out their second floor windows. And I will continue to forget.

  110. Wait, did you ignore it before or after you wrote, “The day we decide the federal government is responsible for national aesthetic acceptability is the day I go berserk on the comment threads”? I mean, I meant it as some kind of common ground that there is a minimum of aesthetic dignity that we all want the government to maintain. An olive branch, if you will.

    I may save the rubber boots for the day you go beserk, MYL.

  111. Not only do you need to read what I wrote, you need to read what YOU wrote. The sentence I quoted from you has to do with a pretty choo-choo. My reply was about keeping governments away from pretty choo-choos. This whole thread is supposed to be about pretty choo-choos.

    Your ironic example remains justifiably ignored.

    D’oh! He just got me to comment on it! You’re a sneaky piece of work, Jack.

  112. MYL:

    Hydro-Quebec, nationalized by Jean Lesage’s Liberal Party by Rene Levesque as Resources Minister. Bad, ok, or good move?

  113. The point being, MYL, that some might feel that pretty choo-choos are up there with clean, fresh flags, i.e. that it’s all a question of taste.

  114. And if you have time, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. Wasted meddling?

  115. Dot,

    Excellent question. re Hydro-Québec:

    Good: Developed an undertapped resource. Provides carbon-free energy. Exports at higher export prices (than domestic prices) to benefit the public treasury.

    Bad: Displaced native communities by flooding them out, then poisoned them because mercury counts are way up in the fish they eat. Thousands of drowned caribou. Unfair theft-by-contract of Labrador hydro power. Astronomical public capital investment: taxpayers paid (and continue to pay) heavily so all could have cheap electricity. Energy conservation is dismal because electricity is so (relatively) cheap. Publicly-subsidized unfair competition to other private energy suppliers. Some people opt to pay their electric bills last (if ever) because government cannot afford the political hit of cutting off deadbeats in winter. Insane low price to Alcan smelter which effectively amounted to a taxpayer subsidy of a corporate welfare bum.

    Alternative: Declare which rivers will be dammed for hydroelectric power, and sell licenses to the highest bidder who will build the dam and sell the power.

    An argument can be made about public authority over “the grid,” much like the government has authority over the road network. But the marketplace of competitive energy suppliers (at both the production and retail level) has never had a chance.

    Answer by means of another question: Dot: Petro-Canada. Nationalized by Trudeau’s universally-loved NEP, if I recall. Bad, ok, or good move?

    And another question: What next? Should we nationalize forestry? Agriculture? Phone service? 1-900 phone sex lines? Plumbers? Accountants? Psychologists? Professional hockey leagues? Car mechanics? Bakeries? Banks (oh, wait…)? Costco?

    And yet another question: Why do we CONTINUE to nationalize (and in some of these examples monopolize under threat of legal penalty for daring to compete) broadcasting, western grain sales, passenger rail service, retail alcohol sales in most markets, postal delivery, health care insurance, campgrounds, commercial real estate rentals, casinos/lotteries…

  116. I will spare you an as detailed reply to the Caisse question, but yes, I object thoroughly to forced participation in a saving-for-the-future regime (so lump CPP in with QPP here). It tells us we’re too stupid to be trusted with our own responsibility for our future. It is yet another loss of individual freedom. It provides huuuuge stockpiles of $ to distort markets. And in the Caisse’s, um, case, it engaged in many a dumb “Québec Inc.” venture for nationalist pride and instant political returns rather than future financial growth. It provides a pension that will hopefully be a pittance compared to the retirement savings of most people.

    At least it isn’t as much of a craptacular Ponzi scheme like the USA’s social security, but still…

  117. Interesting, put not unpredictable view. I don’t claim to know a great deal about Quebec history or politics, but I was lead to believe that these two institutions. HydroQuebec and the Caisse formed the pillars of Lesage’s Maîtres chez nous policies that began to transform the province for the good. I gather you believe otherwise.

    Many believe that in large mega projects such as James Bay in Quebec, or similar efforts in BC or Ont, gov’t involvement is necessary, on certain aspects of infrastructure. But there is also a complementary role for IPPs etc. as you point out. High speed rail may fall into this category.

    As far as PetroCanada goes, not completely analogous. If I’m not mistaken, PC was around 1975. NEP was around 1980. And unlike a SaudiAramco, for example, only a very small percentage of the industry was nationalized.

    On a financial basis with hindsight,comparing it to say a Norsk Hydro, it was a bad move – more likely due to the fact that it was very poorly managed. But as I recall, the original intent of PetroCanada was to gain “a window on industry”. Unfortunately its mandate changed over time. But, you have to look at these things in context. You may recall that the Arab Oil embargo of 1973 resulted in much change in North America. Yes, Canada did follow the Nixon/Ford administration in enacting price controls on energy (domestic and world prices for oil), for example. And quite frankly, the Trudeau gov’t was getting conflicting messages on Canada’s domestic reserves and supplies from industry at that time – which no doubt prompted their move. Keep in mind that in a similar manner, the PC Alberta party had AECL (the predecessor to EnCana) and the PC Ontario Gov’t had a significant portion of Sunoco (the parent company of today’s Suncor) – both major private sector successes today.

    I won’t answer your other long list of examples as I perceive this to be more of over the hill rhetoric.

  118. MYL – given that people are historically not saving for their futures (for example, only 25%of Canadians contribute to an RRSP), I think the benefits of CPP (ensuring that people are not impoverished) outweigh the drawbacks.

    I mean it would be nice if everyone saved – I do – but one has to look at the reality and ask what is the long term interest of the country. Is it to live out some libertarian ideal or is it to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number?

  119. Btw , I didn’t follow this section: Astronomical public capital investment: taxpayers paid (and continue to pay) heavily so all could have cheap electricity. Energy conservation is dismal because electricity is so (relatively) cheap. Publicly-subsidized unfair competition to other private energy suppliers.

    Usually, electricity rates in a regulated industry are determined on a ROE basis . So, the “Astronomical public capital investment” would go into the utility’s rate base. These are historical costs (not present day costs) Financing charges etc. as well as operating expenses are added in, and a risk adjusted rate of return is applied to arrive at rates charged to consumers.

    It seems to me you are arguing that historical costs are inappropriate, and replacement costs (or competing costs from other technologies) should be used in determining how much an Alcan pays for example. Valid argument if so. Not unique. One would have to look closer as to the reasons why the resource was developed in the first place, and the current economic/competitive etc environment.

  120. “I think the benefits of CPP (ensuring that people are not impoverished) outweigh the drawbacks.”

    Especially since the operating parameters of the CPP were changed and it was permitted to invest in equities. It has thus far provided an excellent return on investment. To be honest, I would be happy for the CPP to save more on my behalf.

  121. “I think the benefits of mandatory daybreak exercise in front of city hall outweigh the drawbacks.” I mean it would be nice if everyone exercised – I do – but one has to look at the reality and ask what is the long term interest of the country.

    “I think the benefits of the war on drugs outweigh the drawbacks.” I mean it would be nice if everyone abstained – I do – but one has to look at the reality and ask what is the long term interest of the country.

    “I think the benefits of a ban on alcohol & tobacco outweigh the drawbacks.” I mean it would be nice if everyone abstained – I do – but one has to look at the reality and ask what is the long term interest of the country.

    “I think the benefits of a government license to procreate outweigh the drawbacks.” I mean it would be nice if everyone only had children if they were responsible enough to provide for their material and and educational emotional needs – I do – but one has to look at the reality and ask what is the long term interest of the country.

    “I think the benefits of the government assigning us our occupations at age 18 according to societal needs outweigh the drawbacks.” I mean it would be nice if everyone figured out what job the was in demand – I did – but one has to look at the reality and ask what is the long term interest of the country.

    “I think the benefits of evening inspectors to supervise our flossing of our teeth outweigh the drawbacks.” I mean it would be nice if everyone cared enough about dental hygiene – I do – but one has to look at the reality and ask what is the long term interest of the country.

    “I think the benefits of public investment in shaving an hour of the Mtl-Tor train ride outweigh the costs to all Canadian taxpayers.” I mean it would be nice if everyone stayed away from Toronto – I do – but one has to look at the reality and ask what is the long term interest of the country.

  122. Dot, government-backed bonds built the dams. If properly-priced electricity would pay off Hydro’s debt, I would agree that electricity consumers would be contributing to capital costs. But the debt remains, and the annual *cough* profits get sucked up by government rather than go to retire the debt. And why bother, since the government itself is up to eyeballs already. So the TAXPAYER remains on the hook for capital costs, and the CONSUMER enjoys cheap hydro-electric energy with zippo incentive to conserve.

    And Alcan got a sweetheart deal because the government wanted their factory in a particular region, and offered up the ransom. When the single shareholder of Hydro-Quebec is subjected to electoral whim, you get this sort of corporate welfare bumsmanship.

  123. The gov’t bonds that are still on the books, according to you, would be offset by the asset, HydroQuebec. If the utility were to be privatised, presumably the private sector would allow the rates to rise to reflect competitive rates in other jurisdictions. This means the value of the asset would also rise, reflective of the higher rates. I suspect the Gov’t of Quebec would make a handy return if privatized over its initial book value.

    Arguably, had the Gov’t of Quebec not been receiving a regulated dividend from HydroQuebec, and continued on with deficit spending, it would have had to take on similar levels of debt (relative to the increases beyond specific HQ bonds).

    So, isn’t the real issue that the Gov’t of Quebec has/is running deficits? Not that HQ is a crown corporation.

  124. And btw, Alcan has a similar history in BC with a different twist. Rather than entering into longterm contracts for electricity (as was the case in Quebec) they were granted water rights on a particular river and built their own generating facilities. As a result, they were able to generate electricity at extremely cheap rates – their competitive advantage.

    Same thing – just a different form. Presumably, they were the only bidder on those water rights at that time (WAC Bennett days?) – the process you appear to be advocating.

  125. If the utility were to be privatised…
    Guess you don’t know Quebec all that well, huh…
    There are ifs, and then there are as-ifs.

    As to the government’s “dividend” cheque: the Hydro-Québec debt “hides” somewhere so that the “profit” is seen as profit, with no debt retirement going on. The government continues in drunken sailor mode in its own general revenues and expenditures, claiming (bizarrely) annual balanced budgets as the debt keeps growing year over year, and the auditor general has the temerity to refuse to sign off on the books, saying things like “What about all those hospitals in deficit/debt, and universities, and Hydro-Quebec, and…”

    So yes, the Quebec gov’t has a swirl of issues. Falsely declaring the hydro-electric utility profitable while playing this shell game with the debt from its capital costs is but one of them.

  126. As to the subsidy you describe that BC sweethearted to Alcan, I am with you. It stinks there, too. If no attempt was made to assess fair market value, and there was but one bidder on the license to dam the river, it’s a sham. You need a market of buyers and sellers seeking to selfishly maximize the benefit to each’s own interests for things to work. Which is precisely where government activity so often fails. So why we keep wanting more of it in even more areas of society continues to amaze and astound.

  127. Yeah, but in the middle of nowhere, there may be but one bidder. Kitimat would not exist if not for the smelter.

    btw – check the balance sheet of any publicly traded company. Most will have debt. It’s called leverage, as you know.

  128. (Trying to steer the tangent back to the pretty choo-choos)

    Yeah, well, if a private company wants to exploit a high-speed rail operation, or any other business, that debt sharpens the mind a lot as the profitability of the operation gets assessed. By the company. And by current and prospective investors.

    If a government starts getting ideas about a high-speed rail operation, the debt is just something the taxpayer and future generations will have to put up with. There are votes to buy, kickbacks to manage, party contributions that curiously start appearing from every board member, CEO, CFO and manager from a certain company that just by coincidence is putting in a bid…

  129. Kitimat would not exist if not for the smelter.

    I will take your word for it. This GUARANTEES that the municipal, provincial and federal governments will forever be held hostage to the subsidy and special favour demands of the company. The phrases have been around for decades. Hey! I vote! I pay my taxes! How can the premier / PM be so uncaring and incompetent as to let 500 jobs disappear and let this town fall apart? How can I move? Who will buy my house in this ghost town? Boom: Another $30 million down the drain. Repeat in four years: $5 million grant and $15 million “loan” whose repayment terms, well let’s just say they don’t look like anything I saw in my mortgage contract or credit card agreement.

  130. Futile to debate with an ideologue, it’s a never ending moving target with unfounded claims and generalizations.

    I retire.

  131. Unrewarding having a conversation with a quitter, who thinks a rigid idealogue is also a never ending moving target. It ends with unsubstantiated accusations of unfounded claims and generalizations.

    The target’s right here, Dot: governments should do the minimum possible and let the people handle the rest themselves. When governments start getting involved in all sorts of places they don’t belong, they make a mess and restrict individual freedoms, at minimum by stealing our productivity in the form of taxes. That target doesn’t move, Dot. Fire when ready.

  132. Nah, doesn’t move, it just ignores whatever contradicts its premise.

  133. Anyone want to suggest that the pretty choo-choo, or anything else so far discussed, contradicts the premise of the moving/fixed target of the rigid idealogue?

  134. Look, MYL, could you argue like an adult for once?

  135. …?

  136. It doesn’t matter. No one cares about this topic since MYL went Ayn Rand (or whatever) on it.

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