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Vision, NPA both demonstrate need for remedial math as they issue scare stories about out-of-control spending

November 15th, 2011 · 29 Comments

Teaching statistics, math and polls to my journalism students this week, so I’ve got a wealth of material on my hands to use in class as examples of vague claims, misleading statistics, deceptive graphics, and other magical acts with numbers that the two major parties are performing.

Both parties have contributed. Vision started with a news conference Monday morning, aimed at kicking off a week themed “Don’t gamble on the NPA,” that outlined what the NPA’s campaign promises will cost.

Here’s the news release Vision issued on the wacky spending plans ($500 million in capital costs! $10 million in operating! A 5-per-cent tax increase!), which is missing some details. I’m copying them here below and they do provide a handy guide for what each party promised, if nothing else.

The problem with the Vision costing is that it jumbles up items that truly are new NPA promises and where there are hefty price tags attached (streetcar – $200 million; Vancouver Art Gallery gift – $40 million; restore 20 firefighter positions – $2.5 million; Red Tape Commissioner – $300,0oo; Vancouver Investment and Trade Authority: $300,000 and a few more) with items that Visionistas themselves have supported doing or that simply mean a re-ordering of priorities, as opposed to new money.

Many of the things in the list of capital items that Vision listed as NPA “promises” sound pretty necessary and worth doing to me: fixing pools, building cycle routes and greenways, developing sports hubs.

As well, since the capital priorities for the next three years are already set (you’re about to approve them when you vote Saturday), presumably these new items couldn’t be added anyway. They’d make good priorities for the next capital plan.

Louie said that the NPA might move push aside some of the items in this three-year capital plan to make room for their promises. Fine. But that’s not spending new money. That’s spending the same money but on different things.

Some were also items in Vision’s “promise” list, i.e. build 500 daycare spaces for $25 million. But Vision didn’t include that as part of the cost of their promises — apparently because they know where the money will come from, so they didn’t have to include it.

However, it’s unclear what the NPA plan are for funding those spaces, so the cost is included. Huh?

There was more like that.

Perhaps if Louie had had enough time, and reporters enough patience + math literacy, he could have made it sound understandable and plausible.

But the NPA’s math wingdingers don’t have that excuse. They’re just flat-out deliberately deceptive efforts to enrage the voting public, which the party seems to presume is really stupid about basic math. (They could be right, but always a mistake to count on voter dumbness.)

They try to shock over-burdened taxpayers by saying that taxes went up 15 per cent in three years, that city hall spending increased by $135 million over the three years overall, and that those profligate Visionistas increased spending on their own offices by 6 per cent.

As Mike Howell at the Courier pointed out, taxes under the NPA went up by 16 per cent in the previous three years.

As I point out, a 6-per-cent increase in office costs is barely over inflation. (According to CPI figures obtained from BC Stats, the B.C. ‘s consumer-price-index, aka inflation rate was 2.4 per cent in the past year, 1.3 per cent the previous year, and zero for 2008-2009.) A $135-million increase on a budget that started at $894 million doesn’t even keep up with population increase plus inflation. Around 40,000 people moved into Vancouver in the past three years, a six-per-cent increase. And for both increases, a big part was driven by a contract settled by the previous NPA administration that had 4-per-cent annual salary hikes.

The NPA’s statement in its release (the one with the stupid cartoons and the Take Back Vancouver campaign) also said it left Vision with $420 million in cash reserves that it could have used to keep taxes low. As the party well knows, Suzanne Anton would have howled like crazy if Vision had used reserve money — it’s set aside for special purposes.

But probably the most egregious example, one I showed my students today, was the bar graph on homeless statistics. It could easily be used as an illustration for the book “How to Lie With Statistics” (one of my favourites) when it is re-issued some day.

When you look at the graph (page 15 of the NPA’s platform, which can be found on their website), it’s constructed to look as those homelessness has doubled in the city. They did that by making the two bars start at the 1550 mark and then stretching out the 10-person increments to make it appear that a 25-person increase was enormous. (Of course, I’m not even addressing the fact that the graph compares the statistics from 2008 to 2011, which show an increase, and not the stats from 2010 to 2011, which show a decrease.)

For those who just can’t enough of this policy-drone stuff, please continue on for the items in Vision’s cost comparison and my comments.

 

VISION

Capital

– Landlord registry setup: $50,000

– New fire department vehicles: $250,000

– Civic engagement: $200,000

Why is “civic engagement” a capital cost? Usually capital means something physical that’s built. Are they building a new office for this?

TOTAL $500,000

Operating

I’m presuming these are all costs for a single year.

30 new police officers $4 million (by 2014)

– Free recreation days: $100,000

– Rent bank staffing: $100,000

– Firefighters: $500,000

– Attraction pass: $20,000

– Childcare operating cost: $300,000

TOTAL: $5 million

NPA

Capital

– Streetcar Line: $200 million

Unclear whether the city would have to put up all $200 million. If there were a P3 building this, the city would put up some money, the private partner would put up more and then the revenue from operations would pay back the loan from the private partner. Or? NPA has never been too clear on how this would work. For sure, the city would have to take on some of the debt and they have never made it clear whether the revenues they anticipate would cover off both the private partner’s loan and the city’s loan.

– Improvements to False Creek and Jericho facilities: $8.5 million

– Completion of Kent Street and rebuilding BC Parkway route: $1.3 million

– Central Valley Greenway to False Creek Flats Bridge: $6 million

All of the above could be potentially accommodated in the soon-to-be approved 2011-2014 capital plan. Would be helpful to know from the NPA whether this would mean dumping some existing projects and which ones.

– 500 new childcare spaces: $25 million

Still unclear to me why this is listed as a capital cost only for the NPA, when Vision also promised 500 new childcare spaces.

– VAG development rights on Cambie: $40 million

Unclear why Vision is saying this is a $40 million cost. The NPA’s proposal is to turn over the block to the VAG, on the condition it pay back $40 million that the city planned to get back from the property to pay for earlier improvements to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Previous stories say the amount the city wanted back was actually $48 million, by the way, so the NPA appears to be giving away $8 million. But $40 million? Not from what I can see.

– Rebuild failing swimming pools: $25 million

Sounds like a good project to me.

– Support re-development of sports/recreation hubs in Britannia and Kerrisdale: $60 million

Ditto

– Forego community amenity contribution for up-zoning St. Paul’s: $21 million

Quite confusing. Vision says they would never allow this tower, so there would be no $21 million under them. And the NPA hasn’t given any details on whether St. Paul’s would have to contribute a CAC. Fuzzy.

– Educational working farm: $500,000

Yes, something new that would have to be paid for out of increased taxes or cuts elsewhere.

– Independent review of downtown separated bike-lane trials: $100,000

Ditto

– Re-open Hastings Park master plan: $750,000

Ditto. But does it really take 3/4 of a million dollars to plan a park?

– Planning and consultation along Cambie Street, Oakridge to SW Marine: $1 million

I believe this would take a million to plan

– Update monitoring of bridges: $1 million

Have no idea what this is about, but monitoring bridges sounds like a good idea to me.

Operating

Most of the following really would take extra tax money or cuts elsewhere.

– Red tape commissioner: $300,000

– Expand Vancouver film office: $150,000

– Create Vancouver investment and trade authority: $300,000

– Create independent small-business liaison officer: $300,000

– Create lobbyist registry: $1 million

– Restore park board funding $4 million

Yup, this would definitely mean a tax increase or cuts elsewhere. But maybe the public supports this.

– Operating cost for Kent and BC Parkway bike routes: $300,000

– 15-year fire hall renewal: $125,000

How can you renew firehalls for only $125,000 a year? Is this the right number?

– Restore 20 firefighter positions: $2.5 million

– Create an independent Office of Neighbourhood Engagement: $300,000

This is similar to something Vision is proposing, though they peg it at $250,000

– Childcare operating cost: $300,000

Vision has this item as well in its costing.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Joseph Jones

    (you’re about to approve them when you vote Saturday)

    So, not really a vote?

  • “Central Valley Greenway to False Creek Flats Bridge: $6 million”

    I don’t know what the specifics are regarding this idea, but Ms. Anton mentioned it to me when I interviewed her for an article I wrote last year. I think it’s an idea that definitely deserves serious consideration as it would fill a big gap in the cycling network. If the NPA does take control of council I hope it doesn’t turn out to be the political equivalent of vapour-ware. If Vision gets in, I hope they swipe the idea and run with it. These days there’s a steady stream of cyclists using the separated bike path adjacent to Great Northern Way between Clark and Prince Edward/1st Ave. A bike/ped bridge to get across the railyard would make a lot of sense.

    Also, why no stairs from VCC station up to the west side of Clark Drive at Translink? Sucks to have to walk around and up the hill to go a minimal distance ‘as the crow flies’ and would make connecting with the #22 bus much easier.

  • Sorry, not ‘at Translink’ but rather ‘Clark Drive at Grandview Hwy North.

  • Frances Bula

    @Joseph. The last time Vancouverites rejected the referendum questions on capital spending was so long ago that I can’t even remember when it was.

  • mezzanine

    I’m cool to the idea of a streetcar. It would be a nucleus for a nice network in DT, but I think of it more as a grand neighbourhood improvement project, rather than a way for people to get around faster. Expansion of bike infrastructure IMO would imporve mobility choice in more areas in the city with relatively little capital cost.

    one thing i haven’t heard is any plans for a bike share system. From the city’s website the vision administration is planning for some pilot programs in spring 2012. I haven’t heard anything from either party about more detailed plans.

  • Agustin

    Frances, thank you for this excellent post, and thank you in particular for teaching math literacy to your journalism students. Far too many people are put off by math and so politicians get away with this kind of crap.

    I hope you are writing a story for the newspapers on this subject!

    That bar graph on the NPA platform, which attempted to show an increase in homelessness of about 1.7% like it was a 100% increase, seals it for me. Why would I vote for a party that needs to do that in order to garner votes? I lost trust in the NPA and had my intelligence insulted all at the same time.

  • @Agustin – I agree. The NPA chart really offends my inner data-nerd. How do you justify skewing data like that? It reminds me of when NPA chief-fundraiser Rob MacDonald claimed the city’s bike lane numbers were fudged because they looked too high. If the NPA can’t misrepresent the numbers, they’ll claim that they’re lies.

    If anyone wants to see a true representation of the homeless counts in Vancouver (without any attempts to make the data look good or bad) here’s the chart:
    http://canadianveggie.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/homelesscount.png

    I used the numbers from one of Frances’s earlier posts. The only potential deceptive part is the time access isn’t evenly spaced, due to the extra data point in 2010.

  • Julia

    Has anyone considered the homeless count was done when folks were neatly tucked into temporary shelters that are not operational this year? That also skews the math.

    The math stinks on both sides and we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Lazy readers/voters creates opportunity for misleading math.

  • @Julia – the homeless counts are like opinion polls. They represent a snapshot of what is going on. There is definitely methodology limitations and it doesn’t tell the whole picture (same as opinion polling), but as long as the methodology is consistent you can learn something from it and see trends.

    Creating misleading charts doesn’t help anyone. As far as I can tell, it is only the NPA that is purposely manipulating the data.

  • brilliant

    @Chris the NPA is not “manipulating the data” just presenting it in a way you disagree with. Given your blog, are we supposed to be surprised at your outrage?

  • I’m not outraged. Offended maybe, but that’s more because of my math and science background then because of any political leanings.

    Too often political parties and companies manipulate statistics, and are given a free pass. I guess it is better than suppressing science entirely, but not by much.

    The NPA have committed two well-known charting manipulation techniques (outlined in “How to Lie With Statistics”, as Frances mentioned):
    1) they manipulated the y-axis to make a small increase look massive.
    2) they cherry-picked data, by skipping the 2005 and 2010 values that would put the other data into context.

  • david hadaway

    The misuse of graph like that is certainly indefensible, and a hostage to fortune, as the idea that no one will notice is delusional.

    However it is the homelessness issue that really turned me against Vision and Gregor. The promises made three years ago were so clear and emphatic, and so emotional. Yet the subsequent history has been one of evasion (‘street’ homelessness), unsustainable band aid solutions ($2,500 per person per month HEAT shelters), false flag gifts to donors (STIR) and actual loss of accommodation (the OV and Little Mountain). All the while taking credit for projects that had been initiated before they took power, which are the only thing that explain the current decline in the rate of increase.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a consistent COPE supporter as long as I’ve lived in Vancouver but the hypocrisy and failure of the COPE / Vision coalition on this issue and of affordable housing in general has left me feeling disgusted and almost unable to understand why anyone would vote for any of them!

  • Andrea C.

    David H:

    You haven’t missed a single one of the big reasons why I feel sick about this last council.
    Check this out:

    On Wed, Nov 16, 2011 at 11:06 AM, Andrea C. wrote:

    Dear —- (@ COPE HQ):

    R.e.: http://themainlander.com/2011/11/13/interview-neighbourhoods-for-a-sustainable-vancouvers-randy-helten/

    The entire interview is of interest, but I direct your particular attention to Sean Antrim’s 5th question and Randy Helton of NSV’s reply.

    Is Mr. Helton misrepresenting COPE when he states the following:

    “Sean Antrim: COPE has proposed expanding the Vancouver Public Housing Authority, which basically means the City becoming a land developer which builds affordable housing. Is that something that you would be on side with?

    Randy Helten: We need to have a much closer look at the COPE policy. I see that COPE has almost entirely adopted the Carnegie Community Action Project’s housing policy. We’ve just been very busy, but before the election I would like to have a look at that, and maybe we’ll endorse it too.” (Bold is mine).

    Of course, Mr. Helton has refused to answer whether he supports the COPE platform in any way, shape or form, despite repeated requests to do so (even one from the interviewer). Of course, the answer is a categorical “NO”, as NSV is the party of and for Vancouver landlords (as opposed to Vancouver developers) and is no friend of the Vancouver renter.

    COPE is the last and only hope of Vancouver renters (50% of the voting population). Please come out publicly for the renters of Vancouver, and don’t let Randy “Larry Campbell II” Helton and the NSV use COPE so contemptuously in their ongoing attempts to grab votes. I’d like to see someone from COPE ask Randy Helton for a “yes” or “no” in the comments section, and take him to task for what amounts to a slap in the face of COPE.

    Thank you very much and in solidarity:

    Andrea C.

    ………

    This is the reply I received 5 hours later:
    Hi Andrea,

    Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention, we will be sure to look into it. Your support is much appreciated.

    Kind Regards,

    ……(COPE HQ)

    I’ve been looking into BTL in Britain – just like here in Vancouver, the greedy landlords like to paint themselves as philanthropists and paragons of thrift, responsibility and sustainability.
    http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Buy-to-let
    Killing satire. The truth hurts.

  • Andrea C.

    David H:

    You’ve expressed my feelings exactly (and have used the same examples I would).

    Frances: I did a bit of searching concerning the Vision-proposed landlord registry. It sounds like it would not include one of the most common forms of housing in Vancouver – the ubiquitous basement suite. Would it have exposed that unspeakable slumlord on Pandora, or would it not matter because her tenants were desperate for housing, any housing?

  • Andrea C.

    Frances:

    It’s OK if my second-to-last comment is not accepted. I’ve said all I have to say about a certain party, and I have left it up to those who represent me politically in this race whether or not it merits their attention.
    I’m just a single voter – I can’t change much, especially since I will probably sit at home this time.
    Thanks!

  • Everyman

    @Andrea C 14
    It would be a shame if you stayed home. Compared to the limited voting choices we get at the Federal and Provincial level, civic politics offer a wealth of diversity. Even if you vote for just one candidate, the vote is not wasted.

  • Peter T

    My drive and a pamphlet in the mail has made my mind up.

    Gregor for Mayor

    The ONLY people I see out on street corners campaigning Bill Yuen, Ken Charko, and Joe Carengi for council

    Parks Board Jason Upton, Casey Crawford, Dave Pasin and John Cooper (they are at every parks board debate!)

    Ps good work Ken Charko and Joe Carengi on Cambie and 25th I drove downtown and came back that way and you were both out there in the pouring rain for a good 2+ hours

  • Teaching statistics, math and polls to my journalism students this week, so I’ve got a wealth of material on my hands to use in class as examples of vague claims, misleading statistics, deceptive graphics, and other magical acts with numbers that the two major parties are performing.

    After a primer on HTML, Frances, I think the next best lesson to give to the class would be on Critical Thinking.

  • Guest

    WRT the lack of a direct VCC Station to Clark Drive access, the route would cross the parcel between the station and Clarke Drive, and acess was to be in conjunction with the redevelopment of the parcel (i.e. with an elevator and escalator due to the steep grade) – but that redevelopment has not yet occurred.

    With the Mountain Equipment Co-op new headquarters building being built just to the west of VCC Station, maybe market forces will spur the redevelopment of the corner site (i.e. for office use).

  • Higgins

    Peter T #16
    One omission.
    Gregor for Mayor … of the Stupid City!
    Much better .

  • Dan Cooper

    Speaking of number crunching (though undoubtedly the reliability could be debated), I like the West End Residents Association’s vote compass.

    http://www.wera.bc.ca/vote2011/

    [ My results: COPE 57%; Green 50%; De-Grow 46%; Vision 42%; NSV 38%; and last and definitely least, in fact surpisingly so even to me, NPA 15% ]

  • Thanks for compiling this extensive list of mathematical incongruities, Frances! It’s interesting how both sides of the debate seem to be misleading the voters to some extent, which is really too bad. I think a little honesty would go a long way to improving things.

    Hopefully, some day in the future we can have honest, sincere debates about how we want our beautiful city to be run.

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought Of The Day

    “The Amazing thing is that everyone on the political spectrum in Vancouver, think alike, or almost, with one exception… Vision Vancouver!”

    Based on my own try at WERA’s Questionnaire, Vision did not pass the litmus test, does not think at all … in fact, they suck!

    Here’s my results:
    COPE – 22%
    DE-GROWTH -28%
    GREEN – 22%
    NPA – 20%
    NSV – 22%
    VV – 3%

    Who knew? Hmmm…

    Make whatever you want of this. It took me less than five min. to answer the 26 Qs.
    The story it tells is simple, when everyone goes one direction… Vision goes the opposite, of course, based on their own, Hollyhock fetched agenda, catered to the likes of their 3 Percent-ers.

    Want proof?
    Here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IDcmUQa0WMhows!

    Apropos, did Andrea Reimer start the clip with “Ho Hey!”?
    How Hillbilly of her…

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Dan Cooper

    Just got an automated poll call from Forum Research:

    1) Who are you most likely to vote for for Mayor? Robertson or Anton or other? 2) How likely are you to vote? 3) How interested are you in this election? 4) Who did you vote for in 2008? 5) Are you male or female? 5) How old are you?

    p.s. How about that anti-Vision “Take Back Vancouver” slime flier that the NPA just mailed out? I had to go to the website to see that it’s from the NPA; perhaps they were too embarrassed by it to put their name anywhere on the actual mailer, and rightly so. It has to be the sleaziest item I’ve seen in years. Seriously, wow! Someone at work today mentioned receiving it yesterday and how vile it was, but I didn’t receive mine until today.

  • Dan Cooper

    p.s. Wonder how much it cost the NPA to license the rights to use an Aardman Animation character (doing a little googling, it appears the payment would go through Paramount) for use in their flier.

  • Max

    @Frances:

    I am somewhat surprised that you by-passed the community work Mike Klassen has done, which includes rallying parents to keep one of the elementary schools open that Vision had put on their list of 11 schools that could be shut down.

    He has been very involved in the community and I would suggest there are people and various BIA’s that would disagree with you ‘assessment’.

  • Max

    Upon reading this post, it seems it takes the same line that Vision is tweeting out – that bringing in NPA candidates would be a mistake because they are new and have no council experience.

    Well, I would suggest that all of the current council members got their feet wet at some point.

    Many of the candidates have great work/business/community experience.

    What exacrtly has Kerry Jang, Tim Stevenson and Vision’s resident pit-bull brought to the table? Let alone Reimer or Deal.

    I have watched and or attended many of the city council meetings.

    And the one thing that sticks out time and time again – the complete rudeness or disdain certain council members treat the citizens that come to speak. Especially if they disagree with what that person has to offer or it goes against the Vision agenda.

    I have witnessed Meggs, Louie and Jang completely belittle speakers. Sad, the only ones they have embarrassed is themselves.

    I remember Councilor Anton trying to read a letter from the Yellowquill family about the death of their son/brother. She was cut off.

    Wow.

  • david hadaway

    Andrea

    You certainly rattled a few cages with your comments about NSV = landlord party!

    Housing is the beginning and end of social issues in Vancouver.The major parties (and while COPE is Vision’s sidekick it is no longer one of those) refuse to deal with this effectively, that’s to say in a way that doesn’t subsidize private interests rather than attack the problem directly.

    In my view it is going to take a revolution in the way we think and a return to many of the values of several decades ago to achieve the results that are needed.

  • @Andrea C

    You can decide for yourself whether or not this answers your questions. NSV just did a press release about affordable housing:

    http://nsvancouver.ca/media-releases/