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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.




– 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


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



– 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


– 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


– 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.


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.


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