It took a 13-hour moonlit road trip for Anjali Appadurai to decide to run for B.C. premier.

The 32-year-old climate justice activist was returning home to Vancouver after a few days of meeting with Indigenous leaders and activists on Wet'suwet'en territory in northern B.C., and her phone was ablaze. Word had spread that she was thinking about a run for the premiership. Dozens of friends and allies from across the province — youth advocates, Indigenous leaders, disillusioned NDP members and others — were phoning to convince her to run.

"In my mind, I wasn't going to do it. But seeing the hope that was ignited by the possibility of me running was really, really powerful," she said in an interview with Canada's National Observer before formally launching her campaign Monday. "I realized that even if I don't want to do this, even if it's going to be really hard, I needed to step up and answer the call."

Her decision has transformed the election of a replacement for current B.C. Premier John Horgan from a sleepy, single-candidate run into a "divisive" race poised to focus on climate change and economic inequality.

Appadurai has repeatedly been in the spotlight for her climate activism, starting with a blistering speech to delegates at the 2011 United Nations climate conference. She has since worked for West Coast Environmental Law, Sierra Club BC and the Climate Emergency Unit. She was also an NDP candidate in the 2021 federal election for the Vancouver Granville riding, losing by only about 400 votes — one of the country's tightest races.

Her opponent in the leadership race, former B.C. attorney general and housing minister David Eby, is running on a platform that promises to maintain the B.C. NDP's current approach of incremental change on issues like climate change and the housing crisis. While that consistency has earned Eby the backing of most current NDP MLAs and the NDP brass, Appadurai said that for many B.C. residents, the approach falls flat.

She is promising a more radical platform where tackling climate change and prioritizing the public good over private interests would be the organizing framework for B.C.'s economic and social policies. It's an approach she believes can tackle the province's biggest challenges — climate change, the housing and drug crises, or systemic racism, for instance — and ensure B.C. residents have the foundation for a "good life," she said.

Despite climate change playing a key role in her platform, she emphasized that she is looking to do more than reduce carbon emissions or implement more stringent environmental policies. Her goal is to create a government that redistributes power and money from corporations and private interests towards key public services.

Her decision to run against Eby has drawn criticism. Some party members, fellow activists and pundits have called her campaign both "audacious" and "unwinnable," citing her lack of political experience and Eby's institutional support.

"In my mind, I wasn't going to do it. But seeing the hope that was ignited by the possibility of me running was really, really powerful," Anjali Appadurai said in an interview with Canada's National Observer before formally launching her campaign.

Eby welcomed Appadurai to the race in a statement, saying the "race is an opportunity for a healthy exchange of ideas and a chance for (NDP) members to have their voices heard through the electoral process."

They're all valid critiques, she said, but believes she has the ability to rally together experts from different backgrounds and fields in developing more radical and transformative policies.

"It's divisive because we're doing something that seems crazy and audacious and incredibly inconvenient to the order of things," she said. "(But) in order to face the climate emergency, it is required to go into emergency mode — and that's an unpleasant place to be."

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This is a great opportunity to put your principles to work. Join the BC NDP, even if you do not like what it has been doing, just so you can vote for her. September 4 is the deadline for joining so you can vote.

I wish Anjali the best of everything. Winning the BC NDP leadership may be a long shot, but she will enliven the campaign with her climate commitment and youth while raising her profile immensely. If she's free three years from now I hope she comes back to run again in the federal Vancouver Granville riding. The current Liberal MP is a dud and was elected only to keep the Conservative candidate at bay. That worked, the third time in a row. But Anjali's NDP candidacy was surprisingly strong -- unlike previous tries by others under the same banner -- and she'll have a great breakthrough opportunity next time.

The Trudeau Libs will be forced out of its complacent nap and act more boldly on climate only because the Biden's recent massive legislation will soon be gathering steam on decarbonization, electrification, renewables and new regs, all of which will influence the continental economy. I would love to see a Liberal Democratic coalition in Ottawa with Anjali in the inner cabinet and Chrystia as PM. Or maybe the other way around. ;-)

I would love to hear her position on moving to proportional representation or the STV proposal we voted on in 2005 and 2009.
I also think that the NDP let us down on transportation when Greyhound left the province. Let's start talking about bringing back passenger trains for Vancouver-Calgary, Victoria-Courtenay, and Vancouver-Whistler, as well as Vancouver-White Rock commuter trains.

"Let's start talking about bringing back passenger trains ..."

Amen to that!

To think that the 245 km Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway (with two long branches) was put in place on Vancouver Island more than 150 years ago, and still exists. The land parcels are still there, but the railway infrastructure has become derelict.

I had an online debate with some trail aficionados a few years back who boosted a rails-to-trails proposal in the media. Unfortunately, the members publishing comments were radically against rail and were very critical of the ENR management organization, known as the Island Corridor Foundation, a fully accountable public organization. They advocated dumping any notion of building intercity rail, calling it Disneyland, citing some very outdated usage stats and couching best business practices, known as a standard annual audit, as "excessively expensive." They also love to draw attention to the existing rusty rails and trestles, which have also caught the attention of more than one local weekly newspaper with terribly uninformed editorial boards, all of whom hammered at the "unaffordable" idea of reviving passenger and freight rail.

Out of curiosity I read several annual ICF reports, all of which are posted on its website. I discovered that an audit for a (2018) asset value of over $300 million for the entire Corridor costed a tad over 20 thousand bucks to hire a professional CGA for a detailed analysis. To businesses managing hundreds of millions in assets, that's a pretty good deal. There was an unseemly amount of energy criticizing the Foundation's management personnel and debt too, the latter which amounted to a fraction of a lower single digit of the Corridor's value, a debt-to-asset ratio that average mortgage holders would kill to have.

What's with the anti-rail thing, especially from a pro-bike group? It seemed personal. The ICF's long published mandate is to build rails AND trails. Kudos to them. Modern commuter rail trains offer many advantages, one of them being able to carry bikes and accommodate trails in their rights-of-way.

The ENR was the last link in the construction of the continental railway system of Canada and is therefore an important part of the story of Confederation. It must be protected from being sold off, as it well should be. Using constitutional arguments in its defence actually happened once. Via Rail does supply the occasional grant to make minor repairs and modifications, but the feds -- and the BC government -- seem to have absolutely no vision of what a 21st Century Canada would look like, namely with electric rail holding a powerful place in building sustainable, resilient cities and towns that start to break down their dependency on fossil fuels.

A revived ENR would have many advantages toward realizing key goals of sustainability, both in Island-wide transportation and in urbanism. The Corridor just happens to string the most populous Island towns together on the Island's east coast. It parallels the Island Highway, a roaring, noxious and horribly expensive strip that doesn't compare to the efficacy and zero emission characteristics of a decent electrified intercity rail line with fast and frequent service. Connect the rails to the two largest ferry terminals (Nanaimo's Departure Bay is just 750m from the ENR Corridor) and millions of annual foot and bus passengers will no doubt catalyze the entire system through the Network Effect, especially if designed to afford passengers a quick walk-off, walk-on ship-to-train opportunity under one terminal roof. The Corridor needs to be extended north to Campbell River to join up with the last large town and the Island's third major ferry terminal.

A publicly owned passenger ferry service between Vancouver's downtown harbour to the downtown harbours of Nanaimo and Victoria could be part of the same planning package, or at least be part of the conversation. The Island Highway and the BC Ferries system represent the worst of a 20th Century investment in the almighty car, likely approaching or exceeding a stratospheric $100 billion over 60 years. Indeed, the ferries are officially considered as part of the highway system. It's way beyond the accommodation for commercial vehicles. Well, it's a new century and it's high time to start giving increasing priority to moving human beings on land and on the water.

The largest ferries carry ~400 cars; they aren't called "floating traffic jams" for nothing. Passenger ferries are lighter, cheaper and faster, even with unsexy conventional propulsion, a safer engine maintenance option in BC's debris-choked waters than high-speed boats with water jet intake ports. Boarding is done in minutes, not hours. Any comparison to the cost of building a decent intercity rail line on the Island -- new tunnels, trestles, stations and all -- coupled with passenger ferry service still makes the historic build out of car infrastructure the biggest white elephant in Island history. Overpasses on the Trans Canada highway in Greater Victoria ring in at close to $150 million a pop. There has to be something better to nip at these outrageous costs to society and their resulting incremental disintegration of urban efficacy and damage to the planet.

Some cities are now removing freeways and building parks and rail lines. Imagine that.

If that rails to trails idea isn't elitist, I don't know what the word "elitist" means. If it ever comes up again (hopefully, it won't), ask them how many people would use that trail over a year's time, and how many days when the weather would be too bad. Point out that elderly and handicapped people would be excluded, as well as families with small children, and people who just don't ride bicycles. Running passenger trains would serve ALL of the public 365 days a year, and the trains would be running even when the highways are impassable.

I hate to say this because some of the rails-to-trails wonks are friends of mine—with whom I disagree—but, on this file, they are chumps. But, hey, a bike lane to one side of a reinvigorated E&N line would be fine with me.

Opposition to the E&N is one of the more curious phenomena in BC. It almost seems like some kind of coordinated force, replete with rote talking points and pat criticisms that are expressed so vehemently that I, for one, can’t help be suspicious. Does it come from a cabal of rubber-tired/petro-industrial-complex magnates who want to protect the gas-guzzling private automobile by skewering even the slightest competition? Or could it be a related political proxy in partnership with anti-Big-Government parties which perfunctorily opposes public enterprise —presuming the refurbishment of the E&N would require substantial public investment? We should recall that the partisan right has been culpable in the gradual diminishment of the line, mostly by one of its usual tactics of starvation —to the point that regular passenger service was suspended because of neglected maintenance and resulting safety issues (after Mulroney tried to mothball it entirely; of the two things Bill Vander Zalm did that were any good—one being sponsor for the Anti-HST Citizens’ Initiative while he was a private citizen himself—he, as premier of BC, asking Mulroney what part of “in perpetuity” didn’t he get was the greater good). What was won by suspending service is the oft deployed but spurious notion that a functioning E&N is not only a fiscal “liability,” but also a public danger—not for rail passengers, but for automobile drivers at level rail crossings. This is the oldest and most common rebuttal whenever reviving the E&N ones up, but it is a weak one under further scrutiny.

Of course the posited fear that level crossings will result in MVA carnage is hyperbole: given that every blacktop intersection is also a level crossing of automobiles, and every stop sign or traffic light-controlled intersection a potential crash zone, the single rail line and its level crossings present a comparatively minute risk against the thousands—nay, tens of thousands—of in-effect ‘level crossings’ of automobiles that happen hundreds of times each and every day at each and every traffic intersection. It’s as if the naysayers think drivers are incapable of observing rail-crossing stop lights, but while being perfectly able to negotiate otherwise the many controlled intersections any driver encounters only everywhere. Level rail crossings are as safe when a train passes by and, because of the relative infrequency of such, are actually much safer than regular traffic intersections. (As to the inconvenience of waiting for a long freight train to pass by—probably one of the reasons some drivers try to beat the train else be held up for what seems like interminable minutes of waiting—we should note that if the E&N were restricted to shorter passenger trains, this criticism is neutralized).

The other usual canards warn of expense —particularly that “nobody will use it” (parenthetically that it’s much better to drive a gas-guzzling car). Certainly this notion was cultivated by the way the last E&N passenger service was run: in the most user-unfriendly way possible (ridiculously bureaucratic ticket purchasing, as inconvenient as possible scheduling, arse-busting church-pew seats, no facilities, shuttered train stations, &c). When the line was shut down for safety reasons, this ethereal force of opposition appears to have won: the rubber-tired/high-cost highway system reigns supreme. Indeed, the new Island Highway completion seems to confirm that.

Meanwhile, the continuous E&N right of way still exists —and this is the nub: if the naysayers have their way, any intermediate removal of the R/W will effectively kill the whole thing. Fortunately there is interest among a consortium of municipalities and First Nations through which the line passes, but the line is effectively broken up into special interest sections—yet at least the contiguity remains intact for now (although I suspect the City of Courtenay managed to grab a section of the R/W at extreme distal end of the line).

Some of this curious opposition to the E&N probably has to do with the entire Land Grant itself. Many weird machinations have been going on in the crazy quilt of subsequent private land subdivisions in the Grant area—including coal bed methane and bituminous coal mining, but more pertinently, real estate development which requires current owners of Managed Forest Units to extricate their interests from these land-tax shelters (MFUs pay a nominal tax—a small percentage of non-MFU property owners’ tax burden—as an incentive to keep it in continuous forest productivity. The intent was to discourage MFUs from converting to other land uses like residential or industrial development by reclaiming the discounted land tax), a problem which the BC Liberal government solved in the most suspicious—and still unexplained— fashion when minister Rich Coleman allowed certain MFU holders to convert to residential use without having to pay the discounted tax (Coleman was immediately shuffled from the forest ministry the day after he allowed WFP to take 12,000 acres out of its MFU near Port Renfrew without repaying the discounted land taxes—he said he couldn’t comment on why or how this happened because he was no longer minister, and the new minister said he couldn’t explain it either because that was done under the old minister). I suspect that the morass of tenures the original E&N Land Grant—virtually the whole southeast coast of Van Isle—has some byzantine effect on the rail line which was a stipulation of the Grant back in the 1870s. The land certainly represents a bogglingly huge amount of value and potential, and that might explain the curiously vehement opposition to refurbishing the rail line. The Grant comprises the vast majority of private land in the entire province which is otherwise over 90% Crown land.

Nevertheless, I truly believe the E&N’s time will come again—it’s a no-brainer in that respect—but how remains the question. Right now, we Islanders at the north end of the line worry that refurbishment will only happen at the heavily populated south end for it own particular benefit. This is why the segmentation of interests is not ideal: it risks the contiguity of the R/W. Given it might be difficult to undo, advocates for an entire, functional commuter line need to stay sharp and keep up the pressure.