What $6 Billion Could Buy
Got $6 billion to spend? Let's luge! Or maybe not
By Pete Mcmartin, Vancouver Sun, February 24, 2009
But by our incomplete tally and with another year to go until the Games (the cost of the 2010 Winter Olympics, not including an added $725 million for security) it's about $6,000,000,000.
For $6 billion, you could fund the entire budget of the seismic-upgrading program for B.C. schools four times over. The program has been criticized repeatedly for its slow pace. To date, of the hundreds of elementary and secondary schools that need upgrading across the province, only 32 have been completed. The B.C. auditor-general, in his report of Dec. 4, 2008, wrote that "the approved budget of $1.5 billion will fall far short of the amount required to retrofit the at-risk schools identified in the original assessment."
- For $6 billion -- assuming that a first-class fourth-year constable in Vancouver costs an average of approximately $100,000 in annual salary and benefits -- the city could hire 3,000 new police officers for 20 years. Beset by increasing gang violence, and the rising costs of investigations due to that violence, the Vancouver police force claims that for large metropolitan areas, its police per capita ratio remains among the country's lowest. [No2010 note: bad idea]
- For $6 billion, you could pay the tuition fees of 345,383 University of B.C. arts students for their entire four-year program, or the four-year tuition fees of 314,004 UBC science students, or the four-year tuition fees of 287,853 UBC engineering students, or of 100,963 UBC medical students.
- For $6 billion, you could pay the salaries of UBC's 587 full professors -- who, according to UBC's media relations department, earn an average salary of just over $140,000 -- for 73 years.
- For $6 billion, you could pay the cost of educating all 550,000 elementary and secondary students for 1 1/3 years.
- For $6 billion, you could build not one but four Evergreen Lines to Coquitlam, and still have a few hundred million left over in change. The future of the line, which has been promised for years, still appears to be in doubt because of a lack of financing commitments from the federal government.
If one chose to build only one Evergreen Line, the remaining billions could not only eradicate the expected $100-million-plus shortfall in TransLink's 2009 operating budget, but any shortfalls for decades to come. There would be plenty left for new buses.
- For $6 billion -- assuming that the cost of social housing is now about $300,000 per unit, up from the 2007 estimate of $200,000 per unit -- you could build 20,000 units of social housing in the city, or a number about equal to the entire existing stock in Vancouver.
- For $6 billion -- assuming a recent investigation by the Province of government money being spent in the Downtown Eastside is accurate -- you could fund all of the several hundred social welfare institutions in the DTES that receive federal, provincial or municipal funds for more than 16 years. That includes social housing, food banks, charities, drug and addiction services and welfare payments.
- For $6 billion -- if the ballpark figure kicked around in previous discussions about redevelopment is accurate or even, indeed, within the ballpark -- you could build not just one new hospital to replace the aging St. Paul's Hospital in downtown Vancouver, but six of them.
- For $6 billion -- and my thanks for this to colleague Vaughn Palmer, whose knowledge of all things government is encyclopedic -- the government could waive the sales tax for a little over a year, or waive the property transfer tax for six years, or pay the entire public service payroll for more than two years.
Also, for $6 billion, Palmer's note stated with what I believe was a hint of mischief, you could run the premier's office for 500 years.
It wouldn't be my first priority.