5: British Columbia’s fast ferries and Sydney’s Airport Link: partisan barriers to learning from policy failure

This chapter examines situations in which the incentives of partisanship can encourage a government to actively seek to exacerbate an existing policy failure rather than to repair it. Under these circumstances, the certain benefits of shaming the political opposition outweigh any potential rewards of improving specific policy outcomes. The chapter considers two cases of policy failure in the late 1990s in the transportation sector. The first case explores an effort by the British Columbia Ferry Corporation (BC Ferries), a public provider of marine transportation on Canada's west coast, to introduce a fleet of high-speed aluminium catamaran ferries (the ‘fast ferries’). The second case investigates a public–private partnership scheme to build and operate an urban rail link between the central business district and the airport in Sydney, Australia (the Sydney Airport Link). In both cases, policy options were presented that had the potential to mitigate financial losses and to redirect the project back toward the achievement of stated policy objectives. However, these options were rejected by decision-makers in favour of actions that did nothing for the success of the project but that did deliver some short-term political and electoral rewards.

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