Governments culpable for Canada Line-induced Cambie losses

One of the biggest stories in B.C. last week was a B.C. Supreme Court decision awarding $600,000 to former Cambie Street merchant Susan Heyes. She owns Hazel & Co., a maternity-wear store now on Main Street.

Justice Ian Pitfield held that TransLink, one of its subsidiaries, and the private partner on the Canada Line were all  liable for  Hazel & Cop.'s  poorer business results as a result of construction of a cut-and-cover tunnel along Cambie.  

The B.C. government was not held legally liable, nor were the federal and municipal governments. However, that doesn't mean they don't bear any responsibility for Heyes's business losses and the bankruptcy of nearby restaurants and stores.

Before the B.C. election, Premier Gordon Campbell told the Straight that his government merely helped fund the Canada Line, which was managed by TransLink. "TransLink set the goals, set the tasks," Campbell said.

It was a clever response to a question about how much responsibility he personally felt for the destruction of people's livelihoods along Cambie Street.

The reality is that TransLink only received provincial funding (eventually it reached $400 million) after consenting to a public-private partnership  to build  the Canada Line.

Justice Pitfield's ruling noted that  TransLink's decision to go with  the  bidder that proposed a cut-and-cover tunnel—as opposed to the one that only proposed a bored tunnel—reduced costs by  $400 million.  

TransLink had earlier listed 10 options. All involved a bored tunnel, which wouldn't have disrupted local businesses. If  the Canada Line  were a conventionally financed public-works project, it would have been built with a bored tunnel, according to the TransLink  description of the various options.  

The province played a role in contributing to the merchants' woes, no matter how much Campbell tries to deny this, because it foisted the P3 on the regional transportation authority. This, in turn, led to Heyes winning  her $600,000  award in B.C. Supreme Court.

So how painful were those losses for Cambie Street restaurant and shop owners? In a  2007 Canadian Federation of Independent Business report on business impacts of the Canada Line,  three-quarters of business owners reported an average decrease in sales of 36 percent.

One-third had to take out a loan to stay in business, and 37 percent downsized their staff by an average of 2.8 employees.

Now, let's move to the federal government. Former Liberal cabinet minister Stephen Owen, who represented Vancouver Quadra, delivered $450 million in funding to TransLink.

The project was built along Cambie Street and not along the Arbutus corridor, which was in  Owen's riding. Many transit advocates called for the line to be  developed along the Arbutus corridor.

However, if the Canada Line had been built in  Owen's riding, his influential  Shaughnessy constituents would have made his life miserable.

TransLink wouldn't have gotten $450 million in federal funding had  it chosen the Arbutus corridor over the Cambie Street route. Therefore, the federal government  was also a factor  in the business losses along Cambie Street.

But what about the City of Vancouver? It wasn't responsible for transit and it didn't kick in any money. However, the then-COPE-controlled council did vote in favour of a tunnelled subway project from Waterfront Centre to at least  46th Avenue.

If the city council of the day had rejected  this option  and held out for the Arbutus corridor, the project wouldn't have been built along Cambie.

At the very least, the then-COPE-controlled council under then-mayor Larry Campbell could have demanded a bored-tunnel project in its motion, which would have offered some protection for Cambie Street merchants. That's because if TransLink pulled a switcheroo—which it did—then the city could have refused to cooperate.

Therefore, the city also bears some responsibility for the business losses along Cambie Street. This probably isn't causing any sleepless nights for Larry Campbell, who's comfortably ensconced in the Senate thanks to the former federal Liberal government.

The court has spoken and in a strictly legal sense, the three levels of government were let off the hook in terms of their financial liability. But in a moral sense, they all bear some culpability for the destruction of small businesses along Cambie Street. They all made decisions that led to Susan Heyes filing her lawsuit.

Anyone who suggests otherwise isn't paying attention to all of the facts.

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4 Comments

Vancouver Resident

May 31, 2009 at 12:30am

I agree that all three levels of government are responsible for the tragedy on Cambie Street. Still, the City of Vancouver has engineers who are supposed to be a check and balance against corruption, and these engineers failed us.

TransLink is an unethical corporation and an awful disgrace. Many residents have filed petitions and complaints against TransLink over its obscene use of diesel buses (to save money) on the UBC trolley bus routes, and the situation on the UBC trolley bus routes is similar to the one on Cambie Street where petty transit planners without scruples acted as puppets to save money. I’m very happy to read about Ms. Heyes receiving her $600,000 ($0.6 million) award for damages resulting from the RAV Line; she deserved more than $0.6 million in my opinion.

TransLink ran roughshod over the merchants on Cambie Street to get the RAV Line built in time for the Olympics. It’s sad that residents in Vancouver have to resort to legal action to deal with TransLink. Where were the City of Vancouver engineers when the merchants on Cambie Street were being stepped on by TransLink? The City of Vancouver may have been found innocent but its engineers share in the shame with TransLink for doing nothing to help the merchants on Cambie Street. After all, engineers at the City of Vancouver represent residents in Vancouver and not TransLink. How did TransLink get approval from the City of Vancouver Engineering Department for the open cut construction along Cambie Street? It seems as if this engineering department is in bed with TransLink and just goes along with whatever TransLink wants.

The award of $0.6 million is a drop in the bucket for TransLink which spent $2,000 million on the RAV Line. An additional $600 million to the Vancouver taxpayers who suffered is also appropriate to discourage TransLink from doing the same thing elsewhere in the future. Too bad some of the unethical people who are responsible for the chaos on Cambie Street aren't going to jail. If TransLink doesn’t just pay up and admit fault on Cambie Street without an appeal, TransLink needs an overhaul, and the ones in charge need to be fired. Perhaps the residents who have been battling TransLink over its obscene use of the diesel buses flooding the UBC trolley bus routes can learn from the Cambie Street lawsuit to sue TransLink for the unbearable nuisance TransLink’s noisy and polluting diesel buses inflict.

Evil Eye

May 31, 2009 at 3:19pm

Of course the Vancouver Engineering sept. was in bed with Translink for two reasons.

Vancouver's Engineering dept. is pro car and doesn't want any surface operating LRT to interfere with its roads. As well, Vancouver's Engineering dept., shares the mind set or 'penis envy' of Mayor and Council, who firmly believe that a subway makes the city look like a "world-class" city.

The only "world class" about Vancouver is it notorious 'east' end.

balancing beam

Jun 1, 2009 at 9:27am

No matter how you feel about Translink, the Canada line, the provincial OR Federal government, as British Columbians it is our responsibility to get involved and help find solutions to sustainable transportation. So how do we do this? I encourage you to attend and participate in events like the Greater Vancouver Livability Forum or one of the public workshops Translink will be holding over the next month. You can find out more about these consultation events at www.bepartoftheplan.ca.

The need for expanded transit, transit service, and infrastructure projects is undeniable- now it’s up to us, to help shape the future of transportation in Metro Vancouver.

Evil Eye

Jun 1, 2009 at 1:29pm

Who said that RAV was sustainable? It ain't! Unless there is ridership flows of 500,000 passengers a day, RAV will need millions in subsidies. Transit systems that need subsidies are not sustainable.

As for www.bepartoftheplan.ca it just more of the same stuff and nonsense that the powers that be, like to pull on the the public to pretend there is public input.

Remember City Plan in the 90's? No? Well it was the great planning process that was supposed to change the way we plan and shape our city. Nothing happened but a lot of hot air.

All transit mega-projects are hugely expensive election gimmicks and that's why we are in bad shape now.