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.