Michael Ignatieff puts a Liberal shine on the Canada Line

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is trying to have his party take credit for construction of the $2-billion Canada Line.

In a YouTube video, Ignatieff suggests that the project was former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin's vision.

Ignatieff also praises former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell, now a Liberal senator, who relentlessly promoted the project. It probably wouldn't have been approved by the TransLink board if Campbell and his then-COPE colleagues didn't replace then-councillor Fred Bass on the board with councillor Raymond Louie.

Ignatieff obviously doesn't know a great deal about the history of the Livable Region Strategic Plan, which was created while he was living abroad. Metro Vancouver regional planners wanted conventional light-rail to form a T connecting Coquitlam, New Westminster, and Vancouver.

It was a good plan and it was affordable. But senior levels of government intruded and insisted on a far more expensive SkyTrain-style Millennium Line and Canada Line. That has contributed to sharp increases in transit fares and property taxes, as well as the regional transportation authority's grave financial woes.

Don't expect Ignatieff or any other Liberal to fess up to this during the next federal election campaign.



Stephen Rees

Sep 6, 2009 at 12:09pm

Since I was working for Translink at the time, I think that credit (or maybe that should be blame) for ramming this project through ought to go to Ken Dobell. No one else in the organisation thought it important until he did.

Charlie Smith

Sep 6, 2009 at 12:31pm

I remember attending a TransLink board meeting and being stunned to read Dobell's report about this project. It came out of nowhere. He was hired as TransLink's first CEO after leaving his job as Vancouver city manager. After the 2001 election, Gordon Campbell hired him as his deputy minister. From there, Dobell and Dan Doyle, later the transporation deputy minister, ensured that the Canada Line would be built. The B.C. Liberal government would only advance funds if it was a public-private partnership. The federal government would only advance funds if it was kept away from the Arbutus corridor in Stephen Owen's Vancouver Quadra riding.

Eric Chris

Sep 6, 2009 at 2:21pm

Light rail transit with the T-connection to Coquitlam, New Westminster and Vancouver would have been perfect. Both Calgary and Edmonton have similar light rail transit systems, and unsurprisingly, transit fares are 50% lower in Calgary and Edmonton than in the Lower Mainland. The Liberals who are out for glory can take credit for the RAV Line; they deserve it.

If memory serves me right, Canadians booted out the Liberals not so much because they wanted the Conservative government but to punish the Liberals for being corrupt. It looks as if Larry Campbell with all his charisma played his cards right to advance his Liberal political career at the expense of transit users in the Lower Mainland.

Charlie, thanks for the informative articles on the RAV Line. A feature article on the front page of the Georgia Straight after the Olympics when the RAV Line is going broke would be a nice follow-up. How many of the purported, by TransLink, 50,000 daily RAV Line riders are paying and how many are non-paying transfer or imaginary riders from buses? I wonder.


Sep 6, 2009 at 2:50pm

It is shocking how little you know about all this Charlie. The capital costs of both SkyTrain lines were covered by the province so neither of the lines have contributed to higher property taxes or fares. While the Canada Line may lead to higher fares and property taxes in the future, it has not done so yet.

What has contributed to higher fares and property taxes is the unwillingness of the provincial government to fund transit in the region or give TransLink the revenue sources it needs.

The LIveable Region Strategic Plan did not specify the form of rail. It merely indicated intermediate capacity rail.

Come on

Sep 6, 2009 at 3:34pm

I can appreciate that you may have an emotional attachment to light rail Charlie, but in the context of an article you at least need to justify your opinions with at least a reference to someone who shares the opinion, or even provide misrepresented facts.

Pick 2 of the 3: Low Cost, Fast, Big Area served.

You seem to advocate at-grade LRT which is not only slower, but impedes other traffic and carries higher maintenance costs (yes people do drop old toilets on the exposed at-grade sections of SkyTrain)

There is room for at-grade LRT, but it is in the form of bus replacement (higher capacity for higher cost per vehicle, and lower lifetime maintenance)

As soon as you have grade separated rail, it doesn't matter if you call it LRT, subway, skytrain, monorail, metro

Look at other cities, notice how it is possible to have grade separated and at-grade rail systems work together?

Charlie Smith

Sep 6, 2009 at 5:29pm

The Canada Line has not contributed to higher property taxes? Say what? TransLink forked over a big whack of cash and paid for the RAVCO office.

I wrote that Metro Vancouver planners envisioned a street-level light-rail system. I was at the meetings.

The Millennium Line contributed to financial shortfalls in the following ways:
* poor ridership resulted in an opportunity cost. Lots more riders could have been taken up by a line that went where people lived.
* poor ridership was offset with U-Pass subsidies, driving down TransLink revenues and forcing the authority to generate revenue elsewhere
We don't need billion-dollar or multi-billion-dollar transit projects in areas with low population densities. TransLink didn't even make use of the opportunity to short-turn half the cars at the Metrotown SkyTrain system to improve efficiency before Glen Clark charged ahead with the Millennium Line and bought a bunch of new SkyTrain cars. The Millennium Line set our transit system back by many years, but Glen Clark's purple Kool-Aid club members will never admit this.

Eric Chris

Sep 6, 2009 at 8:27pm

In defense of Charlie's article, I'm a professional engineer, nearing retirement, with honours in finance and statistics. You tend to develop a second sense for what makes sense and what doesn't after decades of performing feasibility studies and detailed designs. The RAV Line and proposed Evergreen Line are dogs. The only ones benefiting from these lines are the developers along these lines and crooked politicians with a vested interest in these lines.

It is no accident that the Japanese and German economies lead the world. These economies are lead or influenced by engineers or scientists with a high degree of integrity, and these engineers or scientists tend not to make imprudent decisions. In Canada, we are lead by simpletons without degrees in science or engineering. It doesn't help that these simpletons don't have a high degree of morality and need to make the best of their time in office to profit as much as possible.

Charlie Smith

Sep 7, 2009 at 7:52am

In case there's any confusion about mezzanine's comment, the article specifically noted "Metro Vancouver REGIONAL planners". I wasn't writing about City of Vancouver staff, who were among the biggest boosters of TransLink's plans along Cambie Street. If you want to learn about the impact of the Gateway Program or other regional issues, I recommend the City of Burnaby's staff reports.

Evil Eye

Sep 7, 2009 at 9:02am

My oh my, the great wailing and gnashing of teeth by the SkyTrain lobby knows no bounds!


Light rail operating at-grade (not to be confused with on-street) is not slower, nor does it impede traffic. Light rail systems tend to have slower commercial speeds than SkyTrain because they have more stations or stops per route km. The SkyTrain lobby uses this 'Urban legend' with great effect, especially with the simpletons on Brand-X!

Did you know that the largely at-grade St. Louis light-rail has a higher commercial speed than SkyTrain? No? Really? it does!

When a transit system becomes grade separated it defacto becomes a metro; the question thus becomes: "Is there the ridership to justify the investment in building a metro?"

I there the 400,000 passengers a day to justify the investment?

By the way, the province does pick up the capital cost of metro, but they take the money from taxes, including property taxes. There is only one taxpayer.

Iggy might like the Canada Line, but the mini-metro speak volumes of Canadian politics: corrupt, poorly planned, lots of hype and hoopla, and a complete charade.