Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Ministers in court?

with 8 comments

The story of the Cambie Street merchants (covered here earlier) will be in court next week. And according to 24 hours so could some of the politicians responsible for the mess.

Former B.C. Finance Minister Carole Taylor may be compelled to testify in a court case brought by an ex-Cambie Street merchant seeking compensation for losses caused by Canada Line construction, a judge ruled yesterday.

Justice Ian Pitfield will decide this morning if Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon can be made to testify as a hostile witness.

When the RAV line – as it was then called – was originally approved it was supposed to be bored tube. This, it was claimed, would mean that there would none of the disruption associated with construction. Many places have experienced disruption when rapid transit is built – subsurface, surface or overhead all cause major issues. “Tube” construction is much more expensive but needs much less surface access. Cut and cover – the method chosen by the Canada line P3 is the most disruptive – but is cheaper for the builder if they do not have to compensate those inconvenienced.

The Canada Line has been built down to a price not up to a standard. This is not unusual for P3 fixed price contracts. They may come in “on time and on budget” but usually this can only be achieved by building much less than the original specification called for. In this case the plans changed once the P3 partner was chosen but of course by then the rush was on. While the proponents (the province of BC) claimed it was not an Olympic project they insisted that it had to be completed well before the games started. The fact that what was now to be built was materially different to what had been approved mattered not at all.  Equally, Translink’s approval had only be achieved by the suggestion that the Evergreen Green line would be built concurrently. Of course that was not a solemn and binding contract either – it was a pie crust promise – easily made, easily broken. The then Board of Translink was then replaced by a more compliant “professional” board more likely not to raise awkward questions in public.

I am not going to make any predictions since judges are notoriously fickle. This could go either way. But I do like the timing. It is just the sort of issue that needs to be raised immediately before a provincial election. Actually it would be much better resolved through the constitutional convention of ministerial responsibility – but of course that is thought to no longer apply in British Columbia, which is why people now resort to the courts.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2009 at 7:26 am

Posted in politics, transit

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8 Responses

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  1. Having helped Susan Heyes with the lawsuit, I can’t help but comment.

    She has passed a hurdle in BC Supreme court to allow the lawsuit to proceed, so the court does deem there is merit in the case.

    The case is simple, did TransLink and the provincial government deceive merchants and business owners along Cambie St. to the scope of cut-and-cover subway construction and did the cut-and-cover construction hurt business. It is a civil case, so the burden of truth is less than a criminal case.

    Like all court cases concerning government, the fear is of some (at the time) inconsequential information, balloons to take the media’s attention; something akin to the 8,000 pages of BC Rail documents, revealing Kinsella’s $300,000.00 consulting fee. And there is more to come!

    The court case may show that RAV’s business case was badly flawed or that RAV is a P-3 in name only.

    At 10 AM today, Kevin Falcon is out and former Finance Minister Carole Taylor is in; too bad, I would have loved the ‘Bird’ squirm. But there is another ‘Bird’ to roast.

    As you say, the outcome depends on the judge, but I think that the case will damage both TransLink and the government.

    If Susan wins, it will open the lawsuit floodgates, as already a class-action lawsuit has now been filed!

    Malcolm J.

    March 17, 2009 at 9:51 am

  2. I suspect (as do friends who live in the neighbourhood) that a few of these businesses were failing before construction ever started and might be taking advantage of the situation. And, I suspect others with a special interest (or a special DISinterest) are doing the same.

    Even if I am wrong, I still feel like a stong business would have been able to retain enough customers or at least withstand the reduction – particularly restaurants and clothing stores. Think of the extra foot traffic coming this summer?

    I plan on spending a lot of weekends on Cambie this summer. I’ll get off the train at King Ed and walk down to City Hall.


    March 18, 2009 at 12:19 pm

  3. @Shane–You are so wise(sarcasim)The Goverment,lied,misled and disrupted business for years,but thats okay because some of the businesses were failing,WOW,thats all I can say is wow.

    Nobody gets any compensation eh? Is that your position?Can you back that up, the Canada line saved an estimated 200 million dollars by CHANGING the construction plan,and they can`t compensate a few businesses?
    For your imformation there was compensation paid because of Canada line construction,not to affected businesses but to First Nations!
    Thats right, The Musqueam first nations made the claim that because of the Canada line bridge where it crosses the Fraser river it was going in hinder their traditional fishing grounds,so the were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars!
    Could not first nations fished a little east or west of the Canada line bridge? Of course they could,so it appears that some citizens are more equal than others!

    Years of mud,noise,trenches,porty potties in front of your restraurant,a similiar project in Seattle the affected companies got compensation.
    Your argument Shane is pathetic,if the goverment had been upfront and said there will be disruption,major disruptions for years would be something different,but thats not what happened.

    What disruption is not acceptable to you–3 years,5 years,10 years?

    Grant G

    March 18, 2009 at 12:51 pm

  4. Carole Taylor speaks at the trial!

    This comment is for Ron C and others–Carloe Taylor made the statement at the trial today and I quote….

    ” I had concerns about the paticular public private business model in place since it had the provincial goverment providing funding but having no control over the project”

    Grant G

    March 18, 2009 at 1:29 pm

  5. Shane, if customers can’t access one’s business, then one’s business fails! I find you posting offensive, as Cambie st. merchants have been ‘horrified’ by cut-and-cover construction. Most have had their books looked at and many, at great cost, relocated.

    Having operated a tourist oriented store in downtown Vancouver for 22 years, street closures and parking bans, killed business. Where my store was located, was a desirable location for TV shows and movies. Even though shop keepers were paid compensation for street closures and parking bans, by movie companies, business dropped a little every time.

    One summer saw so many movies, that compensation exceeded revenue! The city decided to tip up the street and lay new plumbing, which effectively closed the street for a month (sales plunged 60%)! The cumulative effect over time, from street closures, etc. was a steady decline in business. Shoppers are creatures of habit and when their routine is changed, they seldom return to the ‘old’ routine.

    The same effect is true of cut-and-cover construction where it has been found that businesses along a cut-and-cover subway line take up to 10 years to recover income lost due to the construction!

    Malcolm J.

    March 18, 2009 at 2:23 pm

  6. Did every business on the affected portion of Cambie street close down or move? What makes the ones that stayed different?

    I feel bad that people are in dire financial straits. But, do I think the rest of us owe them money? I’m not sure.

    I do suspect that had they been able to tough it out, they’d make back everything they lost and then some. Cambie street is nicer now than it has ever been and foot traffic will certainly go up as people take the train to King Ed and walk down Cambie to City Hall station.


    March 18, 2009 at 3:18 pm

  7. @ Grant G,

    You are right. Both El Gordo and El Carole have betrayed British Columbians.

    Welcome to the Green Party!


    March 19, 2009 at 12:33 am

  8. If any Cambie merchant had known what was going to happen, every one that could have moved would have.

    Even when construction plans were changed to cut-and-cover, we were told the process would be as follows: a couple of blocks would be torn up, the tunnel built and the street patched up before moving onto the next segment. The suggestion was that any individual block would only be disrupted for a few months at most.

    What we got could hardly have been further from what we were told. For years the entire street from False Creek to Marine Drive was torn up, first to move utilities and then to do the actual tunnel construction.

    It got so bad that I started driving on Cambie regularly because almost everyone had diverted to other streets and none of the cars using Cambie ever slowed down to find parking. Some evenings it was almost like having my own personal 1 lane freeway.

    Not only were there no cars on Cambie I almost never passed any pedestrians either. It’s a wonder any business on that street survived.

    Not using a surface friendly construction technique saved the project hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of those savings should go to the people on the surface who suffered the most.

    Next time we need to take a good hard look at trams. If we can afford to lose a lane of traffic to put in bicycle lanes then surely we can afford to lose one more for light rail and move the cyclists to a parallel route.


    March 19, 2009 at 3:58 pm

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