Mar 22, 2009

History lessons for Carole Taylor


Former Finance Minister Carole Taylor was in court last week testifying in a lawsuit arising from damage to Cambie Street merchants from the Canada Line.

She was sympathetic to the merchants but, “It was a TransLink project,” she said. “There’s no question the province didn’t have any control over the project.” She admitted that at times she questioned the “P3 model” that gave the province no control.

Taylor was only elected in 2005 so perhaps she can be forgiven for not knowing the history of how the Canada Line came to be a public private partnership with a ditch instead of a tunnel. The choice to use a P3 was imposed by the province on what was then a locally run transit authority.

On June 19, 2002 Deputy Transportation Minister Dan Doyle wrote to TransLink CEO Pat Jacobsen making the province’s position clear. He said, “Any project constructed using provincial funding will be a public private partnership.”

That stipulation – No P3, no provincial transit cash – was repeated several times over the next two years but the real pressure from the province came in 2004 after the TransLink Board had turned down the transit P3 twice. At that point Transportation Minister Keven Falcon said the province was pulling any money for rapid transit (including for what is now called the Evergreen Line) until after the Olympics. He also killed a proposed parking stall tax saying without the Canada Line, TransLink didn’t need the money.

A business coalition was created to support the line and its P3, the federal government found some more money and then the province promised some funding for the Evergreen Line. As a result, two TransLink Directors changed their votes and the Canada Line was underway.

Subsequently, the project went over budget. TransLink had to put in more money but it also came up with ways to cut costs. By January 2005 the plan to tunnel under Cambie Street had been dumped in favour of a proposal by the P3 company for a ditch. Ravco chief executive Jane Bird said disruptions would be minimal.

Even though the province finally got its way on the Canada Line P3 Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon was still furious at TransLink’s temporary display of independence. In December 2004 he promised a sweeping review and restructuring of TransLink. Three years later the province finally passed legislation firing the locally elected TransLink Board replacing it with government friendly appointees.

Carole Taylor expressed real sympathy with her former constituents along Cambie Street. But to say the P3 model gave the province no control is a pretty serious rewriting of history.