The long and troubled road to the Canada Line
Published Monday, August 17, 2009 4:11PM PDT Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 8:35PM PDT
The opening day of Metro Vancouver's new $2 billion transit system comes as little consolation to business owners along the Cambie Street corridor, who say their livelihoods were destroyed in the four years of construction.
This spring, the B.C. Supreme Court awarded former Cambie Street business owner Susan Heyes $600,000 in damages -- plus costs -- as a result of construction disruption she says devastated her maternity ware company at Cambie and 16th, Hazel and Co.
During the trial, Heyes' lawyer, Cameron Ward, said the case "is about a small business owner that was crushed and financially devastated by the irresponsible and wrongful actions of big business and big government."
In Pictures: Canada Line Day One
The original proposal for the line was to bore a tunnel under Cambie Street, which would have had minimal impact on merchants. However, the plan was dropped in favour of cut-and-cover construction, a method that delivered cost savings of $400 million.
According to the court judgment, a loss of more than $500,000 over four years, resulting from the decline in sales, and the reduction of approximately 50 per cent in gross profit caused solely by cut and cover construction cannot be regarded as a tolerable or acceptable burden which should be absorbed by Hazel & Co.
Heyes told CTV News on May 28 she was happy the case was over, and hoped it would set a precedent for other Cambie merchants who lost revenue through construction.
"The financial award is going to ensure my business can stay operating and that I don't have to sell my house,'' Heyes said.
She has since moved her business to a new location on Main Street.
As MLA for part of the construction area, B.C's former finance minister Carole Taylor took the stand during the case, and had harsh words about the hardships the transit project has forced on small businesses.
Taylor told the court that "the construction was far more disruptive than anyone had anticipated," not only because it was done with a cut and cover method as opposed to the promised bored tunnel but also because pledges to only disrupt individual businesses for a maximum of three months were never kept.
"My constituents certainly were affected. I tried very hard to help," Taylor said.
She also took aim at TransLink and the company building the line. Taylor said when she realized the full financial impact on businesses she tried to bring owners' concerns to project officials but got nowhere.
Taylor told the court: "it was like being on a rollercoaster. I'd get a call saying something was going forward and then it wasn't. It was quite disappointing."
Even Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson expressed his disappointment about how the construction was handled.
"The principle of compensation for a mega project like this is very important. We can't see this happen again," he said.
"From my perspective, this was an injustice."
A door opening?
Observers of the Heyes case said the ramifications of the court ruling are likely to be felt elsewhere.
"It has tremendous consequences for governments generally who are doing public works,'' said Jonathan Baker, a lawyer and former city councilor, who points to the consequences for businesses on Granville Street, which was also disrupted by construction.
"They could have left it partly open for traffic so business could be kept alive and they haven't done that. So potentially they could be sued for using a method that saves them money but transfers the burden to the property owners," Baker said.
Supporters of the Canada Line have long held the transit line will not only cut down on commute times between Vancouver and the airport, but also boost tourism in the region, and boost economic benefits to businesses around the line.