Christmas eve is almost upon us and there's one thing we know Vancouver's new Vision Council delivered to the struggling merchants of Cambie Street impacted by the Canada Line construction: a big bag of coal.
There may be no financial compensation in the stockings of Cambie Street merchants this year, however, the Vision majority did find time in their first few weeks in office to spend a few million tax dollars.
Here is a breakdown (we'll be keeping track as we go along for all those who are interested):
- They went against professional staff advice and invested $10-12 million in the struggling York Theatre re-development on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver
- Invested tens of thousands of dollars on a lavish inaugural ceremony at the Sunset Community Centre - an event that would have resulted in no additional cost if they held it at City Hall like most other cities
- Paid former and well-respected City Manager Judy Rogers an estimated $700,000 in severance
- Unknown amount to hire accounting and PR firms as well as secure new external legal counsel regarding the Olympic Village project
- $500,000 to provide funding for emergency shelter beds (NOTE: this was announced by the Mayor prior to it even being discussed or approved in Council)
So with all those tax dollars flying around, why have Vision politicians gone silent regarding the issue of compensation for Cambie Street Merchants?
It was only a few months ago when Gregor Robertson and his Vision colleagues were calling upon the government to provide financial compensation to the beleaguered merchants on Cambie street. One could even argue that Gregor's entire political career and ascension to Mayor of Vancouver came about thanks to the Canada Line/Cambie conflict. An under-performer in Victoria, Gregor used Cambie Street as a vehicle for getting on the dinner hour newscasts and build his profile.
Opposition MLA Robertson even introduced the Small Business Fairness and Protection Act. If the Bill had passed, it would have provided tax relief for Cambie Merchants.
Now that Robertson is the Mayor, and is the head of a City that permitted the cut-and-cover to take place, why did he choose not to provide even a portion of the City's estimated $15 million budget surplus in 2008 to help the Cambie merchants? Surely this must have been a topic of discussion in all those transition team meetings that were held over the last few months.
It would have taken a simple motion in Council to allocate a portion of the surplus toward targeted tax relief for small businesses impacted by the Canada Line construction. But nope, the 2008 Budget is now officially closed and those surplus dollars are being safely tucked away in a reserve fund, likely to be used by a future council.
Before you astute readers begin attacking me for being hypocritical on the issue of compensation (he was in government, why didn't he give them compensation when he was there?), let me state clearly that I do NOT support providing tax relief to Cambie St. merchants.
Gregor and Vision Vancouver are on the record as supporting compensation.
The time to have set the terms for compensation was when folks like then COPE Councillor Raymond Louie were sitting on TransLink's Board back in 2003. Raymond was the swing vote on that Board on the Canada Line decision. He had a huge amount of influence on the outcomes, but clearly his efforts fell short. If you recall, it was Louie who in 2007 stated, "We provided $3 million to the local merchants and we thought it would be enough."
A bunch of "heritage" trees on Cambie Boulevard got saved though.
I suspect that some Cambie merchants won't be celebrating this Christmas knowing that their political "champion" has all but abandoned them now that he's in government.
NOTE: The Cambie Street merchants are in court seeking financial compensation from all levels of government, including TransLink, regarding the impacts Canada Line construction had on their businesses.