Mayor Robertson failed to provide tax relief for Cambie Street merchants last year despite a $15 million budget surplus
It was a smiling and confident Mayor Gregor Robertson who walked into the courthouse today, and a remorseful one that emerged. His worship was testifying as part of a civil trial regarding the impact the Canada Line had on Cambie Street merchants. Robertson had to take off his Mayor's hat, and testify as the former NDP MLA for the court case.
If you recall, it was the Canada Line issue that helped propel Robertson from feckless backbencher into the Mayor's chair. In photo op after photo op, Robertson called upon the City, Provincial and Federal governments to provide merchants with financial compensation. However, as we reported here earlier, the Mayor has yet to offer a penny to the merchants since he took power last November.
A sad looking Robertson told the media after his testimony:
"It brought back some tough memories of what people suffered through. It's hard to see it turning into a big legal fight when really it was merchants that needed the help during the construction."
Despite a budget surplus in excess of $15 million dollars in 2008, Robertson chose not to bring forward a motion to allocate even a portion of that to provide tax relief for Cambie merchants. This is despite the fact he could find $570K to payout former City Manager Judy Rogers in severance, as well as fund a new Mental Health Advocate.
The Canada Line was previously championed by former Mayor Larry Campbell and his Vision colleagues. In fact, it was Councillor Raymond Louie who cast the deciding vote to ensure the project was approved by Translink, the region's transportation authority.
So was the issue of merchant compensation on the mind of the Mayor's caucus colleague when he voted in favour of Canada Line construction? Here's what France Bula reported at the time:
"Two TransLink directors say they'd be willing to reconsider their "no" votes
on continuing with the RAV rapid transit line if the terms of the project
As furious politicking continued Friday, with supporters of the line trying
to find a way to revive it, Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean and Vancouver
Councillor Raymond Louie said they would be open to supporting the $1.5- to
$2-billion project, but only if a substantial set of conditions were met.
For MacLean, that would mean seeing the private sector absorb more risk,
scrapping a tunnel at the south end of Vancouver to reduce the cost, and
getting a commitment from the provincial government to build the northeast
line at the same time.
The northeast line -- an extension of the existing Millennium line -- was at
the top of TransLink's priority list until the provincial government decided
it wanted the RAV line (for Richmond-Airport-Vancouver) in time for the 2010
Louie said he didn't have as specific a list of requirements as MacLean, but
basically the project had to have more guaranteed money and less risk if he
was going to support it."
According to Bula, a number of heavy hitters including the head of the BC Federation of Labour were lobbying Louie regarding the Canada Line project. She states:
"Louie got a personal call from B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim
Sinclair explaining the federation's formal position against supporting a P3
project, along with calls from Tourism Vancouver and the business community
urging him to vote for it."
Former Mayor Larry Campbell was very candid with Bula when he told her he gave Louie a get out of jail free card:
"I sprung Ray loose. He was really torn over this thing."
In fact, more folks were concerned about saving cherry trees on Cambie Street than they were about ensuring merchants were protected against possible business disruption.
As we reported earlier today, Vancouver Council has it within their power to provide tax exemptions to businesses and residents if they so wish. Prior to heading into the courtroom today, perhaps the Mayor should have moved that motion to provide tax relief for the Cambie Merchants. Then, and only then, will he be able to justifiably say he's done everything for the small mom and pops who've faced financial ruin over the last number of years.
Sadly for the merchants, it appears that after this court case is over, the only one who will have emerged victorious in this whole affair is the Mayor himself.