BC's legislature was the scene of a few hot debates over the Canada Line construction
Back in 2007 the MLA for Vancouver-Fairview stood up in the BC Legislature and introduced a private members bill titled the Small Business Fairness and Protection Act. The legislation was designed to provide financial compensation for business owners (both large and small) who were impacted by government infrastructure projects.
The MLA in question was none other than Gregor Robertson. A lacklustre member of his NDP caucus, he successfully used the Canada Line construction project to his full advantage. Few would argue with the fact it was the key issue that helped catapult him into the Mayor's chair in Vancouver.
When he was an MLA, Robertson felt merchants impacted by a government's decision to improve transit infrastructure should be provided with cash to help soften the blow. Now fast forward to 2011. Mayor Gregor has just received a report from his own City staff demonstrating that the separated bike lanes have negatively impacted businesses by at least $2.4 million.
So what does the Mayor think now of compensation for small businesses impacted by infrastructure projects? Here is what he told Mike Howell over at the Vancouver Courier:
I don’t think this warrants compensation. It’s considered a moderate impact for some businesses and an impact that can be mitigated by improvements.
Wow. It's interesting to see how Robertson's tune has changed now that he's no longer an MLA. If the principle of financial compensation was sound for the merchants on Cambie Street, why would the same logic not apply on Hornby or Dunsmuir Street? It's a question few mainstream media have bothered to ask of His Worship.
So just what exactly was included in Robertson draft legislation? Here is the first section related to which businesses should be eligible:
Significant project grant
3 (1) In a given tax year, an eligible small business is entitled to a grant in the amount set out in section 5.
(2) A small business is eligible if it is adversely affected by a significant infrastructure project for six months.
(3) For the purpose of subsection (2) a small business is adversely affected if it can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Minister the following:
(a) its storefront has suffered or will suffer a traffic disruption due to the construction of a significant project for at least six months; and
(b) its taxable income in the given tax year in which there is a significant project is or will be less than its taxable income for the previous tax year.
Robertson's legislation also called for "emergency loans" for businesses impacted longer than three months.
It's rather curious that Mayor Gregor as been in power almost three years, but has failed to implement this form of legislation at Vancouver City Hall. Could it be that he doesn't think it's workable now that he's Mayor?
It's clear the intent of this Robertson's private members bill was to acknowledge many mom and pop shopkeepers can be negatively impacted by local decisions. You would think some of the merchants who've seen their sales drop by an estimated 30% would receive some sympathy from a Vision-dominated City Hall?
In the case of Canada Line construction mayhem, the business impact was very plain to see. However, when it comes to the financial impacts related to ramming in separated bike lanes without any prior consultation, things bet a bit fuzzier. And that's where Mayor Gregor draws the line.
Robertson argues that comparing Cambie to Hornby is apples and oranges. He's simply wrong. The only thing different is in the scale of impact...not the principle of providing compensation.
A tweet sent out by his communications aide Kevin (Vancouver Kid) Quinlan only muddies the water regarding this debate. He states:
Cambie: 2+ years, 60 biz bankrupt/moved, 2 billion project. Hornby not the same
When I received that message from the Mayor's office, I reviewed Robertson's private member's bill one more time. I looked for the sections that said only businesses impacted by billion dollar, multi-year projects resulting in bankruptcies were eligible for compensation. Needless to say, those qualifications are not referenced.
I agree with Mayor Gregor that the scale of the impact on Cambie Street was much larger than what we are seeing on Hornby or Dunsmuir. But for those merchants feeling the financial squeeze of two new separated bike lanes, they must see this as a real double standard.
It should also be noted that only a few months ago Mayor Gregor claimed there was no negative business impacts to local merchants resulting from the construction of the bike lanes. If you recall, it took a motion from NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton to force Vision Vancouver to undertake a business survey in the first place.
That's likely why you can hear a healthy dose of skepticism in the Mayor's voice when it comes to acknowledging any negative impacts to local businesses resulting from the bike lanes.
But can you really blame Robertson for being so dismissive? After all, it would be a tad embarrassing for a man that got elected fighting for compensation for small businesses, to admit he's harming them himself.
For a real picture of how the Mayor has flip-flopped on this principle of defending small businesses, check out this CTV news report on the Canada Line from 2009. As reporter Stephen Smart says, "that was then, this is now."