Let’s Not Let the City be Railroaded Again – Tim Louis on Expropriation of Arbutus Corridor


It’s not often that I agree with our current mayor, but when Gregor Robertson recently accused the Canadian Pacific (CP) of “bullying tactics” in its efforts to force the city to pay well above market for the long contested Arbutus Corridor, bulldozing some of the community gardens that city residents have nurtured along the abandoned right of way, for once he got it right.

But as usual, the leader of the short-sighted Vision party doesn’t go far enough, even when he takes a rhetorically energetic position. It is far past time for the city to use its powers under the Vancouver Charter to expropriate the corridor and protect it for future public use. Instead, CP and Vision Vancouver, two profit-driven entities, are performing a feud of gluttonous proportions.

Recently, CP’s spokesperson stated that they would suspend their demolition drama for two to three weeks while they negotiate with the city. CP claims that if a fair solution cannot be reached in this time, then they will “resume work in preparation for rail operations.”

Let’s remember that the land was granted to CP way back in 1885. Canadian taxpayers provided a cash subsidy of $25 million and a land grant of 25 million acres. Construction was commenced, thus creating the generous profits that railway speculators took away from the project. BC taxpayers gave the company most of downtown Vancouver, allegedly for re-locating the Pacific terminus from Port Moody to our town. The company would have had to make this move anyway because waters off Port Moody are too shallow for the ships that CP saw as part of its global reach. Freight has not been moved along the Arbutus corridor since 2001. Many have said that there is no business merit in running cargo along this line in the future.

The city has offered CP $20 million, a sum that, according to the city, is based on fair market value, judging from what the rail giant accepted from Richmond for similar property there a few years ago. This offer would have allowed the railway barons a chance to make a considerable profit from an unused rail route for which they paid nothing. Instead, we’ve seen CP demand $100 million and tear up a bunch of gardens.

Cue the mayor, as he stands at the front of the classroom giving a lecture about “bullying tactics”. But admonishing CP for their bad behaviour is not the same as taking action. It’s more likely that this delay, which has wasted time and stirred up public emotion, is an opportunity for Vision to puff their chests with false heroism as they play the part of the city’s guardians of green space. This misdirection is yet another sleight of hand by a developer party.

The mayor’s recently revealed offer to share profits with CPR if a future city council develops part of the corridor for housing or other higher profit use is ill advised, to say the least. You don’t respond to a bully with bribes. You respond with action that protects the interests of the entire group, not just the trouble-makers who make the most noise. It’s time for the city to expropriate this property, and a COPE council would do just that.


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