Valentine’s Day was an appropriate date to hear from Chamber partners hoping for a little something special as all levels of government announce their financial plans for the year ahead.
I’ve written in the past about the Royal BC Museum and Belleville Terminal, which should both gain a little clarity from provincial budget day on Feb. 28 and the federal budget sometime after (no date has been announced yet).
Another ongoing concern that impacts communities from Victoria to Courtenay is the fate of the Island Corridor.
On Feb. 14, I facilitated a discussion with Paul Robinson of the Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition and Larry Stevenson, CEO of the Island Corridor Foundation. The meeting was held over Zoom and we invited members of chambers from across Vancouver Island. This is something we’re trying to do more, as the largest business association on the Island. By joining together we have a stronger voice to speak to government on behalf of business. Our goal is to strengthen Island economies by working locally and as a community of chambers.
Transportation is a major issue for many communities and the idea of rail has been talked about for years. The Island has also seen an end to inter city bus service creating yet another barrier to safe travel between communities for those who do not own or have access to a vehicle. The Chamber has asked the Federal Government to subsidize a return of that service. There’s an urgency right now as the March 14 deadline approaches for the province to address the future of the Island Corridor.
No question — the infrastructure needs a lot of TLC. But it did support an active railway for more than 100 years, until service was suspended indefinitely in 2011. Since then, train enthusiasts as well as some environmentalists and transportation planners have been vocal in calling for the return of rail. They argue that a modern passenger train will reduce the number of cars and transport trucks on Island highways, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and offering an efficient and even pleasant alternative for commuters.
Others have been just as vocal against the return of rail, instead calling for the corridor to become a hiking trail or be used in other ways.
Meanwhile, more questions have been raised by the fact the corridor runs through the territories of 14 First Nations. A lawsuit by the Snaw-naw-as First Nation wants to reclaim the land that runs through its territory. They say the right-of-way granted by Canada to E&N Railway in 1912 is no longer being used as intended.
On Sept. 14, 2021, a BC Court of Appeals judge gave the federal and provincial governments 18 months to renew their commitment to improve the infrastructure required for rail. If no commitment is made, then an entirely new discussion will need to begin. As we heard Feb. 14, there are no simple solutions and the costs will be high whether rail service returns or the land is rehabilitated to be repurposed.
Now we wait for government to make difficult decisions with limited public funds to see which way the story will go.
Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
This column was originally published in the February edition of the Business Examiner.