NDP MLA Jenn McGinn zeroes in on Cambie Line

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After Vancouver-Burrard NDP MLA Spencer Herbert took the Campbell government to the woodshed for its handling of housing issues, Vancouver-Fairview NDP MLA Jenn McGinn followed with her debut speech to the legislature.

McGinn, a business banker at Vancity, provided a detailed dissertation on the Campbell government’s shabby treatment of Cambie Street merchants, who’ve suffered immensely as a result of construction of the Canada Line.

“Full excavation of the street began in November 2006 and was supposed to be completed by mid-2008,” McGinn said according to a draft transcript on the legislature Web site. “Parts of Cambie Street are still a disaster and pose many challenges to residents and businesses alike.”

The Canada line is scheduled open a year drom now. “TransLink had assured the Cambie Street merchants that the disruption would only last three to four months at any one location,” McGinn said, according to the draft transcript. “This was based on a bore-tunnel method. Instead they did a cost-savings about-face and proceeded with a cut-and-cover method, which meant full excavation in front of storefronts and which lasted for a minimum of 11 months at any location and, in many areas, considerably more.”

She pointed out that more than 50 small businesses have either gone bankrupt or forced to move. Many were “institutions in my community”, such as the Don Don Noodle Cafe and Tomato restaurant.

“Business owners have told me that part of the reason they’ve been so harmed by the Canada line construction is because they never expected it to be built by cut-and-cover,” she noted. “These families not only experienced huge financial losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also deep personal shame for losing their business.”

Then McGinn paid tribute to Susan Heyes, owner of Hazel and Co. at Cambie and 16th, who recently announced that after ten years of operations she’s moving to Main Street.

“Ms. Heyes has been a tireless advocate for the Cambie merchants,” McGinn said, according to the draft transcript. “She’s been the brave voice for many who were too afraid to speak out. I’m quite certain that the loss of this business and her strong voice will be missed in the Cambie village and beyond. Ms. Heyes has had a three-year fight for compensation over the Canada line construction and has taken that fight all the way to the B.C. Supreme Court….Ms. Heyes reports suffering $900,000 in lost sales, forcing this single mother to remortgage her home twice to stay afloat.”

In addition, McGinn told the House that the Cambie Street business improvement association filed a lawsuit earlier this month, seeking damages in excess of $20 million from the defendants, Canada Line Rapid Transit and InTransit B.C., the companies tasked with building the Canada line, and SNC Lavalin, the project’s major construction contractor.

“Since the defendants benefited by switching construction methods at the plaintiffs’ expense, the plaintiffs wish to be compensated,” McGinn said, according to the draft transcript. “So far both TransLink and the provincial government have denied any responsibility to compensate businesses for their losses. This is in spite of a commitment made by the Premier on June 10, 2004, that ‘the province will assume construction risks and responsibilities through RAVCO, which will be transferred to the province.’ ”

According to a survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in October 2007, the average business impacted by the Canada Line construction saw a sales loss of approximately $112,000 in the first year of construction, McGinn said.

“Considering that survey was completed well over a year ago, we can only assume these losses are substantially higher,” she added, according to the draft transcript. “Business owners have reported that they’ve had to go in debt to stay afloat. Many have worked longer hours or had to lay off staff. Many have had no other option but to close their doors. Statistics alone cannot begin to capture the damage that has been done to people of my community.”

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