Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says he wouldn't rule out new talks with Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. to buy the Arbutus corridor through central Vancouver, an apparent change in his position on a hot-button issue.
In his previous substantive comments about Arbutus, the mayor has talked about seeking to intervene in the regulatory process on CP's use of the corridor. However, his remarks on Wednesday suggest he is still open to negotiating a deal to buy the corridor if his administration can come to terms with CP – a move that could end the transportation giant's plans to return trains to the abandoned track after more than a decade.
Without being specific, Mr. Robertson said CP would have to come up with a "fair-market" price to resolve a continuing standoff during which venerable community garden plots have been destroyed by CP crews intent on clearing the track.
"I'm not going to get taken for a ride by CP on the value," Mr. Robertson told reporters following an unrelated transit news conference in Surrey on Wednesday.
CP is in the process of upgrading the nine kilometres of track, which was last used by freight trains 13 years ago. That work stopped in October, 2014, after the city secured a court injunction, but resumed this year after a B.C. Supreme Court justice sided with CP.
The company has described the corridor as a valuable asset it has every intention of using for the benefit of its shareholders. CP has said the corridor could be worth about $400-million as a real-estate development, but might sell for $100-million. City officials have countered that $20-million is a more reasonable price.
The issue prompted debate during last November's municipal election, which saw Mr. Robertson re-elected for a third term.
The Vancouver mayor also said the has been in "ongoing communication" with CP over the issue, but there have been no official negotiations.
Asked about the discussions, Mr. Robertson said, "I'd put it in the occasional calls and e-mails category." He did not elaborate.
CP disputed the mayor's claim. "I can confirm that no talks – either formal or informal – regarding the Arbutus Corridor have taken place between CP and the City of Vancouver," spokesman Martin Cej wrote on Wednesday in an e-mail exchange about the situation.
CP has said it will use the track in some manner such as making training runs, storing rail cars and doing welding work. The company has said it would seek the appropriate regulatory approval before launching any use of the corridor.
At the same time, the city has said it would intervene in any such regulatory process to express its concerns about the return of train traffic to the corridor, which is now largely bounded by residential areas.
Mr. Robertson said the city is disappointed at the damage being done to historic gardens and public space that has long been enjoyed by local residents.
But he said there's no business rationale for the city to cut a deal with CP under current terms, accusing the company of tactics that continue "to look like bullying and trying to get a city to move on an unfair deal. There's a lot more work to be done to solve this one. They have got to come off their hard position, which is not fair and not realistic."