Election campaigns should be opportunities to canvas issues seriously. They are, unfortunately, more apt to intensify political posturing. On Monday, Hunter Harrison, the CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., contributed his part to the party of posturing, diving into the Vancouver city election – seven weeks away – with a full-page ad in a number of newspapers. The subject? The Arbutus corridor, a disused 11-kilometre railway line stretching from the north arm of the Fraser River to False Creek.
Over the years, many homeowners have treated bits of the corridor as part of their backyards. Expectations settled in, though people can hardly have thought the land was theirs.
The CPR has tried to sell the land, but is indignant about the yawning gap between the city's offer of $20-million and the company's appraisal of $400-million, even with an undisclosed discount price.
The CPR began recently to remove homeowners' sheds, lawn chairs, vegetable gardens, as if the company really meant to reactivate the line. At most, the route could only be used for training at this point, but the newspaper ads speak of "rail operations ... up to operating standards later this fall."
Meanwhile, Mayor Gregor Robertson and the Vancouver City Council are vowing that they "will oppose the reactivation of cargo trains along the corridor." That, too, is shadowboxing. Reintroducing trains on the Arbutus corridor would mean shipping cargo from nowhere to nowhere.
The argument is over a stretch of land in one of the world's most expensive cities. The CPR is the owner, and railways are not charitable foundations.
It's understandable that the city government would be glad to acquire, at a modest price, a long strip of land well suited to a light-rail-transit line, with one end close to Vancouver International Airport and the other at the Granville Bridge near the centre of the city.
The corridor could also be an attractive park and bicycle route – appealing to the supporters of Mr. Robertson's party, Vision Vancouver. Meanwhile, the opposition Non-Partisan Association has suggested a land exchange with the CPR, or tax credits. Some of the property could also be profitably developed – and there might be a way to permit real estate development on part of it, to help pay for the purchase of the bulk of the land as a park.
The election has heightened interest in the Arbutus corridor, but the dispute will not be resolved before the Nov. 15 vote. After that, both sides should calm down, negotiate reasonably and make a deal.