EDITORIAL: End the ICF charade

Report released this week affirms much of what local politicians and editorial writers have been saying for years

The timing has never been better to end this charade.

A report commissioned by the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities has provided independent confirmation of what we’ve been writing in this space for at least a few years: the Island Corridor Foundation’s propensity for secrecy has created a lack of credibility and trust.

The ICF owns the old E&N rail corridor. It has consistently said it could re-start passenger rail service from Victoria to Courtenay with about $21 million. It’s difficult to find anyone outside the ICF who believes this fallacy.

Let us look at some base points here. Would Vancouver Island residents welcome the opportunity to hop on a train to Victoria and back to their homes in Qualicum Beach or Parksville or Courtenay or Duncan? Absolutely. Taking the drive and the Malahat out of the equation is appealing — it seems a much safer way to visit what we believe to be Canada’s most gorgeous city and the scenery along the way would be fantastic.

Do we have enough people on this Island to make that service financially viable? Absolutely not. Would the addition of thousands of tourists a year make it viable? Doubtful at best.

That stated, would taxpayers and the politicians holding the purse strings be willing to subsidize a service like this for tens of millions of dollars a year? Probably not.

Most people we’ve spoken with, many of them with knowledge of how railways work, laugh at the suggestion the E&N could be made ready for rail service with $21 million. Most say the figure would be $100 million or more. Sure, you might be able to get some kind of train rolling at five or 10 km/h from Nanaimo to Victoria for $21 million, but of what use is that?

The ICF’s response to the report was typical. They are going to have a special meeting, they will look at the recommendations, they have confidence in their CEO.

Truth is, they will continue to operate in secrecy. And that just doesn’t work when you own what is or should be such a valuable public asset. If they opened all their meetings, let their board directors speak openly and open all their books, too many questions would arise and too many fingers would be pointed. For example, ask them about the Godzilla movie and the hundreds of thousands of dollars filmmakers paid to get access to the corridor.

It’s time to dismantle the ICF and face the financial and engineering realities of what can be done, and should be done, with this incredible public asset.

— Editorial by John Harding