John McKinleyBlack Press
Vancouver Island communities want a review of the way Vancouver Island’s rail line is financed and managed.
But who will do it, how it will be done and who is going to pay for it remains very much up in the air.
Delegates to the annual Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities conference in Nanaimo voted Sunday, April 10, to “work with impacted local governments and the ICF board to conduct a financial and governance review of the Island Corridor Foundation.”
The vote came despite the fact that the AVICC executive told its members it does not have the ability to conduct such a review in-house and that it may come at a cost.
The ICF is the partnership of regional districts and First Nations that owns the rail corridor. It has been criticized for its transparency, spending, fee policies and progress in restarting passenger rail.
ICF co-chair Dr. Judith Sayers said the ICF and AVICC has always had a very positive relationship and she expects that to continue.
“We’re pleased to meet with the AVICC any time,” she said. “Our audits are public, they are on our website. I’m not sure exactly what more they are looking for.”
That’s understandable because the AVICC isn’t sure itself.
AVICC president and Comox Councillor Barbara Price said the organization will likely reach out to each member community to determine exactly what they want the review to achieve. Once that information is compiled, a plan will be drafted, reviewed and approved.
Then someone will likely have to be hired to do the actual work.
“It will definitely have to be a contractor to do this work,” Price said. “We will certainly be working with communities to build a terms of reference before we start. We will have to find a way to fund it.”
Capital Regional District Director Denise Blackwell, who presented the motion, said she can live with the process if that’s what it takes to get a better look at what the ICF is doing and why.
“I think that’s fair,” Blackwell said. “I am glad that there are people recognizing that there are issues with the management.”
Meanwhile, while its management was being scrutinized, the future of rail service itself got the support of a majority of municipal politicians.
On April 9, delegates to the AVICC AGM voted in a show of hands by an approximately two to one margin to urge the federal government to release the $7.5 million it has promised to upgrade the tracks.
A handful of delegates said any questions that exist about ICF management must be kept separate from the issue of rail service.
Regional District of Nanaimo Director Julian Fell said the RDN’s recent decision to pull its $950,000 commitment rendered the federal grant release motion — introduced by Port Alberni — moot. He pointed to a sold-out excursion train that toured Nanaimo on the Friday of the AVICC convention, and said it “may be the last passenger train we see on Vancouver Island.”
Sayers said she is confident the ICF can either work things out with the RDN to get the funding reinstated, or find other funding sources.