Regional district of Nanaimo lacks confidence in rail foundation

NANAIMO – Board wants task force to oversee rail service on Vancouver Island.

A week after a tentative deal between Southern Railway and Via Rail was announced, the Regional District of Nanaimo passed a motion of non-confidence in the Island Corridor Foundation.

Marc Lefebvre, a Regional District of Nanaimo director for Parksville, proposed the motion at Tuesday night’s committee of the whole meeting. The motion, which was passed by a majority of directors, still needs to pass a vote at an upcoming regular board meeting to take effect.

Lefebvre’s motion included a provision that would see the regional district affirm its support of a task force of people with rail experience to assist and “reinvigorate the foundation” following consultation with First Nation groups and other regional districts.

Lefebvre cited the deterioration of the rail line, lack of realistic capital funding and information provided on how taxpayer dollars and revenue are being spent on track repairs by the foundation among his reasons for the motion.

Lefebvre said the current aim is to have a broader discussion about rail and public transportation among elected officials on Vancouver Island.

“We’re looking at a much wider-ranging strategic discussion and once that discussion has taken place then we’ll see what happens,” Lefebvre said when asked what his motion would mean for the foundation. “I really don’t know how that’s going to evolve, but what we really want to focus on now is, with regards to the rail line, getting a dollar number that we feel is realistic in terms of what it’s going to cost to get the rail line up and running.”

In a statement, foundation chairwoman Mary Ashley referred to the motion as “disrespectful and ill-conceived.”

“It is disrespectful of the ICF directors who have contributed years of dedication to preserve the E&N corridor for the people of Vancouver Island,” said Ashley.

“It is ill-conceived because the foundation has accomplished much in the development of trails, preservation of its heritage buildings and has tentative agreements for $21 million in track and bridge infrastructure investment from the federal, provincial and five regional governments and a tentative Via Rail train service agreement,” she said.

The foundation announced a tentative deal with Via and Southern last week that would allow access to $20 million in funding for infrastructure improvements but there were conflicting reports immediately afterward as to whether Via was on board.

Both foundation CEO Graham Bruce and Via Rail spokeswoman Mylene Belanger reiterated that the tentative deal in place required ratification.

The regional district is currently withholding a total of about $945,000 in funding to the foundation until passenger rail service is established on the Island.