Mayor says no time for referendum on CN Rail corridor deal
By John McDonald
A portion of the CN Rail corridor in Lake Country.
(JOHN MCDONALD / iNFOnews.ca)
February 24, 2015 - 12:19 PM
KELOWNA - Lake Country Mayor James Baker says there isn’t enough time to hold a referendum on the CN Rail corridor purchase before the April 1 deadline, unless the rail company and Transport Canada can somehow be persuaded to change the rules and extend it.
With Lake Country out, the entire deal could collapse, leaving the other partners in the deal on their own to negotiate with CN.
“Our statutory requirements are for at least 90 days to hold a referendum,” Baker said. “But nothing is going to happen unless council votes for it. Some of them may say ‘it’s not worth it, let’s spend the money on something else’.”
Lake Country council is holding a special meeting tonight at 5 p.m. to decide its next course of action.
Baker blamed the power of negative thinking on the failure of the alternative approval process to secure voter approval for the purchase. “You got some guy who comes to your door, asks you if you want higher taxes,” said the Mayor. “Of course, you say no, and he says sign here. It’s not hard to imagine that scenario.”
The mayor says a referendum would allow election-style campaigning for both sides and a better opportunity to get their message across. “This way, you’ve got 10 per cent voting. What about the other 90 per cent?" he asked.
Baker said the acquisition team working on the project has been asked to look at ways to keep the deal alive. “We’re hoping to find a way that Lake Country can continue to be part of this purchase,” he said.
The district has announced it certified 960 counterpetitions to the council's proposal to borrow $2.6 million to purchase the land. A minimum 931 registered voters was required to force a referendum.
Lake Country was hoping to participate with Kelowna, Coldstream and Vernon in the shared purchase of the CN Rail corridor, which the company is decommissioning after sub-leasee Kelowna Pacific Railway went under last year.
CN Rail has agreed to sell the railroad right-of-way to the communities for $50 million, of which $28 million is in the form of a charitable donation tax receipt. The balance is split between the three communities based on the amount of land within their boundaries. Lake Country’s share is $5.1 million, half of which council plans to borrow given the approval of voters.
Updated 1:15, Feb. 24 with comments from Lake Country Mayor James Baker.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015