Vancouver Island regional districts are urgently calling on the Canadian government to commit to protecting the historic Island Rail Corridor as the mid-March deadline to decide its fate inches closer.
In a Tuesday (Feb. 21) news release, the Capital Regional District board said it’s working alongside other regional districts on the Island – representing more than 610,000 residents – to encourage the federal government to sit down with the province and regional districts to provide an update of its position on the issue.
“We believe it is in the national, provincial and regional interest to protect this corridor and advance First Nations reconciliation efforts and should be a top priority for the federal government,” said CRD board chair Colin Plant. “It is imperative that we recognize the significance of this crucial transportation infrastructure and work together to ensure its protection for generations to come.”
The federal government has until March 14 to decide whether it will fund infrastructure on a disputed corridor segment that runs through a Nanoose-area First nation. That Court of Appeal-imposed deadline was the result of a lawsuit launched by the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation, which has argued the land was expropriated for an intended use that is no longer being used.
The First Nation brought forward the suit after passenger service along the line ended in 2011, leaving it to deteriorate in the decade following.
Two rulings sided with Canada and the Island Corridor Foundation, which committed to restoring the entire 295-kilometre rail corridor if it can manage to secure sufficient funding. The court, however, will allow the First Nation to enforce its right of reversion if the feds don’t put up funding or reach a decision by the deadline.
“Regional district boards across Vancouver Island previously supported the ICF’s request that the federal and provincial governments work together to create a multi-disciplinary team, reflecting all interests, to protect the corridor and advance rail transportation on Vancouver Island,” said a Feb. 17 letter from the CRD to the ministers of transport and Crown-Indigenous relations.
“We also request that the federal and provincial government equitably settle Indigenous claims within and along the Island Rail Corridor.”
Transport Canada has said the federal government’s decision-making will be informed by B.C.’s engagement on the corridor’s future and remains under consideration.
– With files from Jake Romphf