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A British Columbia moment


To those poor souls who live east of the Rocky Mountains, British Columbia has always remained a mystery. A wild land of stunning beauty, yet throughout its history it’s been inhabited by people who, in other places or at other times, might not have been tolerated. Whereas in most provinces the cream rises to the top, in B.C. the nuts gather around the trees.

The list of B.C. characters stretches from Bill Miner and Amor De Cosmos through Ma Murray and Phil Gaglardi, to Bill Vander Zalm and Jack Munro. While other provinces have elected governments based on a political party’s vision or a leader’s plan for the future, British Columbians has always chosen populist governments, voting more on faith and keeping the opposition out of office, rather than a careful analysis of policies.

B.C.’s business history is likewise dotted with sketchy ideas that haven’t quite worked out. Every British Columbian had a few BCRIC shares at one time, but the list of made-in-B.C. investment flops runs from penny mining stocks to french fry vending machines and Skeena Cellulose.

They say there is a fine line between brilliance and madness. British Columbians know the line between entrepreneur and failure can be equally thin. Determining whether someone has a daring vision for the future or has been smoking too much of B.C.’s number one crop is a constant dilemma. Given this history, when a new idea surfaces in B.C. it takes a while to determine whether it’s brilliant or bogus. Is it a Ballard fuel cell or a fast ferry?

One of these conundrums came before Whistler council this week. Susan Cameron-Block, a Vancouver radio host, and engineer David Hawkins were before our elected officials to explain their monorail concept, the perfect solution to transportation needs for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The patented system touches all the right buttons: it’s fast (300 km/h), pollution-free because it uses fuel cells, follows the existing corridor and could also carry a fibre optic line or sewer line. Hawkins, founder of Hampshire Hill Research, explained in his Cambridge accent that the Eazeway system utilizes technology proven in other industries: off-shore oil drilling, a compressed air levitation system similar to that used by hovercrafts, and suspension bridge building. The brilliance of the design lies in bringing all of these technologies together.

Sawmills in Squamish, lying idle due to the 19 per cent tariff on softwood lumber exports to the U.S., could be converted to steel mills to produce the H-beam monorail track, Hawkins suggested. Forest industry workers would have new jobs and First Nations would also be honored, perhaps by including aboriginal carvings or paintings on the towers that support the monorail line.

Best of all, the service would be free. By selling easements or air parcels over the monorail stations to developers the system would pay for itself. It could even lead to reduction or elimination of property taxes, Hawkins said. Additional funds would come from carrying fibre optic lines or natural gas lines on the monorail track.

Cameron-Block wrapped up the presentation by explaining that the Vancouver-Whistler route is just the first step to linking the entire West Coast via the monorail.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly thanked the pair for their input. "Theoretically it meets all of our goals," the mayor said politely.

As the two presenters packed up their drawings, in the corner of council chambers and out of sight of most people, there was a blur of colour as a woman rose to leave. Jaws dropped at the press table. There, in her trademark hat and a dress brimming with flowers, stood Faye Leung.

She said she was a supporter of the monorail project. Her business card was less modest. It described her, in part, as:

Honorary Consul General Faye Leung

Member British Commonwealth

For the Government of Guyana

To the People’s Republic of China and to the Far East

East of the Rocky Mountains people would dismiss what went on in council chambers Tuesday night. For residents of this province it was another British Columbia moment.

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