Court delays hamper talks between city/Celgar

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
August 19th, 2009

Hopes for a quick decision from the B.C. Supreme Court in a situation mirroring the Celgar/Castlegar tax dispute have been dashed after the presiding judge suffered a death in his family.

Mayor Lawrence Chernoff said all parties have been closely watching as the court case unfolds between the coastal community of North Cowichan and Catalyst Paper, as this case is so similar to the suit filed, in the same court, against Castlegar by its single largest taxpayer, Celgar.

Celgar, like Catalyst, has refused to pay its municipal tax bill, contending the tax rates are illegal and unfair, and it was hoped the outcome of the Catalyst case would give stakeholders here in the West Kootenay some sense of how the court will rule when asked to strike down municipal tax bylaws.

The presiding judge put paid  that hope, though, when North Cowichan wrapped up its arguments last Thursday.

“Catalyst filed suit against several other communities as well: Port Alberni, Campbell River and Powell River,” said Chernoff. “On Thursday, (rather than render a judgment) on the North Cowichan issue, the judge started hearing Campbell River’s case. If he hears all of them before making a decision, it could take months. There’s just no way to know (what kind of timeframe we’re looking at).”

Further delay, according to North Cowichan deputy chief administrative officer Mark Ruttan, was introduced the following day when court broke for lunch and returned to hear the presiding judge’s father had died and proceedings would be postponed until Aug. 31.
“Our lawyer has urged the judge to make a decision soon, but we don’t know whether he’ll wait until he has heard all the cases,” Ruttan said.

Castlegar city councillor Kevin Chernoff said his understanding is that the judge wants to hear, not all the cases involving Catalyst Paper, but instead just those in the Cowichan Valley, which could mean the difference between waiting weeks rather than months for a ruling.

“I think a decision would make talks easier between Celgar and the city,” he said. “But we’re still meeting, exploring all our options. Within probably the next seven days, we’ll have another meeting of the council task force assigned to this. From there, we’ll carry on ‘without prejudice’ discussions with Celgar.”

He said the city also will be meeting with government and ministry officials from the province during this September’s Union of B.C. Municipalities annual conference to discuss what role the province can play, and what direction can be offered from Victoria.

Categories: General


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