“Families cannot prosper and keep America B.C. strong, if government becomes a Goliath that preys upon their wealth, usurps their rights, and crushes their spirit.”
I found it quite remarkable how these words from Ronald Reagan seem almost destined to be spoken about the current state of political and public affairs in this province, hence the strikeout of ‘ America’ in the opening quote. I have to agree that our government here in BC has gained the image of Goliath – a massive, uncaring monster of corporate controlled politicians mucking about with no regard to the little people at its feet.
It is no wonder then, that I wasn’t shocked by the story that landed in my email box recently – another classical story of David and Goliath in which the Ministry of Transportation stars as Goliath to one families fight in the role of David.
Pavi Khunkhun’s email seemed to reach out and grab me around the neck as I read it. I clicked on the media links he attached, one from Global and one from CBC, watched the visuals of the horrific road construction right in front of his hotel and then the closing image of a grown man breaking down in tears from the sheer frustration of the situation he never asked to be in…
” I am begging you for help. If there is anything that you can do for me I would be more then greatful.”
This was the last line of Pavi’s email, followed by a simple thank you.
Now this struck me, deeply. I occasionally get letters from people in situations beyond their control, asking for help. I’m nobody, really,just a woman, a writer, and a mom, but if there is something I can do to help a person, I will. Sometimes it’s only a matter of directing them to resources they are not aware of, sometimes it takes a couple calls to the right people, but sometimes the problem is so great, I don’t think there is anything I can do at all.
I worried about this when I heard from Pavi. In Pavi’s own words, he is being ” Cambie-streeted”.
In fact,Pavi had been referred to me by Susan Heyes, a wonderful friend of mine who most people know as the Cambie Street merchant who took on the government – and won. Susan thought at the very least, I could tell the story of the Pavi, and his family, and how they have become the latest victims of a government who just doesn’t seem to give a damn about the people who helped build this province.
And it is quite the story, one that goes far beyond the brief TV news links above. This is the story of the Golden Village Inn, and it begins not with Pavi Khunkhun, but with his parents, Dave and Shindy.
Dave Khunkhun immigrated to Canada in the late 1960’s, and his wife, Shindy arrived several years later in 1974. They came to Canada for the same reasons most new immigrants do, to make a new life, with new dreams. It was in pursuit of these dreams that they came to settle in the community of Golden, B.C.
Dave put himself through an auto mechanics course, and subsequently got a new job at the mill. It was while he worked at the mill that he took 4 years of instruction to become a millwright, and spent many long hours away from his family to ensure his success. Shindy worked too, in rest homes, and all the while they both had to care for their growing young family of three children.
Years of hard work and sacrifice paid off, and in 1985, the family happily bought the Golden Village Inn. In a funny way, it made life even harder for them, because in addition to raising the kids, who were in school, both Dave and Shindy still worked their fulltime jobs, and then put in time at the hotel when those shifts were done!
They wanted to provide the best for their kids though, and so continued this killer regime for years. The kids even helped through their highschool years, working at the hotel when homework was done, and doing what they could to make things run smoother for their parents, because in Golden, the tourist season is very small, limited to about 3 months at most – June, July and August. Everything had to be done to capitalize on those precious months and make sure visitors had a lovely experience to remember.
Eventually, the kids grew and started to go off to university, and eventually one of them had to quit to assist with the hotel fulltime. Shindy continued to work in a rest home, and then come to the hotel to do her second job there when that was done. The hotel has done well enough over the years to merit an expansion and upgrades, and some years ago , Dave and Shindy’s son, Pavi, took to running most of the operations.
Life was good. They worked tremendously hard to build the Golden Village Inn, and that hard work rewarded them with perhaps not an extravagant life, but one rich in happiness and the knowledge that they did it themselves. Surely, this country is one dreams are truly made of.
Yes… life was good.
Key word there is, was, because soon came the announcement of the Kicking Horse Project – a multi-year, phased in series of much-needed highway improvements to the TransCanada highway in the Kicking Horse Canyon, an area known for the hazards drivers can encounter along the way.
No one disputes the highway needed some enhancements and upgrades, and the Khunkhun’s had no issues until consultations and public meetings began for phase 3 of the project. It was then that they began to be concerned about the 4 lane expansion which was going to take place in front of their business.
I would suggest at this point that you take a few moments to watch the two clips I’ve posted above, if you haven’t already. It will effectively provide you with the visuals of what Pavi is enduring at the moment, and why I’m telling this story.
Talks with ministry officials assured them that there would be appropriate signage to direct potential customers to the Inn. The vast majority of their business is simply walk-in – people who happen to be driving by and so it was imperative that this not be impeded in any manner for the business to succeed. Reps assured that the signs would be large and visible and there would be no problems.
However, that wasn’t the only issue prior to the beginning of the construction that has been slowly murdering their business. Evidence of how the ministry operated began with a piece of land the ministry needed to expand the highway, and that land was owned by the Khunkhuns. The lot had a mobile home on it, that was rented out at $800.00 a month. Pavi’s father Dave tells me that it was zoned so that the value of the land at the time, was approximately $100-150,000.00 . In Pavi’s words, this is what happened:
Last September MOT/MOH rep Peter McLeod offered to purchase a part of my property for the highway construction. The land in question had a mobile home trailer that we charged $800.00 a month rent. The ministry offered $20,000.00. We are insulted and told them “no”. Eventually after going back and forth the ministry told us they would offer $60,000.00, I was also told by Mr. McLeod that they had also purchased the Golden Gate Motel and that it was going to be torn down to make room for the highway. He also said that the construction company would be building the highway would be staying at our hotel during construction. I felt this was a fair deal and we sold the trailer and land since rooms were going to be rented out by the construction crew.I felt this would only help our business and they are trying to be understanding and work with us, so I took their offer.
This was in the fall, and when March arrived, Pavi and his family were shocked to discover that the ministry obviously had other plans in mind :
In March there was a open house at the visitor centre. We were told at this time that the construction was going to start in June and the construction company would not be staying at my hotel. Instead they would be staying at the Golden Gate until the end of construction because it was free. I was livid and felt that I had been hustled.
Pavi and his family felt not only deceived, but worse yet, fooled and foolish. Having crews of workers stay with them while the summer construction occurred would have definitely help offset any losses because of the road work, which has horribly upset access to their hotel, and driven away customers who do find their way over because of noise, dust and ground shaking equipment. Not exactly restful vacation material, as anyone can see. Being an honest family business with integrity, they took the ministry official at his word, only to discover words mean nothing if they aren’t on paper…
It is now nearing the end of the summer tourist season, and September is at hand.
Pavi and his family will never get it back again, they have suffered a massive financial loss as a result of this road construction, and what business they have had, is being continually disrupted. Earlier this week, they received a letter from Emil Anderson, the contractor on the job, that the water would be shut off for one day… Pavi told me what happened next :
Today they shut the water off.
I was given a letter from Emil Anderson saying that they would be shutting down the water from August 23 – August 26 for one day. ( There are a lot of days in between, please be more clear! ) Anyway, I called Dallas Banman and asked if he could be more clear on what day the water would be shut down because we have a restaurant and hotel, we need to cook and do laundry and I don’t want staff standing around doing nothing and getting paid for it. He said he understand and would give me a 1 day notice.
An Emil Anderson staff person showed up at our door this morning and said we are shutting down the water. So much for my one day notice. I had CP Rail crew staying here, and upon return from their 12 hour work shift they could not take a shower or make a cup of tea, in fact the water was not turned back on until 3pm in the afternoon.
This is not the first time a water issue has come up at least 3 times where they have shut the water off to implement upgrades. I asked John(Jenson- MOT project manager) why this work could not have been done late at night so the cost and disruption would be minimal.
Of course the obvious answer is that they would have to pay people overtime. So I guess their costs are more important than mine.
As with many smaller communities in the interior, tourist business is minimal the rest of the year and the income that should have been generated during June, July and August is not there this year to help sustain them through the quieter months. Dave tells me there have been no paycheques for family members who are working at the hotel for some time, because they have to ensure there is enough money to cover taxes and other business expenses. Dave made an excellent point that for the amount of tax they have to pay to the both the provincial and federal governments because they run a hotel, they seem to be getting very little in return, considering what they have gone through.
But for Pavi and his parents, there are other pressing issues that worry them. Ground vibrations from the road building equipment have created a crack inside their own home. Work seems to be going on forever and Dave wonders why workers do things over and over again. During the water line portion of construction, workers have been digging trenches, filling and compacting, then doing it again. In one area, he says, they have dug and compacted three separate times.
They have been informed that construction will stop over the winter, and pick up again next spring, which means that there may be more disruptions next year. Access to their hotel will no longer be right in front as it was prior to this road work, but further down the road worrying them that it might impact where potential customers choose to stay.
Pavi has not been silent about this along the way – he knew he had to fight to save his families business and so he did what he thought he should do when ignored by the ministry – he contacted his locally elected officials. And despite repeated cries for help to his both his local MLA ( Norm Mcdonald ) and his member of parliament ( Jim Abbott) , Pavi received nothing but emails passing the buck to someone else.
In fact, Jim Abbott’s words were: ” Wow. Sorry Pavi, but I can’t think of a thing I can do to help you out! “
After the CBC story aired, Pavi received an email from John Jenson , the MOT project manager in Golden, stating that they would be putting up new signage. Pavi feels disappointed and angered at this, because clearly for the Golden Village Inn, it is far too little, far too late. A meeting was set up for early September, and Pavi hopes something can be negotiated.
Pavi and his family are wonderful, hardworking and contributing members of their community and are a classic example of what can be accomplished in this province simply through hard work and dedication. It is quite ironic that this highway project was supposed to assist the people in the community of Golden, and yet it may very well drive one family business into the ground unless the ministry can see fit to do the right thing and compensate the owners for this disaster of their making.
While the MOT certainly has the right to build their highways and roads, I think anyone will agree they don’t have the right to do it at the expense of one families life of sacrifice and hard work. Such devastating financial impact must be anticipated on the ministries part, and compensated accordingly for those impacted.
After all, just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean doing it is right.