Land sales must be discussed with municipalities

Rezoning rules must apply in PCC selloff, ex-members say
By Kim Westad, Times Colonist February 25, 2012

Two Provincial Capital Commission board members who resigned after the province announced it will sell off undisclosed “surplus” properties say they expect any buyers to follow the same rezoning rules as any other purchaser.

Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock said some of the public concern about the sales might be lessened if the province at least made clear that some heritage properties are not on the block. The government has refused to divulge any surplus properties although it has cited downtown parking lots as examples.

“I understand from a real estate perspective that you don’t want to show your hand,” Murdock said. “But at the same time, they could quite easily say, ‘We’re not talking about Crystal Gardens or St. Ann’s Academy.’ That might make people feel a bit calmer about it.”

The B.C. Liberal government announced the sale of surplus Crown land in this week’s budget, saying sales could raise $706 million and allow a balanced budget. Critics say that selling off land in a “fire sale” for a one-time cash infusion is shortsighted and a poor use of public assets.

Murdock and Victoria Coun. Geoff Young quit the PCC board this week in opposition to how the commission had been restructured and how it intends to deal with its properties. Saanich Coun. Nichola Wade also resigned, citing a potential conflict of interest because she is a provincial government employee.

“If the PCC sells a major development site to a private developer then I would expect the city would deal with it at every stage – rezoning, permits, etcetera – exactly as we would for any other developer,” Young said.

That could slow the sale of some surplus property as often developers do not want to close a deal until a rezoning is in place.

Another issue that could delay any quick sales is that many PCC properties would be subject to land title issues with local First Nations. Esquimalt First Nation lawyer Gary Yabsley said it is keeping a close eye on any sales.

Generally, any sale of Crown land triggers a duty to First Nations, even if no specific land claim has been filed.

“The Esquimalt First Nation, and I would assume others in the general region, would be of the view that there are outstanding unresolved land title issues,” Yabsley said.

“Whatever the province does by way of divestiture would immediately trigger Crown obligations in terms of First Nation rights.”

First Nations have aboriginal title interest in provincial and federal Crown land, Yabsley said.

“Case law says repeatedly that that interest puts an onus on the Crown to consult with First Nations if they are going to do anything with the land and it affects the First Nations’ interest in it.”

Selling would be considered to affect an interest, he said. The legal obligations include consultation and accommodation. What form it takes – for example, financial compensation – could vary depending on the property.

“As I understand it, the proposal is for the province to divest itself of hundreds of million of [dollars worth of] land. That’s a significant value in land to which First Nations will invariably say they have an interest,” Yabsley said.

The province has an established system for consulting with First Nations on Crown properties.