Sale of capital’s heritage properties the wrong direction

Two more appointees resign from PCC board
By Kim Westad and Rob Shaw, Time Colonist

Three municipal appointees who have resigned this week from the Provincial Capital Commission may not be replaced on the board that oversees numerous public properties in the region.

Saanich councillors Dean Murdock and Nichola Wade resigned Thursday, a day after Victoria councillor Geoff Young. Wade, who works for the province, said she resigned to avoid a potential conflict of interest. Murdock and Young said they quit in response to the provincial government’s plan to sell off “surplus” provincial assets, including those controlled by the PCC.

PCC chairman Bill Wellburn said the board has been too large for its mandate. “In my view, and the view of all of us at the table, there are probably too many directors,” he said of the 14-person board.

Wellburn said the municipal councillors may not have liked the direction the commission has taken in the last few years, dealing less with properties and more with community outreach.

Murdock and Young both said the plan to sell land to balance the provincial budget was a key factor in their resignations, although Young said he is in favour of some property being sold — such as waterfront parking lots — if it can be put to better use.

Murdock was more adamant. “The recent announcement that Crown-owned properties within the capital will be sold confirms that our region’s heritage properties and assets are at risk,” Murdock wrote in his letter of resignation. “I will not be a participant to either the dismantling of the commission or the sale of our region’s properties, which, in my view, is at odds with the mandate of the commission and a disservice to the residents of the capital region.”

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said he will wait and “see how this all settles before replacing them, if at all.” He said the municipal role in the PCC “seems unclear.”

Six of the 14 board members come from the four core municipalities. Leonard said he’ll talk with mayors of Victoria, Oak Bay and Esquimalt and likely ask to talk to Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong.

The government took control of the PCC last month, including finance and management of sites. Major decisions must now be vetted through Chong’s ministry.

At the legislature, the Opposition NDP slammed Finance Minister Kevin Falcon for what it called a “public asset fire sale” of taxpayer land. Falcon again refused to release a list of properties regarded as surplus.

Victoria-Swan Lake NDP MLA Rob Fleming asked Falcon if the Belleville ferry terminal land was for sale, but instead of answering the finance minister attacked the NDP record of selling government property in the 1990s.

Fleming said he’s not opposed to the sale of properties, as long as the money and property are put to the best use. That isn’t happening with the B.C. LIberals, Fleming said.

The Liberals are dumping the money into one fiscal year as a source of revenue in an election year; they are desperate to prove to the public they have a balanced budget when they don’t, Fleming said.

The PCC hasn’t said which assets are seen as surplus. It owns land along the Trans-Canada Highway, including some near the Galloping Goose Trail, and in Langford near Costco.

Its portfolio also includes the CPR Steamship Terminal Building on Belleville Street, Crystal Garden, St. Ann’s Academy, the Victoria Information Centre and Ship Point.