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Agency loses control over key Victoria properties

Jan 25 2012

The Provincial Capital Commission is losing control over management of its key downtown Victoria properties as well as its finances, under a planned provincial government takeover that, critics say, strips it of its assets and power.

The commission has been a self-sustaining Crown agency responsible for some of the city's most treasured and significant sites, including the historic CPR Steamship Terminal on Belleville Street, St. Ann's Academy and Victoria's Inner Harbour.

"As part of an overall cross-government review of Crown corporations and agencies, we are restructuring the Provincial Capital Commission so that it can focus on its mandate to provide community outreach programs," the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development said in a statement to the Times Colonist Tuesday.

The ministry will take over financial services of the capital commission, the statement said.

The government's Shared Services B.C. branch, which already handles most of the province's real estate and buildings, will take over management of the PCC's sites, the ministry said.

Those decisions will save as much as $200,000 a year, the government said.

"The PCC continues to make the decisions, but has a different service provider for these two functions rather than [conducting the services] in house. The PCC will continue to operate under the direction of a volunteer board."

The Crown agency would be left with mainly outreach responsibilities. These include teaching children about Victoria, supporting the annual B.C. Communities in Bloom awards, as well as youth parliaments and field trips to the capital.

Board members discussed the province's plans at Tuesday's board meeting.

"This government has been an unimaginative and disastrous manager of the PCC, and now they have nothing to show for their 10 years of power and they are winding it down and stripping it of its assets," said Rob Fleming, NDP MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake.

"It completely runs in the opposite direction of what other provinces are doing."

The restructuring comes less than a month after the conclusion of a long - and at times bitterly divisive - process by the PCC to find a tenant for the CPR Steamship Terminal building near the legislature. The board faced significant public criticism over delays and missteps, before finally choosing the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority as the winning tenant.

In November, minister Ida Chong said she had asked staff to update her on complaints about the PCC's handling of the tenant process, calling it "disconcerting."

She said she was "not pleased" to hear about angry businesses withdrawing bids.

PCC board chairman Bill Wellburn would not comment on the full scope of changes and whether it includes layoffs.

"That's something on the radar right now" involving whether or not the PCC should continue managing its own properties or whether Shared Services would manage them, he said.

Wellburn described the situation as a board choice. But the ministry statement did not say the restructuring is optional.

The PCC retains ownership of the various historic sites, Wellburn said.

PCC board member and Victoria Coun. Geoff Young said the plan involving Shared Services "represents a very significant change in PCC."

If Shared Services manages the properties and the PCC retains ownership that would create a situation where "responsibility for the way in which the buildings are managed is not entirely clear," said Young. Shared Services reports to the government, not the board, he said.

Young said the PCC has changed since 2003 from an organization focused on beautifying the capital region to an agency where local politicians have only a minority on the board.

The government's Shared Services branch already manages part of St. Ann's Academy National Historic Site.

The PCC's property portfolio also includes the Belleville Street Terminal, where the MV Coho and Victoria Clipper dock; the high-profile Art Deco building at 812 Wharf Street which is home to the Victoria Visitor Information Centre, a restaurant and retail shops; Ship Point; and Crystal Garden, which is leased by the City of Victoria.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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