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Rule over big decisions by Provincial Capital Commission imposed next year

Jan 27 2012

The rule that the Provincial Capital Commission must vet any major decisions with the provincial government is being imposed in the next financial year and was not part of 2011-2012's annual letter of expectations. The additional consultation requirement further chips away at the ability of the PCC to run its operations as it has in the past.

The PCC, owner of many of the city's most cherished buildings and important harbourfront lands, is being reorganized by the province. It is losing the job of managing its $118 million worth of capital region lands and buildings to Shared Services B.C., and the ministry is taking over its finances.

The changes are intended to save $200,000. Revenue from money-making properties and commercial activities pay for outreach programs, which help to bring thousands of students to B.C.'s capital city and provide a range of educational avenues. This will continue under the restructured PCC.

The PCC pegged expected revenue at $2.97 million in 2010-2011. Total program expenses for the period were set at $1.123 million, its annual report said.

The province announced the restructuring following a contentious 2011 in which businesses vied for the chance to lease the high-profile CPR Steamship Terminal building on Belleville Street after it was seismically upgraded. A second proposal call went out after the first round of bidders was rejected, sparking complaints from applicants.

Bob Wright, president of Oak Bay Marine Group, which applied for the chance to mount a B.C.-themed attraction in the CPR building, wrote in the Times Colonist last year, "The provincial government should examine the model of the PCC and its effectiveness to ensure the citizens of the capital region receive good economic value on the assets under its control."

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority won the right to negotiate a lease with the PCC to bring in a mix of uses, including retail, into the CPR building.

Bill Wellburn, PCC chairman of the board, said Thursday that he interprets the new consultation requirement to mean, for example, if a major new building was contemplated, the idea would be presented by the PCC to the government. But a decision to approve a weekend event would not be.

Last year's letter from the province to the Crown agency said the parties would advise the other of any issues that would "materially impact" the corporation and the government. Also, if either one thought it necessary, they "will discuss any issues."

For 2012-2013, "the PCC is being directed to consult ministry executive at Community, Sport and Cultural Development on key decisions," the ministry said in a statement.

Wellburn said he already often consults with Minister Ida Chong.

Meanwhile, the province has appointed eight people to six-month terms only, expiring June 18. Terms for the six municipal appointments run to the end of the year.

That could end even sooner for the two Victoria council appointees, councillors Geoff Young and Ben Isitt.

Young said Thursday that the new direction essentially makes the PCC an advisory body to the government. That puts elected officials on the commission in an even more removed position, Young said.

As it is, the appointees cannot tell anyone — even the municipalities they represent — what happens at PCC meetings.

It may be that, with the government directive, it's a detriment to be on the PCC, he said. It may be better to resign from the PCC and simply communicate Victoria's interests in PCC buildings directly to the minister, he said.

"I think we have reached the stage where we are better off outside than in."

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

kwestad@timescolonist.com

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