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Government may sell off "surplus" properties to help balance budget

Feb 22 2012

For-sale signs could soon land on government properties across Vancouver Island, including long-held heritage assets and green space in Greater Victoria.

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said Tuesday his government will consider selling as many as 100 "surplus" government properties and buildings to generate $706 million in revenue and help balance the provincial budget.

The government would not provide a list of properties, saying that could compromise its marketing position. However, an official said roughly 75 per cent of the properties are located in Metro Vancouver or Greater Victoria, and many are education and health-care sites.

"This is something that is very focused, very strategic, and it avoids us having to go to taxpayers for $706 million or having to borrow deeper for the $706 million, and it helps to bridge us to the balanced budget," said Falcon.

But critics blasted the idea.

"The government is selling off the future of the province — assets that belong to our kids," said Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.

NDP critic Bruce Ralston agreed, calling the sell-off a "very short-sighted solution designed to meet the very short-term needs of the government."

Also on the block are assets deemed to be surplus by the Provincial Capital Commission. The commission hasn't said what those surplus assets are. It owns swaths of land along the Trans-Canada Highway. Some of the land runs near the Galloping Goose Trail and Craigflower Creek. Another chunk is located near Costco in Langford.

A 2004 report into surplus commission land said 11 properties, totalling 16.83 hectares in Langford and View Royal, could be developed into single-family homes or commercial or industrial parks.

Higher-profile holdings in the commission's portfolio include the CPR Steamship Terminal Building on Belleville Street, Crystal Garden, St. Ann's Academy National Historic Site, the Victoria Information Centre, downtown office buildings, Ship Point and property along the Inner Harbour.

The government took control of the Provincial Capital Commission last month, including finance and management of sites. Major decisions must now be vetted through Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong.

Staff from each ministry have selected sites with no strategic benefit to government or for which there are no plans for future use, said Chong.

Falcon highlighted one property, a parking lot near the legislature at Menzies and Superior Streets, as an example of land that could be sold.

Bruce Carter, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, applauded the idea of selling surplus property.

"If we look at the number of underperforming properties around the harbour, there's lots of [room for] improvement there."

Tuesday's budget also outlined a plan to sell the government's two Liquor Distribution Branch warehouses, in Kelowna and Burnaby, and transfer their operations to the private sector. The warehouses distribute 55 per cent of liquor sold in B.C.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

charnett@timescolonist.com

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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