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HomeMiscellanyExclusive: Auditor General probing BC Liberal land sales to party donors

Exclusive: Auditor General probing BC Liberal land sales to party donors


Bob Mackin

Did BC Liberal Party donors get sweetheart deals on public land or did they simply get lucky in the province’s real estate boom? 

British Columbia’s auditor general is investigating the first two years of the former BC Liberal government’s sale of land that it deemed surplus. In the 2012 budget, then-Finance Minister Kevin Falcon announced a two-year program called the Release of Assets for Economic Generation. The program has continued and, as of last May, the government said it netted $858 million. It is unclear whether the government netted all that it could. 

Auditor General Carol Bellringer’s report, originally expected in June or July of 2017, is expected in the second quarter of this year.

For instance, it sold the 5.8-acre Dogwood Lodge property in South Vancouver to Onni, a major donor to the BC Liberals and Vision Vancouver, for $83.5 million in April 2015. The land was assessed at $149.27 million in 2017. 

The land around Superior, Menzies, Michigan and Kingston streets near the Legislature in Victoria, called South Block and Portion Q, was assessed at almost $43 million in 2017, meaning it appreciated by almost $9 million since Concert and Jawl bought it.

Polygon bought and redeveloped the former Steveston Secondary land as luxury townhouses. It was assessed at $177.74 million in 2017 — an increase of $136.6 million from the purchase price.

The Willingdon Lands in Burnaby were sold to three First Nations backed by the Aquilinis for $57.9 million in 2014. The land increased by $14.85 million to $72.75 million in 2017.

When they were in opposition, the NDP attacked the BC Liberals for an apparent sweetheart deal with one of its donors, Wesbild, for a large swath of Burke Mountain. The NDP obtained a report by Equity Valuation and Consulting, which told the government that the Burke Mountain land could be worth as much as $128 million if it waited for six to nine months to sell. Instead, the government received $85 million from Wesbild for 14 parcels, a $43 million difference.

Documents released to theBreaker under freedom of information — and published below — show the province netted $312,976,654 in 2013-2014; $125,786,000 in 2014-2015; and $358,331,000 in 2015-2016. The three years totalled just over $797 million.

By the last week of May 2017, another $61.35 million of land had been sold. 

An internal briefing note said the 2017 budget forecast $344 million more sales by 2019-2010. It also forecast the Pearson Dogwood deal would eventually have $3.1 billion in economic spinoffs.

According to an analysis by theBreaker, six of the top 10 deals were completed just weeks before or weeks after the completion of the government’s fiscal year.  

The Ministry of Finance delegated management of the program to Citizens’ Services, to dispose properties held by Health, Education, Advanced Education, Forests, Transportation, and Citizens’ Services itself. It is led by Assistant Deputy Minister Sarf Ahmed, who was not fired when the NDP took over from the BC Liberals. 

Top 10 B.C. government land sales from 2013-2016
  1. George Pearson Centre, 700 W. 57th, Vancouver (VCHA) $193,185,916 (sale to Onni completed March 15, 2016);
  2. Dogwood Lodge, 500 W. 57th (VCHA) $83,517,794 (completed April 15, 2015, sold to Onni for $85M, booked at $84.38M net);
  3. Willingdon Lands, 3405 Willingdon, $53,538,847 (completed March 21, 2014, sold for $57.908M to Musqueam Squamish Tsleil-Waututh);
  4. Burke Mountain, $49,041,692 (completed March 21, 2014, sold to Wesbild for $50M
  5. Steveston Secondary, 6600 Williams, Richmond, $40,422,000 (completed Dec. 17, 2014, sold to Polygon for $41.125M);
  6. Burke Mountain NE Coquitlam, $34,320,619 (completed Oct. 27, 2014, 9 parcels sold to Wesbild Holdings in phase 2 for $35M);
  7. Jutland Road Axor Building, 2975 Jutland, $31,515,038 (completed March 21, 2014 sold to HOOPP Realty for $37M, which later sold to Industrial Alliance);
  8. South Block and Portion of Q Lot, $29,066,667 (sold to Concert and Jawl for $34M, completed March 21, 2014);
  9. Coronation Park Elementary, 135 Balmoral, Coquitlam $25,112,000 (Completed Jan. 12, 2016, sold to Polygon Pacific Homes Ltd. $26.16M;
  10. Plaza 400, 1011-1087 4 Ave, Prince George $22,279,132 (completed Oct. 1, 2015, office building sold to Nicola Crosby Real Estate Asset Management for $28M) (Queensway).

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TheBreaker Release of Assets for Economic Generation FOI by BobMackin on Scribd