The B.C. Liberal government is poised to spend $51 million on another warehouse for the Liquor Distribution Branch, theBreaker has learned.
But neither LDB Minister Coralee Oakes nor LDB general manager Blain Lawson wanted to talk about the so-called Interim Distribution Centre Project and their spokesman is refusing to answer theBreaker’s questions.
Shared Services BC published a notice of intent Jan. 16 to lease a 400,000-square foot warehouse near major highways and public transit routes for at least five years. The notice says vendors have until Jan. 30 to contest the sole-sourced deal. The name of the chosen landlord and the location of the warehouse are both missing from the notice. The new warehouse would be functional next year.
“The province has explored several options, including the possibility of an interim warehousing solution,” Oakes’ spokesman Bill Anderson told theBreaker in a prepared statement. “Pursuing an interim solution provides the LDB with capacity to meet the needs of its customers and British Columbians in a way that provides value to taxpayers.
“The details of the lease have not yet been finalized — we will disclose details regarding the location when we are able to do so.”
By not naming the landlord, the government is breaking from standard practice. Statements of intent posted to the government’s B.C. Bid website normally include the name of the contractor and B.C. government procurement policies stress transparency.
NDP critic David Eby called the secrecy “unacceptable.”
“In an atmosphere where everybody is asking questions about the connection between [B.C. Liberal Party] donors and major government decisions, the fact they won’t tell the public who the landlord is and where the location is raises far more questions,” Eby told theBreaker. “It leads to reaching the conclusion this is another example of the government trying to benefit a friend. If it were all above board, they’d be happy to tell us where they were going.”
Anderson refused to say what became of last year’s LDB plan to find 35 acres of land on which to build a new warehouse of up to 1 million square feet. Under the Vancouver Distribution Centre Relocation Project, the Crown liquor company contemplated buying or leasing a site for at least 60 years. LDB originally wanted to find a new site by mid-April 2016, but later told bidders that it wanted to begin construction by June 1, 2017 for occupancy in 2019.
A source told theBreaker that LDB was looking at five options for a new warehouse, but Treasury Board rejected the business case and wanted to explore other options — which may include eventual privatization of LDB. Anderson denied the government is considering privatization for LDB or its chain of 196 stores.
A search for a new warehouse became necessary after the 2014 sale of the LDB’s aging East Broadway headquarters for $37 million to Aquilini Investment Group and three First Nations for redevelopment.
The Aquilini family and its companies have donated almost $1.43 million to the BC Liberals since 2005. LDB agreed to lease-back the 220,000 square foot warehouse and originally planned to leave by 2017.
The area near the LDB headquarters is the focus of a pre-Chinese new year land rush. Real estate signs have recently mushroomed outside dozens of single-family residences for potential land assembly deals.
The government used a new B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union contract in 2012 as the foil to cancel a controversial attempt to privatize the LDB warehouse. The government had no business case and faced allegations of bid-rigging. Leaked documents showed how proponent Exel Logistics, in its own words, tried to use its lobbyists’ connections with then-liquor minister Rich Coleman to acquire LDB.