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HomeBusinessExclusive: From father to son, a Liberal land boondoggle in West Vancouver is back in the spotlight

Exclusive: From father to son, a Liberal land boondoggle in West Vancouver is back in the spotlight

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Bob Mackin

A broken 45-year-old Liberal campaign promise threatens to cost taxpayers even more as Justin Trudeau’s deficit government seeks re-election this October.

Canada’s most-expensive vacant land? Squamish Nation wants $30.9 million a year from the feds for 55 acres next to the Lions Gate Bridge where the Pierre Trudeau-promised Pacific Environment Centre was never built. (Mackin)

In April 1974, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government announced it would build the Pacific Environment Centre and a Coast Guard Base across from Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It took out a 71-year lease of 55 acres east of the Lions Gate Bridge on Capilano Indian Reserve 5.

Three months later, Trudeau led the Liberals to re-election over Robert Stanfield’s Progressive Conservatives. But the plan began to unravel when Capilano Liberal MP Jack Davis, Canada’s first environment minister, lost his seat in the July 1974 election to Progressive Conservative Ron Huntington.

Fast forward to 2019. Nothing has been built on the land, which was deemed contaminated in the mid-1990s because of its proximity to the Vancouver Wharves mineral port. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change continues to write multi-million-dollar cheques every year to the Squamish Nation for the vacant land — $124 million during the first 35 years of the contract alone. The lease continues until 2045.

Squamish Nation’s March invoice to the federal government for $30.5 million (B.C. Courts)

Lease revenue the biggest line item for the North Vancouver-based band in a real estate market that grew dramatically during the last decade. The Squamish Nation is demanding more than double what the federal government is paying, so it took the dispute to British Columbia Supreme Court in Aug. 7 filings. 

The court file cites a Squamish Nation-commissioned, $661.9 million valuation by Johnston, Ross and Cheng Ltd. in a Feb. 15 letter to Public Works and Government Services assistant deputy minister Caro Najm.

“By its actions, Canada has gained an advantage to the detriment of the Squamish Nation,” wrote Tom Butler, the Squamish Nation’s business revenue and services director. “In doing so, your office has failed to uphold the honour of the Crown and, in our view, has not operated in good faith.”

Butler sent a $30.56 million invoice to Public Works on March 1, but the Trudeau Liberal government said it would continue to pay the annual $13.5 million rent until the parties solve a dispute over the contract. Indeed, the government disclosed a $13.166 million contract for “rental of land” from the Squamish Nation from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020.

In an April 29 letter, Butler wrote that a delay in paying the $30.9 million annual rent would “result in significant financial losses, including lost interest, lost investment returns and lost opportunities, for which Squamish Nation will hold Environment and Climate Change Canada accountable.”

Pierre Trudeau (left) and Jack Davis (JackDavisScholarship.ca)

The contract provides for a rent review every five years, but the federal government has balked at the Squamish Nation’s suggestion of former B.C. Court of Appeal Chief Justice Lance Finch as arbitrator to decide the 2014 to 2019 payments.

Altus Group provided a market value estimate report in April 2015, estimating the market value for 2014 to 2019 to be $237.96 million for annual rent of $8.6 million. The Squamish Nation’s March 2015 valuation by Johnston, Ross and Cheng Ltd., estimated market value of $364.6 million and annual rent of $17.9 million.

The Squamish Nation reported $27.3 million in lease revenue in its financial report for the year ended March 31, 2019.

Despite promising to balance the federal budget by 2019, the Justin Trudeau Liberals are forecasting a $19.8 billion deficit in 2019-2020 after running $14.9 billion in the red last year.

The federal election is Oct. 21.

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