Editorial: Remove veil from public land sales

Last week two Victoria city councillors hosted a forum on selling public land.

Last week two Victoria city councillors hosted a forum on selling public land to help highlight decisions coming down the pipeline – the potential sale of industrial property surrounding the Point Hope Shipyard and land near the Northern Junk building.

Councillors Ben Isitt and Shellie Gudgeon asked the question: what degree of disclosure and consultation is appropriate?

When it comes to real-estate deals, transparency should trump secrecy when it comes to managing public assets.

Ralmax Group of Companies, owner of Point Hope Shipyard and United Engineering, is interested in buying a number of city lots it currently leases, to help provide certainty for expansion plans along Harbour Road.

This proposal makes economic sense and there is no reason why Victoria shouldn’t consider the offer. But at the same time, the city needs to find a mechanism to keep its citizens in the loop – that such proposals exist shouldn’t be the result of rebellious city councillors using process to release the information to the public.

Land sales are usually wrapped in secrecy (discussed behind closed doors) until the deal is done, allowing little or no public input on disposing of public land. The recent provincial proposal to sell Provincial Capital Commission land highlights the arrogance of playing fast and loose with public property.

After its last budget, the government announced it would sell an undisclosed number of PCC properties, which range from parking lots and prized downtown buildings, to blocks of forest on the Trans-Canada Highway approach into the city. There wasn’t a whiff of public process in the decision.

Once public land is sold, it’s expensive and difficult to acquire other land, especially in the Capital Region. View Royal, for instance, paid more than $2 million for 2.4 acres of land for a new fire hall.

Municipal councils and senior governments need to have policies that give the public disclosure and input. Residents deserve to know decisions being made in their names.

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