The B.C. government’s plan to sell land and assets to balance its budget this month is a desperate bid to boost the sagging fortunes of the Liberals and not sound financial policy, says NDP leader Adrian Dix.
Dix took aim at the government’s plan to divest Crown property, which his party has in the past dubbed a “fire sale” of taxpayer assets.
“Essentially, they are selling out the future of the province to deal with their short-term political interests,” Dix said in an interview Thursday.
“What you are left with is … a form of structural deficit.”
The government announced last year it was planning on selling as many as 100 “surplus” government properties and buildings to generate $706 million in revenue to help balance the budget.
That figure is now lower, but has not been specified, because the government cancelled a plan to sell liquor distribution branch assets.
Many of the properties on the for-sale list are expected to be in Greater Victoria, including ones held by school districts, health authorities, Crown corporations, transportation entities and the Provincial Capital Commission, which manages historic properties such as the CPR Steamship Terminal Building on Belleville Street and Crystal Garden on Douglas Street.
The government has so far refused to provide a list, saying that could compromise its marketing position.
“All of it has been kept secret,” said Dix. “But you can’t sell the same property twice. It just creates the need for hundreds of millions of cuts in something [in the budget] the following year.”
Finance Minister Mike de Jong disagreed.
“The fact is, Crown assets are sold on a regular basis,” he said. “So, for example, schools are an excellent example of that — a Crown asset that is sold and the proceeds are utilized oftentimes to build a replacement school.
“The notion that the sale of Crown assets is somehow unusual is simply not the case.”
He said the Feb. 19 provincial budget will contain a “more detailed inventory than you saw last year” but not everything.
Some surplus property is already known, such as a parking lot near the legislature at Menzies and Superior streets.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority has announced plans to sell land on Watkiss Way in View Royal, near Victoria General Hospital’s employee parking lot, for at least $1.25 million. A tentative deal is set to close in April, VIHA said.
About 75 per cent of the properties are in urban areas, primarily Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria, the Finance Ministry said. They represent two per cent of total B.C. government holdings, the ministry said.
Filling a revenue hole in the provincial budget with one-time asset sales “is the opposite of sound public policy,” Dix. said. “We’re expecting to inherit a very difficult fiscal situation from the government.”
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