Taxpayers ‘hosed’ in Coquitlam land sale to Liberal donor: NDP

Taxpayers got “hosed” last year when the B.C. government sold 14 parcels of land in Coquitlam to a Liberal donor for $43 million below the appraised value, the NDP alleged Tuesday.

Wesbild Holdings Ltd. purchased the properties on Burke Mountain for $85 million, even though an independent appraiser pegged their value at $128 million.

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NDP Leader John Horgan said the appraiser recommended leaving the properties on the market for six to nine months in order to get the best deal.

Instead, government completed the sale in three months to get the money on the books before the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year, he said.

The NDP claims this was done as part of the government’s strategy to sell off Crown properties and buildings in order to balance its pre-election budget.

“The fire sale that we talked about before the election, in fact, was a fire sale,” Horgan said. “And now the City of Coquitlam is forced to buy back some of the land to provide schools and other amenities to the people in the community.

“That’s bad government.”

NDP house leader Mike Farnworth was more blunt: “We got hosed.”

Farnworth, the MLA for Port Coquitlam, said one parcel of land was appraised at $5.6 million and sold for $100,000 in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.

“Where in the Lower Mainland can you buy anything for $100,000?” he asked during question period in the B.C. legislature. “How is that getting good value for the taxpayer?”

Wesbild is a subsidiary of Persis Holdings Ltd., which was founded by Hassan Khosrowshahi. Farnworth noted that Khosrowshahi and his companies have contributed $228,000 to the B.C. Liberal Party since 2012, when the province launched its assets sales program. Khosrowshahi could not be reached for comment.

Citizens’ Service Minister Amrik Virk said the entire process was open and transparent. He said Colliers International won the contract to market and sell the properties, while Wesbild was the only one of six bidders to put in an offer on all 14 parcels.

“It’s an aggregate sale done by a competitive process by an international marketing and real estate company,” he said.

Virk said the independent appraisal of the land was “overly aggressive” and that the government got the best value possible at the time. “We can always get into an argument,” he said. “There’s appraised values versus assessment values versus sale values.

“In the end, a parcel is worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it.”

The sale of five parcels for $50 million closed March 21, 2014, and went on the government’s books for the 2013-14 budget year. The sale of the remaining nine properties for $35 million closed Oct. 27 and was recorded in 2014-15.

The deal covers about 145 hectares.

Government officials said the property that sold for $100,000 covered rough, inaccessible terrain and was over-valued at $5.6 million.

They said one of the benefits of the Wesbild deal is that the Coquitlam school district can buy back any of the land for up to 10 years at 2014 prices in order to build a school.

Colliers declined comment Tuesday.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong dismissed the NDP’s claim that government accelerated the deal to balance its 2013-14 budget.

“That’s a fiscal year in which we recorded a surplus in excess of $350 million,” he said.

“So the suggestion that this was a transaction that made the difference between a surplus or a deficit budget simply isn’t borne out.”

De Jong also said that a bidder’s donations to the B.C. Liberal Party would have no impact on whether their offer was accepted.

“I have no idea who the bidders were,” he said. “No idea.”

The NDP has been trying to get its hands on details of the land deal since August 2014. The party said that the Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham had to intervene before government agreed to release the appraisal.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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