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Les Leyne: Government accidentally gets it right by axing PCC

There was some gnashing of teeth when the cold-hearted B.C. Liberals axed the Provincial Capital Commission last November. It showed disdain for the capital. It illustrated the Liberals’ lack of interest in Victoria.
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin mingles with workers at Point Hope Maritime on Tuesday.

Les LeyneThere was some gnashing of teeth when the cold-hearted B.C. Liberals axed the Provincial Capital Commission last November.

It showed disdain for the capital. It illustrated the Liberals’ lack of interest in Victoria. It trampled on the sacred memory of W.A.C. Bennett, who invented the thing.

But a deal announced Tuesday might eventually show it was one of the best things that ever happened to downtown Victoria. In a remarkably short period of time following the announced demise of the PCC, various entities got together and cooked up the biggest public-sector land swap in the city’s history.

Here are the elements:

• The city of Victoria, which leases the industrial waterfront on Harbour Road to Point Hope Shipyard, will hand over title to the provincial government.

• B.C. will promptly sell it to the Ralmax Group, which owns the shipyard, for market value.

• B.C. will hand over title to the Crystal Garden to the city, which currently leases it from the province.

• B.C. will also give the city the provincially owned piece of Ship Point and three pocket parks, two on Belleville Street and one on Wharf Street.

When all the paperwork is done, there’s the potential for a number of headaches to disappear. And for some exciting opportunities to develop.

The landlord and tenant at Point Hope have done the best they could with the relationship over the years. But it never really reached its highest potential. Outright ownership by the shipyard could be the trigger for a consolidation that will set the stage for a planned multimillion-dollar upgrade and redesign that would double employment at the yard.

At Crystal Garden, the city takeover relieves it of ongoing lease payments and gives it full control of the facility. The advantage isn’t as clearcut there as it is at Point Hope. Everybody loves the Crystal Garden, but nobody knows how to make money there. Sole ownership, however, might be a step along the way to making the place work profitably.

And at Ship Point, sole ownership of the entire lot by the city might be a start on the long road toward building something worthwhile there. People for years have decried using that stunning waterfront property for an ugly parking lot. Tuesday’s deal could be a move toward acting on that problem, rather than talking about it. In the meantime, the immediate benefit is paving the way for the planned harbourfront walkway improvements.

The park handovers look to be just add-ons to round up the value of the city’s new package to bring it closer to the Point Hope properties it relinquished.

So, far from being a negative, the breakup of the PCC looks as if it will indirectly enhance the capital. It shuffled the deck, threw all the properties up in the air and allowed all the players to talk about re-dealing the cards.

Oddly enough, none of this was envisioned when the commission was dissolved. It was shut down strictly for cost-saving reasons in November as part of the core review. There wasn’t a whisper about any far-reaching deals that might flow from the shutdown.

But after the announcement, government officials asked themselves if they wanted to own the Crystal Garden outright, once the PCC faded away. The answer was no.

At the same time, the city came calling, looking to gain from the dissolution. When it came to doing a deal, attention shifted to the other side of the harbour and the shipyard came into play. They pushed the two problems together and over three months a solution emerged.

Just So You Know: The bill that dissolves the PCC was introduced in the legislature last week. The new deal will make for a bit of a scramble. The New Democrats were set to spend several hours condemning the move. That’s harder to do now, because it looks as if real benefits flowed from it.

And the government will have a triumphant new explanation for how farsighted and beneficial the abolition of the PCC was. Even though it looks as if the interesting new deal is a fluky, unintended consequence.

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