Op-Ed: Premier Clark’s fire sale of public land cost taxpayers $43 million

horgan_speaking_in_houseAll over the Lower Mainland, there are families working hard towards their dream of buying a house. It’s not easy. Even with both parents working, the price of Metro Vancouver real estate often seems to grow much faster than a family’s savings. And every year, Premier Christy Clark takes a bigger slice of each pay cheque. I have met with so many young families who wonder if they will ever be able to own their own home.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that you can buy 16 acres of publicly owned land in Coquitlam for only $100,000. Yes, you read that right – you can buy acres and acres of land for less than half the price of a one-bedroom condo. Unfortunately, these sweetheart deals are only for the wealthiest property developers. Middle class families are on their own.

In 2013, the province owned 14 parcels of prime land in Coquitlam’s Burke Mountain neighborhood. Premier Clark decided to sell this land as part of the Liberal policy of selling public assets – your assets – for quick cash.

The government hired an experienced appraisal firm to assess the value of the land. The firm worked hard to come up with a realistic answer. They studied the maps and MLS data; they sat down with staff at the City of Coquitlam; they met with the B.C. Assessment Authority, Realtors, developers, and other people with experience of the Coquitlam real estate market.

Ultimately, they produced a detailed 137-page report that concluded the land would fetch $128 million as long as the government left it on the market for six to nine months.

That’s pretty solid advice – wait for a while and get a good price.Coquitlam_Town_Centre_Area

But only a few weeks later, Premier Clark was accepting offers at dramatically lower prices. The premier let go of your $128-million asset for only $85 million.

Anyone with a pulse knows that the real estate market in the Lower Mainland is the hottest in the country right now. It’s one of the hottest in the world. And yet Premier Clark can’t wait to give away public land for barely two thirds of what it’s worth, leaving fully $43 million on the table.

Among the giveaways was that 16-acre parcel of land, valued at $5.6 million. Premier Clark sold it for $100,000. That’s a jaw-dropper of a bad deal. If a private sector executive signed off on that deal, they would be cleaning out their desk and scanning the “Help Wanted” ads.

But it wasn’t private land, it was your land. And what’s more, all the things that would have been paid for with that $43 million will now have to come out of your taxes. Premier Clark’s land giveaway leaves you paying more and getting less.

So why would the premier rush to sell prime real estate at ruinously low prices even with a detailed appraisal report in hand?

Well, the sale went through only days before the end of the 2013 fiscal year, so getting the sale on the books helped her “balance” the budget.

New Democrats started asking for the details of this land giveaway last year. The Liberals tried to cover it up. We’ve fought for months to get to the bottom of this.

coquitlam_lakeSo far this year, Premier Clark has hiked up your Medical Services Plan premiums, your ICBC premiums, your Hydro rates and your BC Ferries fares. She’s raised the price of a beer. She raised the price of camping. She’s taken money out of school districts and out of our post-secondary education system. She’s wasted millions of dollars on do-nothing offices. She spent nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to give a tax break to millionaires.

And she threw $43 million of your money to the wind in this appalling land giveaway. It’s just fundamentally wrong that so many British Columbians are struggling to pay market prices while the premier’s friends can buy public land – your land – at a massive discount.

John Horgan, BC New Democrat Leader