Questions remain for Victoria stakeholders in demise of Provincial Capital Commission

Greater Victoria politicians, business operators weigh in on scrapping of Crown corporation as part of B.C. government's core review

The B.C. government’s intention to dissolve the Crown corporation responsible for Victoria’s most prized buildings is raising more questions than answers among local politicians and business operators.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett revealed Tuesday government plans to axe the Provincial Capital Commission next spring to save about $1 million annually as part of the province’s core review.

The PCC owns and leases downtown gems like St. Ann’s Academy, the former CPR Steamship Terminal building, Crystal Garden and Ship’s Point in the Inner Harbour. Saanich also leases much of Cuthbert Holmes Park from the PCC, and land parcels in View Royal and Langford are under similar agreements.

“I think the public has a right to be concerned about the future of these lands. They’re extremely important to our local economy and to our quality of life,” said Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt, a PCC board director.

Isitt and fellow directors Shellie Gudgeon and Oak Bay Coun. Pam Copley have sent Premier Christy Clark an open letter requesting she provide long-term property plans for lessees and present a business case to demonstrate purported savings.

The directors are also concerned public representation could be lost on land development issues when the PCC’s 14-member board of directors is dissolved. Four local politicians from Victoria, Oak Bay and Esquimalt currently sit on the board.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard doesn’t anticipate any changes and said Cuthbert Holmes parkland is effectively owned by the province anyway.

“I think the land has always been provincial government. They’re just pulling it back into government rather than an arm’s length commission,” he said.

In terms of dissolving the PCC, Leonard said the commission is a shadow of its former self, which in the past was active in promoting the Capital Region, and involved in projects like building the Blenkinsop Trestle and rehabilitating St. Ann’s Academy.

“Where we are at today its not much of a loss. (The PCC) has really just maintained a property management function for recent years. I remember when it was a dynamic body with a vision for the region,” he said. “Clearly those days are long gone. Pulling into government will make little difference. It’s a long way from what it could have been.”

The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development will absorb most of the PCC’s staff and responsibilities including administration of the B.C. Youth Parliament and other outreach programs that provide economic stimulus to the capital, said Minister Coralee Oakes.

“We have a transition team currently working on (the vision for the properties),” said Oakes, though she was more vague on long-term ownership options for PCC buildings.

“We’ve been moving away from properties and focusing on the celebration side of what the PCC does,” she said.

The Transportation Ministry is poised to take over the PCC’s Belleville ferry terminals used by the Coho ferry and Victoria Clippers, a portion of which which requires an estimated $10-million replacement in the next few years.

“The dock is definitely at the end of its life and the province is aware of that,” said Black Ball Ferry Line president Ryan Burles, whose lease with the PCC expires in 2014 and requires renegotiation.

“The PCC was certainly a good landlord and we dealt with them since their creation, so we’ve had a good rapport. But we also have a good rapport with the province. There needs to be a plan going forward to renew (the terminal) and we’re happy to work with the government,” he said.

PCC chair David Everett, who will shepherd the organization through transitional planning, said he wasn’t surprised by the government’s announcement because Shared Services B.C. has been involved with PCC operations for more than a year.

“I think it’s business as usual, quite frankly,” he said. “The overall emphasis is to protect these iconic heritage properties for the benefit of all Victorians, especially the Inner Harbour sites.”

The B.C. government intends to cut $50 million from its budget by next year through a core review of services.

On Tuesday, Bennett also announced the scrapping of Crown corporation Pacific Carbon Trust in favour of an in-house environmental ministry model to save $5.6 million annually by 2015.

Both measures require legislative changes in 2014 before taking effect.

Further announcements are expected in the coming months.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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