Local News

Land sales focus of pre-budget debate

Finance Minister Mike de Jong rejected NDP criticism of his government's sale of Crown land Thursday, and promised an update on the disposal of up to 100 properties when he presents his pre-election budget on Feb. 19.

De Jong's comments came after NDP leader Adrian Dix and finance critic Bruce Ralston visited one of the few properties whose location is known, a large vacant lot in Surrey that was bought in 1998 as a possible future hospital site.

Ralston said the government has counted on raising $475 million in 2013 and more than $200 million the following year through asset sales, to help balance a 2013 budget after the current one ends in the red by $1.4 billion.

"Over $700 million to fill a short-term hole in the budget," Ralston said. "It's not sustainable. It's not good public policy."

De Jong said the Surrey property is an interesting choice, since a new Surrey Memorial Hospital is under construction adjacent to the old one. The site at Highway 10 and 152 Street was bought for $6 million and is currently assessed at $25 million.

"It just makes eminent sense that the Crown would divest itself of that asset, and place it back in the private sector and allow it to begin generating economic activity and jobs," de Jong said.

De Jong added that asset sales are nothing new to the B.C. government, where old school sites are often sold in order to finance new schools in new locations. He repeated his promise that the next budget will be balanced, and said an update on asset sales will be released then.

Dix said the land sales and surpluses from Crown corporations such as BC Hydro will be used to give the appearance of a balanced budget, which will not be fully debated before the legislature adjourns for the May 14 election.

De Jong confirmed that the legislative session will run for 19 sitting days, starting with a throne speech on Tuesday, Feb. 12 and adjourning on March 14.

Legislation to be presented includes a lengthy bill to reinstate the provincial sales tax on April 1, measures to allow a senate election, and legislation to create a new senior's advocate.

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