In 1997, when the province was looking to build a new jail in the Okanagan, it bought a seven-acre site next to the former Hiram Walker distillery plant at the northern tip of Kelowna, near Winfield.
At the time, as debate over the merits of building a jail here raged, the $1.7 million paid for the site was touted as a god deal.
Fast forward 16 years and a lot has changed.
After stalling twice—first by the NDP and then by the Liberals under Gordon Campbell—the Okangan jail project was resurrected by the current Christy Clark-led Liberal government and last year it decided to build the jail on Osoyoos Indian Band land at the south end of the valley instead.
So now Victoria wants to sell the Kelowna site it has held on to for the last 16 years as part of its plan to balance the B.C. budget.
The impending sale has the Opposition NDP crying foul. It is accusing the Liberals of conducting what it says will be a “fire sale” of public assets, including unloading the land here.
In what appeared to be a rather half-hearted attempt to get publicity for both its Westside-Kelowna and Vernon-Monashee candidates, the NDP party issued a press release late last week calling the sale “short-sighted” and not in the public interest.
The release seemed almost formulaic. It could have been issued by any of the party’s candidates in any of the parts of the province where an estimated 100 government-owned properties are expected to be sold off.
Westside-Kelowna NDP candidate Carole Gordon is quoted as saying the government is selling the properties “for its own short-term political gain.”
“These assets could play an important role in the future for delivery of services in our communities,” she said. “But this short-sighted ploy by the Liberals means it will be more difficult with an ever-tougher real estate market.”
Vernon-Monashee candidate Mark Olsen said it’s a desperate move that is “robbing the generations of tomorrow.”
Seriously? While a full list of all the properties up for sale may reveal sites that it would be better for the government to hold onto, industrial land that has sat vacant for a decade and a half near Winfield is not going to be a big loss to “future generations” unless Victoria drastically drops its asking price below the $5 million assessed value.
The land would be better off developed with something that can create jobs here than sitting vacant so our children can look at a bare piece of land next to an industrial site.
If it’s not needed, selling it is the right thing to do. If that helps balance the province’s books, that’s a benefit for B.C.
Alistair Waters is the Capital News’ assistant editor.