How often have we walked along a piece of waterfrontage and wished we could own it?
Wouldn't it be nice to contact the Province and buy that piece of coveted Crown Land? But, it's Crown Land. Public property and not for sale; except in very specific situations.
So, imagine my surprise to read this article in the Chronicle Herald.
Parker’s Crown land bid OK’d
August 23, 2013 - 8:52pm By EVA HOARE Staff Reporter
Natural Resources agrees to sell parcel to its own minister; Grits say rules broken
The Natural Resources Department has agreed to sell a piece of Crown land to its own minister
Charlie Parker applied last year to buy a small Crown-owned riverfront property next door to his own in Pictou County.
A government official confirmed Friday that the land deal has been approved but still has to go before cabinet.
Crown land hardly ever goes up for sale, and according to the provincial government’s website, can’t easily be acquired, except under rare circumstances.
Gretchen Pohlkamp, the executive director of land services for Natural Resources, confirmed Friday that her department did not conduct an integrated resource management review of the property.
“We did not do one because we had done similar reports for other land in the area,” Pohlkamp said in an interview. She said she felt the department “had sufficient information” already, including geological and forestry surveys.
“I had the scientific information (about) the area. I knew the history of the ownerships.”
Pohlkamp said Parker’s request to buy that particular piece of property, which was among requests from others to buy parcels of Crown land totalling about 24 hectares in the Pictou area, meets provincial requirements. It was decided to take all the requests and put them in one package for cabinet to review, she said.
Sources recently told The Chronicle Herald that the sale of the one property to Parker was all but a done deal — the Pictou West MLA had already paid to have the property appraised and footed the bill for an ecological impact study. Those cheques were paid in June and July, sources said.
In an interview Friday, Parker maintained that he and his wife have done everything above board.
“I think I’ve gone above and beyond,” he said. “I’m just following the same process that many of my neighbours have done in the past. I’m really doing the same as my neighbours.”
Parker acknowledged that he’d paid the fees associated with the process but said he didn’t know the status of his request. He said he’s “recused” himself from the file because he’s in charge of Natural Resources. He said he also consulted with the province’s conflict of interest commissioner, Merlin Nunn.
“We’ve been paying that (fees) and just patiently waiting,” he said.
Andrew Younger, the Liberal natural resources critic, said the province’s rules regarding the purchase of Crown land have not been followed “at all.”
“This isn’t even a story about conflict of interest, because you’re not allowed to do it,” Younger said Friday after reading the provincial rules concerning Crown land sales.
“The rules say on their own website, ‘No,’” Younger said. “The government policy does not allow sales of Crown land to individuals. It’s very clear.”
The Natural Resources website states it’s a “general policy the province does not offer Crown land for sale. … Crown land is not sold for speculative purposes, or for residential or cottage lots.”
Department rules also stipulate that a sale should only go through if it benefits a municipality, non-profit group or community organization, bolsters “economic activity” and is in the “best interests of the province.”
Younger questioned how Parker’s request fits any of those criteria.
“The question is, ‘Would the department even be looking at it if it wasn’t the minister (buying)?’” he said. “If a person walked in (to Natural Resources), the answer would have been no, and that’s really what it comes down to.”
Parker said the reason he and his wife want the Crown land — it is no more than .2 hectares — is because it’s adjacent to a landlocked piece they bought last year. (The Parkers live next door to the land in question on Loch Broom Loop.)
They thought the land they bought last year included waterfrontage on the West River but it didn’t, even though it was advertised that way, he said.
“In the process of working toward the closing, our lawyer discovered that it did not include the waterfrontage,” Parker said in an interview from his home. “That surprised us.”
So last fall, he said, he put in a request to buy the Crown strip.
“I knew the process,” he said. “Other landowners are buying similar types over time.”
In some cases, they were buying back what had been expropriated from them years ago, the minister said. The Crown land Parker wants was expropriated from a Florida man in 1973, property records show.
Younger said it’s ironic the province is on a mission to acquire more land but at the same time is selling Crown property to its own minister.
The Liberal MLA, who serves on the Shubenacadie Canal commission, said he’s been fighting for government to take over some waterfront land along the canal.
“They won’t act on that (Shubie Canal), yet they’re going to act on the minister’s request to violate his own policy … so he can have some waterfrontage?”
But Parker said everything has been done properly to ensure there is no conflict of interest.
He said he approached Nunn in January, a few months after he wrote his letter asking to buy the land.
“I got a reply back from Mr. Nunn in February stating there was no conflict of interest. He advised that I should recuse myself from it and have an acting minister (take over) the files.”
Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau has since handled Parker’s case.
On Friday, Belliveau said cab-inet has not yet decided on Parker’s request.
Belliveau said he’d been briefed and has “put the documents forward.” He said he couldn’t say what he would present to cabinet.
Parker isn’t sure how much the value of his landlocked property will increase if he gets the adjacent Crown land. But he and his wife are prepared to pay “market price” for it, he said.
Parker said several of his neighbours are also trying to buy Crown land along the West River. Natural Resources spokesman Bruce Nunn said in an email that he knew of 10 such requests.
Nunn said previous requests over the past few years to buy Crown land in the West River area have been approved.
In January 2012, Natural Resources staff recommended that a bulk sale of riverfront land parcels take place. Only landowners with property abutting those pieces were allowed to buy, Nunn said, adding that the resulting tax revenue helps the municipality.
Parker said he and his family have lived in the area for 30 years.
A search of orders-in-council over the past couple of years turned up a couple of cases where Crown land was handed over to private individuals. In almost all other cases, the province was the party acquiring the land.
According to Natural Resources, the Crown owns 25 per cent of land in Nova Scotia.
Although, totally not a done deal yet; this land purchase presents some terrible optics and opens up the transaction to questions.
I would be curious to hear how members feel about this land purchase.
Is it fair and okay? Is Mr. Parker getting "special treatment"? Does this open up the sale of other Crown Lands to "special" circumstance or even more special people?
It's hard enough to find waterfrontage now that hasn't been gobbled up by Developers or wealthy folks. Should the Government be selling the "choice bits" of Crown Land?
Just a topic for conversation.