Par for this course?

The premier and a senior provincial minister allegedly tried to influence bureaucrats to hurry the sale of Crown land sought by developer and hockey legend Geoff Courtnall, according to internal government emails provided exclusively to Public Eye. That sale, which concerned properties on Old Baldy Mountain near Shawnigan Lake, ultimately didn't happen. And an insider familiar with provincial land sales when the New Democrats were in government says this kind of politicking "happens fairly regularly...It's part of normal lobbying activity. I don't find anything particularly nefarious about" the documents. Nevertheless, the emails provides a unique glimpse into how the powerful involved themselves in the work of Land and Water B.C. Inc. - the now defunct Crown agency responsible for selling government-owned property.

According to the documents, which were obtained by the Shawnigan Lake Watershed Watch Association via a freedom of information request, on July 17 then Minister of Sustainable Resource Management Stan Hagen called the organization's corporate business manager about the Baldy Mountain properties.

The business manager - Teri Collins - informed her president and chief executive officer that the minister "wanted to know what next step was...He advised the Premier had called him and requested that we move this up to make progress right away." The subject line of that email was "Geoff Courtnall."

Ms. Collins's message to Bill Valentine was then forwarded to the corporation's development and marketing vice-president Jack Hall, who told his regional manager that "the Minister (and Premier) wants action on this project fast. We need to assign someone to focus on this immediately."

In a later communication, the regional manager - Mark Hallam - writes that Land and Water's "priority will be to put on the market the Crown land (Mr. Courtnall) wishes to develop." And another email shows Tom Brown, Minister Hagen's senior aide, asking questions about land development issues on behalf of Mr. Courtnall.

Minister Hagen was unavailable for comment on Friday. But public affairs bureau executive director Andy Orr says he sees nothing in those emails indicating there was "any direction to do anything other than follow proper process."

Mr. Courtnall's firm - Pacific North Woods Co. - had wanted to turn the Mount Baldy properties into a golf course and housing development. The former hockey player, who is one of several partners in that group, is an acquaintance of the premier. Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong, now the Minister of Community Services, referred to him in the legislature as one of her "very special friends." Mr. Courtnall did not return a call for comment placed via his brother Russ's cell phone. A version of this article was originally published in today's edition of 24 hours. The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned emails.

***

----- Original Message -----
From: Collins, Teri LWBC: EX
Sent: July 17, 2003 1:39 PM
To: Valentine, Bill LWBC: EX
Subject: FW: Geoff Courtnall

The Minister called me about this file today. Wanted to know what next step was. I advised our plan was to hire a project manager for this file by August, with the RFP going out Late July.

He advised the Premier had called him and requested that we move this up to make progress right away (ie, issue RFP next week). I confirmed we would move this along.

I have passed to Jack who will work with Mark tomorrow and provide an update.

Thanks. Teri

----- Original Message -----
From: Collins, Teri LWBC: EX
Sent: July 17, 2003 1:39 PM
To: Hall, Jack LWBC: EX
Subject: FW: Geoff Courtnall

FyI, pls include bill on your update as I am away tomorrow. Thanks. t

Hallam, Mark LWBC: EX
------------------------------
From: Hall, Jack LWBC: EX
Sent: July 17, 2003 2:38 PM
To: Hallam, Mark LWBC: EX
Subject: FW: Geoff Courtnall

Mark...the Minister (and Premier) wants action on this project fast. We need to assign someone to focus on this immediately. Lets discuss Friday (e.g. see if Randy could take it on, or limited invitation including Jim Switzer, Gary Martin, George Millward, Urban Systems, Don vanderHorst)

****

----- Original Message -----
From: Brown, Tom G SRM:EX
Sent: October 2, 2003 11:40 PM
To: Hall, Jack LWBC: EX
Cc: Collier, Sunny LWBC: EX; Guest, Marina SRM:EX
Subject: Further to our discussion

Hi Jack:

I spoke with Geoff yesterday and he provided me with an update on the 2 issues he's been working with you on and asked about another...

1. very pleased with work and support received on Sechelt...
2. a problem with Baldy Mountain in that the area that they were interested in purchasing was awarded to someone else on July 30, and
3. they're in the progress of negotiating a purchase of TFL46 from TimberWest and would like to know what processes need to be followed if they are successful (to me this seems like a more general question, much of it probably outside of your realm but if you could please give me a general overview than I can follow up with the appropriate agencies).

Thanks very much, Tom
Tom

Tom Brown
MA to the Hourable Stan Hagen
Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management
T: (250) 387-7894
F: (250) 356-8273

----- Original Message -----
From: Hallam, Mark LWBC:EX
Sent: October 2, 2003 2:11 PM
To: Hall, Jack LWBC: EX
Subject: RE: Further to our discussion

Courtnall seems to be asking what the process is to purchase Crown land after he has acquired neary TFL land. I explained to him that the soonest we could put land on the market was the Spring, assuming cooperation from the MoF and TNO. Depending how much land he owns or controls we will try to put appropriate Crown land on the market (i.e. the block next to Mt Baldy, now in a woodlot and a second block of Crown land separated rom the first by TFL land the Courtnall wishes to purchase. Our priority will be to put on the market the Crown land he wishes to develop. If he does not have a development concept for a particular block of Crown land, i.e. If the proposed use is forestry, we will not rush that land onto the market. Land not required for the Courtnall development will be brought onto the market after we have completed an OCP process with the Regional District.

Mark Hallam
Regional Manager, Vancouver Island Region
Development and Marketing Division
Land and Water British Columbia Inc.
Tel: (250) 952-6557 Fax: (250) 952-6237
email: mark.hallam@gems3.gov.bc.ca

8 Comments

C'mon Sean, where's the beef here?!

It's not like the guy's building a deck in return for a multi-hundred million dollar development.....

The Premier is almost non-existant in this daisy chain of back and forth emails. Where's the problem? Why is this news?

In the normal course of business (for anyone who understands business) the Baldy properties adjacent to Courtnall are of NO USE to anyone else. The guy is lobbying government to get additional land. Now, if he ends up getting a sweetheart deal, that's a problem.....but if he ends up paying at market, there is no issue here at all, and from my experience, it is indeed part of the normal course of doing business with the Provincial Government. It was no less so when the New Dumbocrats were in the crowsnest.

Let's move on.....

I did notice, with interest, the involvement of the Hon. Stan 'Dunce' Hagen, who coninues to astound with his brazen efforts to get his political finger in ever pie possible. Truth be told, the phone call would have been better made by an assistant and NOT the Minister.

But these are the sorts of things that were par for the course under Bennett, Barrett, Bennett II, and VanderZalm, where our Minister Hagen cut his provincial teeth. The heady days of Social Credit are over, but not for His All Blunderificness....

Total lack of understanding of the fish farm business, children's ministry confusion...yep pretty stellar Minister that Hagen.

Sometimes I have to wonder just what the hell Gordo's thinking when he's assembling a list of Cabinet members...

Stupid is as stupid does.

I am actually quite suprised by this chain of messages. To me it seems really peculiar that a Minister, let alone the First Minister, would be expressing themselves one way or the other on a particular application to purchage Crown land. If this were a truly major development that would also involve a major public expenditure (eg trade and convention centre) you could understand where the political level people would be involved, but for a routine application, why are they even aware that this guy has something in mind?

Good point, Budd. Also peculiar that the resident Liberal toady doesn't really defend the merits of it one way or another except to say hey, other people have done it... can we please move on.

Sounts to me like there's more than meets the eye here. Not a good time to move on.

At the very least, it is very inappropriate for the Premier and for Minister Hagen to intrude into the specific business affairs of Land & Water BC Inc. and for civil servants to heed their intrusion.

If the issue was that the Crown was slow in processing applications to purchase land then the Premier and Minister Hagen have a obligation to fix the problem but they have no right to allow their friends to "jump the cue".

Shame on the Premier and Minister Hagen and shame on the "toady" civil servants who cowardly bent to their will.

What's the point of RFPs and arms length provincial corporations if the Premier and his Ministers are free to treat OUR provincial assets like their personal and private fiefdom, to be given away to their friends and supporters in sweetheart deals?

This is pretty blatant and pretty stinky, and the response of the LWBC staff suggested they were used to such blatant interference. Campbell and Hagen have some serious explaining to do.

Here comes Courtnall down the left wing boards, moving in, shoots, SCORES! Geoff Courtnall! And the Canucks win game 6 in Overtime.

Seriously, where's the email exchange between government and Nonis asking for Bertuzzi to be traded? I can see numerous economic benefits to the province for such action.

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