Who should be the new tenants for Victoria's old Canadian Pacific Railway Steamship Terminal? That's the controversial question now facing the government commission responsible for managing the 87-year-old, publicly-owned building - which occupies a prime piece of real estate on the city's Inner Harbour. Three proposals bidding for that tenancy were submitted to the provincial capital commission. But Public Eye has exclusively learned one of them included a letter of support from Liberal MLA Ida Chong - which was provided around two months before she was named the minister responsible for that agency.
The proposal in question would see the Maritime Museum of British Columbia move from Old Town Victoria's Bastion Square to the terminal - just footsteps away from the dock for the Coho, a passenger and car ferry that runs from Washington State to the capital city.
In an interview with Public Eye, the president of the museum's foundation Jamie Webb said Ms. Chong's letter of support was one of about 30 included in its bid package. Mr. Webb said he was "buoyed by the news that she was made the minister responsible" for the commission, adding he was hopeful the appointment "might spell good things" for the museum.
"To-date, I've been mindful of the PCC's process and kind of not jumped over their heads and gone to their minister. Civil servants don't like it when you kind of run around and then talk to their minister. So I've been mindful of that process. But I'm pretty sure she and her staff are keeping her in the loop as it all unfolds."
But Ms. Chong has told Public Eye she won't be involved in determining who the terminal's tenants will be, with that decision resting in the hands of the capital commission. The minister also stressed that, had she been asked, she would have provided similar letters of support to the two businessmen who submitted competing bids for that opportunity.
"As a community leader, I regularly and routinely receive people in my office who ask for letters of support. And what I try to do is offer them words of encouragement to work towards that effort. But it's not ultimately my decision on whether those proposals will be successful."
"These are letters of support," Ms. Chong continued. "They're not letters that endorse one project over another. I always would like to be able to encourage as many as a dozen people - if that were to be the case - that their proposals go forward and they succeed."
The bidding process for the terminal tenancy has been marked by controversy. Earlier last month, the commission cancelled that process after a five-person panel "found evaluations of the three proposals could not be completed due to insufficient information."
Those proposals included one from fishing resort owner Bob Wright and another from pub owner Matt MacNeill. Mr. Wright wanted to put a "visitor attraction" in the terminal that would feature British Columbia's "cultures, heritage, wilderness, legends and folklore." Mr. MacNeill, on the other hand, was advocating for a public marketplace.
In a recent letter to the Times Colonist the commission chair Bill Wellburn wrote his agency is still "actively seeking tenants who will be suitable for the building and align with the PCC's mandate, including the proponents who submitted proposals."
Webb said the maritime museum continues to be "very interested" in that opportunity, adding "we think our proposal has lots of merit. So we're going to tweak it and continue to work with PCC."
Ms. Chong's office was unable to provide a copy of her letter by deadline.