Museum hasn't paid taxpayers rent for five years

The Maritime Museum of British Columbia hasn't been paying any rent to its provincial government landlord for the past five years. But Public Eye has exclusively learned there are differing explanations as to why those cheques haven't been coming in. A government spokesperson has said the museum simply wasn't in a financial position to do so. But the museum's executive director Martyn Clark explained the non-profit has been in a rental dispute with the province.

The museum has occupied the former Supreme Court building in Victoria's Bastion Square for 46 years. But, speaking with Public Eye, Mr. Clark said it "disputed the amount of money (the government) wanted for the place," with a rental agreement having not been in place since 2006.

"Most landlords want to get as much money as they can and most tenants want to get away with paying nothing," Mr. Clark explained, putting the museum and the government at loggerheads.

But, according to the executive director, the museum "wanted to clear that up," so it sat down with the government to do so. As a result, a new rental agreement has been hammered out, with the government forgiving whatever money the museum might have owed taxpayers.

Mr. Clark said he wasn't sure how much money was owed, stating, "There's been so many numbers bandied about. I heard we had rental accruing of a couple hundred thou'. Then somebody said, 'Oh, it's millions.' So I said, 'Whatever it is, it exists no more."

"No one could even agree on the number," he continued. "So we said, 'Let's start with the number zero. We can all agree on that. And we'll start paying rent and we'll be good guys.'"

Under the new rental agreement - which started in this fiscal year - the museum will pay the government an amount that's "based on revenue." The museum also now "pays for things like cleaning and small maintenance bills."

For its part, a government spokesperson has said the museum didn't owe taxpayers any unpaid rent because there was no rental agreement in place. But the government has subsidized the museum since 2006 by spending $1.05 million on building maintenance and operating costs.

As for why it took so long to reach a new rental agreement, the spokesperson said both parties wanted time to come up with a deal that works for everyone and that the museum "could honour given their financial position."

Indeed, the government has been working with the museum to "give them every opportunity to get back on their feet," recognizing "the importance of maritime history and heritage in B.C."

The new agreement will last for three years and provides both parties with the option of giving a one-year notice to vacate the building.

In September, the Times Colonist's Katherine Dedyna was the first to report the museum was no longer paying rent. This, after the government had started charging it $200,000 a year in fiscal 2003/04 - an amount that was reduced to $75,000 just before 2006.

Earlier, Public Eye also told you cabinet minister Ida Chong had provided a letter supporting the museum's bid to become the provincial capital commission-owned Canadian Pacific Railway Steamship Terminal's new tenant.

That proposal was in competition with two others. But a commission panel turned down all three bids because it could not evaluate them "due to insufficient information."

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