The leaders of both the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives and NDP are calling upon the Auditor General to investigate the government’s decision to purchase 15 acres of land in Bayers Lake.
In addition to criticisms surrounding the accessibility of the area, critics are also raising concerns about the overall cost and the decision-making process.
“The government has paid for a tenth of the parcel of land, something very close to the assessed price of the entire parcel of land,” said NDP leader Gary Burrill.
“If there are reasons for this, if this is good judgement, certainly the government ought to explain it. And that’s why we’ve asked the auditor general to investigate.”
According to the website ViewPoint.ca, the entire 178-acre plot is worth just under $7.5 million. The Liberals bought 15 acres for $7.5 million.
Stephen MacKenzie, Director of Real Property with the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, told Global News the cost of the land also includes site preparation, including roads and sewer hookups.
“If you look at some of the other sites out there, you can go on the internet and Google them, they range from $650,000 to $750,000 an acre for a pad-ready site. And we got it for $500,000 for a pad-ready site,” said MacKenzie said.
MacKenzie said the number-two option, which Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters on Thursday was the Rona site in Bayers Lake, would have cost “millions” more.
“We made the choice of this property because it met our clients’ needs in terms of location, size, transportation and accessibility,” MacKenzie said.
“And then the final number for us, it was the best price for taxpayers.”
However, the opposition is calling for more transparency in the process.
“This is money that was set aside to improve our health care system, not to overpay Liberal donors,” said PC Leader Jamie Baillie in a release. “The integrity of the McNeil government is in question here. Taxpayers and those who rely on our health care system need answers without delay.”
The land is owned by Banc Commercial Holdings Ltd. Besim Halef, the company’s president and CEO, sits on the QEII foundation’s board of trustees and donated $3,000 to the Liberal party in 2013. The company’s vice-president, Alexander Halef, donated $700.
Baillie said he wants the Liberals to release all documentation that led to the decision to forego normal tendering rules and information on how the site was selected.
MacKenzie tells Global News the process for finding the land was typical.
“Actually, we never tender for land. Our acquisition team goes out to acquire. The basic reason we do that is because we’re looking for a particular property. It’s based on location, shape, size, its physical attributes,” he said.
“Our client, which was Health Authority, gave us a radius somewhere between downtown Halifax and Cobequid Centre, and from there we started to … look at available lands.”
He said ultimately they narrowed their selection down from 14 different locations, including one on Lacewood Drive near the bus terminal. Ultimately, the Bayers Lake site was chosen based on location and price.
Work on the new outpatient centre is set to begin late 2018. There are no details yet about exactly how much the building will cost.