December 6, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
OTTAWA — Taxpayers have spent nearly $15 million over the last eight years maintaining the vacant Kapyong Barracks site while the federal government fights a land claim for the site by Treaty One First Nations.
A few years ago, the Department of Defence reported the annual cost to maintain the site, including the 41 buildings, was $1.95 million. A Department of Defence spokeswoman recently told the Free Press that dropped to $1.5 million in 2011 when the six buildings that were still being used were emptied.
Since the barracks were abandoned by the Princess Patricia Light Infantry Unit in 2004, taxpayers have spent $14.7 million on the empty barracks, including for utilities, operations and maintenance, property taxes, site security and site management.
"Good grief," said Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin. "The government’s stubborn intransigence on this file is costing us a fortune."
A 1997 agreement with Treaty One First Nations gave them the right of first refusal when surplus federal land became available. However when Ottawa officially declared the land surplus in 2007, it planned to to sell the site to the Canada Lands Company for $8.6 million. CLC, a Crown corporation that redevelops surplus federal land, planned a mix of homes and businesses on the site.
The seven Treaty One First Nations went to court to challenge the decision shortly after. In 2009, a federal court judge ordered Ottawa to freeze any sale of the land until consultations were undertaken with the bands. That decision was rescinded on appeal in 2011 and the case was returned to the lower court for another hearing. A second federal judge last month again ordered Ottawa to consult with the First Nations, this time four of the seven.
Ottawa has until the end of this week to decide whether to appeal. A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay said earlier this week the government is still reviewing the court decision.
"It is important to note that every year our government conducts over 5,000 consultations with First Nations and that the court’s ruling does not make a determination on claims to the land," said Paloma Aguilar, MacKay’s spokeswoman.
Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson said this week there have been some conversations between the Treaty One nations and Ottawa since the court decision but no negotiations.
"I won’t be surprised if they appeal," said Hudson.
He said the fact Ottawa has spent more maintaining the empty barracks than it ever will selling the land, no matter the outcome, is something "people will need to look at."
Hudson said the First Nations want to develop the land as an economic-development project for their reserves, and that they are willing to work with all interested parties to get the best development for everyone.
"We are open to sitting and discussing on the best possible outcome that serves not only First Nations but the city of Winnipeg."
A high-placed Conservative government source told the Free Press in December the government was open to selling the land to the First Nations but only on the condition the land not to be turned into an urban reserve.
Aguilar said disposing excess federal land can be a lengthy process that takes into account aboriginal, environmental, archeological and heritage concerns.
"Our government works diligently to ensure that property no longer needed by the Canadian Armed Forces is disposed of in an efficient and responsible manner."