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New owner of property registry has checkered history: MGEU

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The cash-strapped Manitoba government is selling its Property Registry to a company owned by Ontario municipal employees for $75 million.

Finance Minister Stan Struthers and Jay Forbes, CEO of purchasing company Teranet Manitoba, made the announcement at the Legislative Building this morning.

None of the 137 people who work at the registry will lose their jobs. About half are expected to retire in the next decade.

Teranet will also pay the province an annual royalty during its 30-year licensing agreement. The royalty will begin at $11 million in 2013, increasing to $24 million by the end of the agreement.

To protect consumers, Struthers said, the government will set the rates charged by Teranet for its services.

Data used by the company, including land survey and property titles, will still be owned by the province and protected by privacy legislation.

"This deal allows us to take advantage of Teranet’s expertise in delivering this specialized service and it ensures good value to the government while ensuring the public is protected," Struthers said.

He also said that finding and registering legal documents when selling a house or buying a second-hand car will become faster and easier for Manitobans in the future.

Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said the sale makes sense, but he questions the NDP government’s motivations.

"If the government was motivated by finding efficiencies today I’d be very surprised," he said. "I think they’re mostly motivated by finding more revenue. And the problem is that the government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. So what they did today is they generated a little feel-good feeling for themselves for about two days – because they’ll spend the proceeds of this sale in the next two days, and the question is what they’re going to sell on Saturday.

The Manitoba Government Employees Union, which represents registry workers, said it is disappointed that the government has sold a profitable agency

"Like a lot of people, I am surprised and disappointed at today’s announcement," said MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky. "To date I think we’ve seen a commitment from this government to maintain public entities and protect Manitoba jobs, but that’s not what we’re seeing today."

Gawronsky warned that Manitobans could pay significantly more for the registry’s services in the future. As part of the deal, Teranet has negotiated the right to charge Manitobans fees of one per cent over the rate of inflation for 30 years on transactions the company processes, the union said.

Those transactions currently include providing certifications on titles of land, maintaining land records, and other services relating to the cataloguing and transfer of land parcels. Essentially, every time a property changes hands in Manitoba, land titles services are utilized.

"Allowing this escalator in charges means Manitoba citizens will be asked to help pay for this deal," Gawronsky said. "I sincerely hope the government is straight about what this is going to cost Manitoba families."

The MGEU said in a statement today that Teranet has a checkered history in Ontario, where it controls that province’s land registry. The history has been fraught with labour conflict, significant job losses, and rural office closures, it said. The union said it fears the prospect of jobs moving to Toronto over the long-term.

History

Updated on Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 11:56 AM CST: adds comments from Pallister

12:52 PM: Adds comment from union.

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