A CBC iTeam investigation has revealed a highly concerning land purchase by the Sask. Party government in which it appears to have paid multiple times the appropriate price – and the NDP is calling for an investigation.
The Sask. Party government had been buying up land for the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) and nearby roads, paying between $9,000 and $23,000 per acre under threat of expropriation. But despite knowing for years they’d need a specific 204-acre stretch of land, they waited until it had been bought by businessmen, then paid them a cool $103,000 per acre – cutting a $21-million cheque.
The government had the land appraised at no more than $35,000 per acre just before offering two businessmen the giant price – 194% more than its appraised value.
“This land purchase is deeply troubling,” said NDP Deputy Leader Trent Wotherspoon. “The independent Provincial Auditor should be brought in for a full investigation and audit of the sale process.”
Wotherspoon also said that while it's possible this deal represents a series of timing coincidences and significant Sask. Party incompetence, the RCMP should rule out any criminal wrongdoing, including breach of trust by Bill Boyd, the minister responsible, or any of his cabinet colleagues. A criminal breach of public trust is an offence in which a public official, intentionally or through willful neglect, uses their office for a purpose other than for public good, including dishonest, corrupt or fraudulent purposes.
“Some landowners in this area were paid $9,000 per acre, below the appraised value because the government was threatening to take the land under expropriation. The highest price it paid throughout the entire region was just $23,000. But, for this stretch of land, the Sask. Party paid three times the appraised value. Something isn't right here,” said Wotherspoon. “It’s possible that the Sask. Party government cost Saskatchewan taxpayers millions of dollars by waiting too long to buy this land, and doing a devastatingly bad job at negotiating the price. But it's also possible that there was some wrongdoing on the part of the Sask. Party here. Saskatchewan people need to know how and why one land owner was paid far, far more than anyone else.”
In 2013, the 204-acre parcel was two plots, owned by two separate owners. That year, an Alberta company bought both and flipped them to two businessmen for a $6-million profit in a matter of hours – brokering the deal so that the land titles record showed the sale was directly from the original owners to the businessmen.
By the time that sale closed on Feb. 26, 2013, and the businessmen officially owned all 204 acres, it was no secret the government needed that land – they held an open house showing a new interchange occupying part of the land just two days later.
In fact, under questioning by Wotherspoon in a legislative committee on April 20, 2015, Minister Bill Boyd said that land had been identified as critical to the GTH access “probably right at the very outset of our government taking over in 2005 would’ve been, that would’ve been a priority of the GTH, to acquire those lands to accommodate that free-flow access.” Asked again if the 204 acres were specifically identified in 2007 as necessary to the project, Boyd answered “A long time ago, yes.”
Brad Wall and his cabinet signed off on the $21-million purchase in February 2014, leaving Wotherspoon and taxpayers to wonder why the government waited while the land rapidly flipped ownership, then offered a massively inflated price for it.
According to the GTH CEO Bryan Richards, who is quoted by the CBC, “the government” directed him to pursue that purchase. Part of the land was then sold from the government’s GTH to its Ministry of Highways after that – for $65,000 per acre.