Christy Clark Hands a $43 Million Gift to Liberal Donor Developer in Land Deal

In the Lower Mainland’s red-hot real-estate market, it’s not uncommon for a seller to get the asking price on a property — and sometimes more.
That’s why the NDP Opposition wants to know why the Liberal government sold several parcels of Crown land in Coquitlam for 33 per cent under their appraised value.

“What were you thinking?” NDP leader John Horgan demanded of Premier Christy Clark on Wednesday during the second raucous question period in a row on the “fire sale” of land on Burke Mountain.

Freedom-of-information documents show the land had been independently appraised at $128 million. But the government sold it for just $85 million.

That’s $43 million less than the appraised value. And look who the buyer was: Wesbild Holdings Ltd.

The company and its director, developer Hassan Khosrowshahi, are generous donors to the Liberal party.

Electoral-finance records released Wednesday by the NDP showed Khosrowshahi and his affiliated companies donated more than $1 million to the Liberals over the past 15 years.

“You had $43 million in value that you gave away to Liberal backers,” Horgan fired at Clark.

But Clark said the lands were “surplus assets” that now will be developed for housing.

“Economic activity is going to be happening on land that before, and certainly under the NDP, would never have happened,” Clark said.

Wesbild Holdings said it bought the land fair and square in a public and independently administered process that attracted six bidders.

“We paid fair market value and fully stand by the integrity of this transaction,” the company said.

But the New Democrats said the sale of the forested land was rushed — just in time for the Liberals to balance the budget before the 2013 election.

The government’s own appraisals recommended holding off on a sale until improved access and services were in place, said finance critic Mike Farnworth, whose riding is near Burke Mountain.

“Those lands up there are, in many ways, money in the bank,” Farnworth said.

“They are nowhere near ready to be built on. No planning has been done on them. They are not serviced. So why sell them now, when their value is only going to increase? It was a rush job.”

Why rush? To balance the budget before the election, the New Democrats alleged, releasing emails suggesting government bureaucrats were under pressure to sell assets quickly.

“Asset sales is a key initiative for the government to balance the budget in fiscal 2013-14,” one deputy minister wrote.

All in all, a rough day for Clark’s government, with potentially more to come in a legislative session that still has six weeks to go.

“We’ve opened up one can of worms here,” Horgan said. “We have many, many more cans to open.”

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Liberal party donor got sweet deal on purchase of Crown land, says NDP

Liberal party donor got sweet deal on purchase of Crown land, says NDP

Hassan Khosrowshahi is the founder of Future Shop as well as Wesbild Holdings Ltd.

Photograph by: Kim Stallknecht , Vancouver Sun

The provincial government drastically undersold more than a dozen parcels of Crown land in Coquitlam’s Burke Mountain area to a Liberal-friendly donor, the Opposition charged Tuesday in the legislature.

The NDP said the buyer, Wesbild Holdings Ltd., paid an estimated $44 million below the appraised values offered in a government-commissioned report.

The allegations are based on documents highlighted by the NDP in the legislature detailing the values and sale prices of land sold by the government to Wesbild Holdings Ltd. over a two-year period.

The sales were part of efforts first announced in 2012 to balance the budget by selling off “surplus” assets.

The documents, which were provided to The Province, included the 137-page report prepared for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations by Equity Valuation and Consulting Services Ltd. in 2013. Also included was a chart listing the actual sales price of the individual properties and their assessed value.

The report offered a detailed appraisal of 14 parcels of land, concluding that they were collectively worth $128, 070,000. The total price paid to the government for the lands was $85 million.

Several of the parcels were drastically undersold, including one that was appraised at $5.6 million but sold for $100,000.

“Another parcel was given a market appraisal of $17.5 million and was sold for $6.9 million,” NDP critic Selina Robinson said in the legislature.

“Another parcel was given a market appraisal of $20.6 million and sold for $13.9 million. Why did the government ignore its own real estate expert and sell these lands for far below their actual market value?”

Wesbild Holdings Ltd. was founded by Hassan Khosrowshahi, an Iranian-born business man who moved to Vancouver in 1981.

Corporate records show he is one of three company directors. According to financial records, Khosrowshahi and his companies have donated more than $500,000 to the B.C. Liberals dating back to 2005, the date online records begin. The NDP says the total is closer to $1 million if the range is extended to 2000.

In 2013, Khosrowshahi was appointed to the board of directors of the Bank of Canada. He is also the founder of Future Shop, a member of the Order of British Columbia, an inductee to the Business Laureates of B.C. Hall of Fame, and past member of the executive committee of the Business Council of B.C.

In 2013, he was personally invited by Premier Christy Clark to her cabinet swearing-in ceremony.

He has donated, both personally and through his companies, an estimated $160,000 since February 2012, the date when government announced its plans to sell off surplus assets. A request to Wesbild for comment on this story was not returned.

Amrik Virk, the minister of technology, innovation and citizens’ services, struggled with his responses under questioning in the legislature.

While unable to speak to specific sales, he said government continues to ensure it gets “the best value for lands” it sells. He also spoke of the economic benefits that should flow from the sold properties.

“The Burke Mountain property is going to result in 800 units of mixed housing, single and multiple families,” he said.

“It’s going to result in about 4,500 full-time jobs and over $20 million in regional municipal improvements … there are economic benefits that occur to the region, to the district, to the province by the sale of these surplus properties.”

Not mentioned in Tuesday’s back and forth was the connection the lands in question are believed to have with a recent dispute within the Kwikwetlem First Nation.

Last summer, Chief Ron Giesbrecht came under fire for the $800,000 bonus he received as part of a $8-million deal with the government to extinguish future claims on a large parcel of Crown land on Burke Mountain.

The province and Kwikwetlem First Nation didn’t respond Tuesday to questions about this connection. But band member Ron Jackman, who is suing the chief in an attempt to have the bonus returned, said: “I believe it is the same.”

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