POLITICS

Nova Scotia premier says sale of Crown land to cabinet minister above board

08/26/2013 12:26 EDT | Updated 10/26/2013 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter says he's satisfied the purchase of a piece of Crown land by his natural resources minister is not unusual despite opposition accusations that the transaction breaks government rules and constitutes a conflict of interest.

Dexter said parcels of Crown land have been sold to private citizens in the past and there's no reason to treat Charlie Parker any differently, even though it's general government policy not to offer Crown land for sale.

"These (sales) are a routine part of government business," Dexter said Monday. "As far as I know, every government has done it in exactly the same fashion."

He said Parker has been above board in submitting an application for the land and in recusing himself while the department assessed his request.

Dexter said he has no plans to revisit the sale, which is for a piece of riverfront property in Pictou County next door to a home Parker owns. It still requires cabinet approval.

"I'm satisfied with it unless somebody can point to something that is somehow different than it should be," said Dexter.

Rules posted on the Natural Resources Department website say the government doesn't put Crown land up for sale as general policy because of the limited amount of Crown land available and existing commitments on such land, such as parks and forestry licences. There are exceptions that allow for sales to municipalities or community groups for public benefit, sales to support economic activity and sales to alleviate undue hardship where it is in the province's best interest.

Crown land is not sold for speculative purposes or for residential or cottage lots, the rules say, and anyone looking to buy Crown land must be able to show that all other reasonable alternatives have been explored.

A spokesman for the Natural Resources Department said officials concluded Parker's application to buy close to 0.2 hectares of Crown land was valid as it was previously expropriated.

"We had determined that it is in the best interest of the province to sell the previously expropriated land back to the upland owners," Dan Davis said in an email. "It alleviates undue hardship which was created by the riverfront being taken from them. It is being sold for market value."

But Liberal Opposition Leader Stephen McNeil said he believes Parker is in a conflict of interest and he doesn't buy Dexter's assertion that Parker is being treated like an average citizen.

"This is the minister responsible for this land and this is the minister who is responsible for the staff who are making the decision," said McNeil.

"Selling a cottage lot on a river to the minister responsible for this file is not economic development nor is it in the best interests of that community."

Alfie MacLeod, the Progressive Conservative natural resources critic, said he has heard from a number of constituents in the past who have been unsuccessful in trying to buy Crown land.

He said in Parker's case, the file should have at least been given to some person or body outside of his department's process to approve Crown land sales.

"It gives the wrong impression and we all know that right now people's impressions of politicians is not all that great," he said.