Last week, the provincial government announced that it will put 243 surplus properties across Ontario up for sale. The Ford government estimated in its announcement that the approximately 14,600 acres will bring in up to $135 million in revenue. While none of the surplus crown assets are east of Belleville, the province does own a considerable amount of land in this region, and specifically in South Dundas.
At first glance, the prospect of government land becoming available does sound appealing, especially here where waterfront areas are few and far between. More so in South Stormont where that municipality has no access or control over its own waterfront.
But as we’ve seen in recent years, anytime a government has moved to sell surplus land, it unlocks a Pandora’s Box of issues.
In Cornwall, the sale of the federal port land caused citizen’s alarm because of storage tanks leased on the property. To add to that complication, the city, and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne had to form a joint management corporation to operate the property. Now instead of one government managing the property, there are now two.
In South Dundas, discussion by the previous council caused a public uproar when they briefly considered reducing the amount of parkland through sales. Letters and petitions quickly ensued. The discussion was swiftly terminated.
Given the current political climate at Queen’s Park, coupled with the shaky finances of the province, this surplus property sale may only be the first of many on the horizon.
Local government should develop a strategy for dealing with any potential divestiture of crown land from either level of government. Especially if any of the land being sold was expropriated during the St. Lawrence Seaway project. Having a plan, should this happen, will enable quick and appropriate action if needed.
If land is being sold, it may be better for waterfront to be transferred to the municipal government, where it can be added to park land already in place, than sold to the public, where its use and access can be limited.
This is an issue that should be watched and planned for by local government.