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What's Our Real Bill for RCMP Complex? Mayors Fret

Hidden costs? Billion-dollar Surrey HQ to take bites out of muni budgets for years.

By Bob Mackin 20 Jun 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Vancouver-based reporter Bob Mackin regularly contributes to The Tyee. Find his previous Tyee articles here.

The RCMP's new, billion-dollar regional headquarters is largely out of sight, but it is on the minds of municipal mayors who are fearing an even bigger bite out of their budget to pay for the federal force.

E Division's 76,162-square-metre "Surrey Green Timbers" complex will have capacity for 2,700 personnel when it opens next year. Public Works and Government Services Canada's biggest B.C. office project is tucked behind Fraser Health's Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre, beside the Surrey Nature Centre. The seven-storey development with parking spots for 1,800 vehicles on 14.8 hectares is surrounded by trees and is not apparent to passersby on either 96 Avenue or Green Timbers Way.

When they broke ground on May 7, 2010, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and B.C.'s then top-ranking cabinet minister Stockwell Day announced French construction giant Bouygues Batiment International and its Canadian facility management subsidiary ETDE had been chosen to build the private-public partnership with financial backing by a since-spun-off arm of HSBC, InfraRed Capital Partners. The same trio also collaborated on the nearby Pattison hospital.

Signs sporting an artist's rendering of the complex by a 96 Avenue driveway were recently joined by a notice of an application for a liquor primary licence. The new RCMP officers' mess hopes to serve beer Sundays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to midnight and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Six holdout municipalities -- Burnaby, Coquitlam, North Vancouver City, North Vancouver District, Port Coquitlam and Richmond -- are faced with a June 30 deadline to sign the 20-year service contract to keep RCMP detachments in their communities. A separate set of negotiations over cost-sharing for the Green Timbers headquarters is in its infancy.

"We have far too often received financial surprises from the RCMP, where they simply give us bills and invoices for services or goods that they have decided upon and we have had little or no input into it," said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie. "Green Timbers? That contract should have been sorted out a long time ago. I don't understand when Ottawa decides to build a building for E Division not knowing who or exactly what departments will occupy the premises and what the financial expectations are."

While Burnaby fears its share will be $1.5 million a year for 25 years, Brodie did not have an estimate on how much Richmond would have to pay.

'Too early to speculate' about costs: Minister Bond

Justice Minister Shirley Bond, who met privately with Brodie at Vancouver International Airport on June 12, was vague on the operational and lease costs for the province and municipalities.

"It's too early to speculate about what the costs might be," she told The Tyee. "I'm not sure what they'll be at this point. I've given my negotiating team directions that we're going to get the best deal possible."

Asked whether her staff has briefed her on cost estimates, she said: "I'm not going to comment, I won't negotiate in the media. This is a very important part of our work with the RCMP. We are tenants. We expect to be looking at a reasonable cost per foot, for rental of that space, for use of that space. That's a negotiation that will take place. Municipalities want us to make sure we get that done properly and I agree with them."

First Nations claims on current RCMP site

The RCMP deemed the 8.5-hectare, three-parcel Fairmont site around 37th Avenue and Heather Street in Vancouver inadequate, too expensive to maintain and beyond its usefulness. The fate of the land is to be decided.

"If the federal government does not find another use for the site, it would be offered for sale at market value (in priority order) to the province, the city, and the general public (i.e. private developer)," said the City of Vancouver's 2005 Riley Park/South Cambie Vision report. "The amount of existing development on the RCMP sites is relatively low in relation to the size of the sites."

The Fairmont land was listed along with federal property near Jericho Beach and in West Vancouver in a presentation on Strategic Disposal of Surplus Property in Greater Vancouver to a November 2010 federal workshop. The property sales would be complicated by overlapping First Nations land claims.

"Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish have demonstrated continued interest in all properties," said the presentation.  [Tyee]

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