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BC Government Defends Deals to Buy Prince George Hotels

Private owners made millions selling properties to the province. BC Conservatives want an audit.

Andrew MacLeod 20 May 2024The Tyee

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on X or reach him at .

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon is dismissing concerns about high-profit “hotel flipping” in Prince George that Conservative Leader John Rustad raised in the legislature.

“It doesn’t pass the smell test in my opinion,” Rustad said on the last day of the spring legislative session. “Something is going on there. That’s why I’ve called for a forensic audit.”

In the last year the provincial government and the City of Prince George bought three hotels in the city from companies controlled by a small number of individuals, public land title and corporate documents provided by the Conservative party show.

In total the companies, which held each property for up to about five years, spent $5 million for the three buildings and then sold them to the city and province for $11.6 million. In one case, they sold a hotel for nearly three times more than they’d paid for it 19 months earlier.

An audit is needed, Rustad said in the legislature, “so that the people of British Columbia know that the money is being spent appropriately and that there is nothing inappropriate happening in BC Housing.”

Kahlon said everything with the sales was done properly. “Every time a building is purchased, it follows the same protocols that were in place when that member was in the BC Liberal government,” he said. “There are appraisals done. There is a validation done of the price compared to what’s in the market.”

Rustad said he believes that in all cases the purchases were made with public money through BC Housing. They included:

In each case, directors or signing agents for the companies were Tapinder Singh Banipal of Kamloops and Tejinder Singh Khatrao of Prince George. In one of the sales, papers were signed for the sellers by Harwinder Banipal.

“We’ve got three hotels in Prince George, all with the same individuals involved, all with massive profits for hotels that also needed to be renovated afterwards,” Rustad said. “This trend is very disturbing, to see that these kinds of trades are being made, that these individuals, whether having inside information or whatever it may have been.”

Kahlon said that when BC Housing is involved, third parties make independent checks of properties to assess the purchase value.

“It’s hard to understand if the member is suggesting whether we should buy hotels early or whether we should buy them late,” he said. “What’s most important, I think, for any community that’s struggling with people that are in encampments or homeless, is getting housing options available right away.”

Buying properties is a way to provide housing quickly without the time it would take to get a new building approved and constructed, he said. “The previous government, when the member was part of the BC Liberal government, did the same thing... where they stepped in and moved people into hotels, acquired buildings to move people in.”

It was the right thing to do when the former government did it, said Kahlon. “We have to do the same when issues like this arise.”

The legislature is not scheduled to sit again ahead of the Oct. 19 election.

BC United MLAs used the last question period to ask about the toxic drug crisis and fires in northern B.C., and BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau asked about the Site C dam, drought and fracking.

Recent polls have shown the B.C. Conservatives well ahead of BC United and drawing close to the leading NDP. There have been backroom discussions about co-operation between the Conservatives and BC United, but Rustad says his party is committed to running candidates in all 93 constituencies and that he plans to lead it into the election.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics, Housing

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