PICTOU — Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter says he’s satisfied the purchase of a piece of Crown land by his natural resources minister Charlie Parker 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 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.
Attempts to reach Parker late Monday afternoon were unsuccessful, however information from the Department of Natural Resources about the sale were forwarded upon request from The News.
“Last year Minister Parker bought the land next to his family home,” stated DNR spokesperson Darcy MacRae in an email. “At the time of the sale, both he and the seller were unaware that the province owned a small portion of the waterfront. As a result, Minister Parker and his wife are now among eight landowners who have applied to buy small parcels of Crown land directly in front of their own properties. The Minister’s application is going through the same process as all the other applicants.”
He said as soon as Parker decided that he and his wife were going to try to buy the land in question, he proactively asked the Conflict of Interest Commissioner for guidance to avoid any conflict. The Conflict of Interest Commissions assured the Minister that there is no conflict.
“To further ensure there is no appearance of conflict, Minister Parker has recused himself of any decision-making on this application,” MacRae said.
Minister Sterling Belliveau will serve as acting Minister of Natural Resources in this case. The Department of Natural Resources has recommended that all eight applications be approved, as the lands brings no value to the province because they are inaccessible. However, the applications have yet to be reviewed by cabinet and would require cabinet approval in order to proceed.
Dexter said he has no plans to revisit the sale.
“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.
Liberal Opposition Leader Stephen McNeil said it’s clear to him 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.
“It gives the wrong impression and we all know that right now people’s impressions of politicians is not all that great,” he said.