Mr. Speaker, we have before us today an amendment to a motion recommending that the government should consider amending the lease between the Queensway-Carleton Hospital and the NCC, to make the hospital's rent $1 a year, instead of $22,909.
First, listening to the member for Nepean—Carleton, one would think that the lease is about to expire in a matter of hours or weeks. I would like to remind the House that this lease will not expire until 2013. There is therefore no cause for panic; there is no real rush, no emergency. We have time to examine this whole issue much more calmly and in more depth than the member for Nepean—Carleton might like.
As I told the hon. member in committee, I am not unsympathetic to the idea of looking at all that is involved when non profit organizations lease buildings or lands from the federal government. We may have to review the whole issue.
What we cannot do is take a case by case approach or put a motion before the House of Commons to deal with a contract between an establishment and a crown agency. It seems to me that, if we get into that and start reviewing the hundreds or thousands of lease agreements entered into by the federal government, not much else will get done in terms of legislation for this country.
Allow me to give an overview of the management framework of crown corporations, including the NCC, particularly where real estate transactions are concerned.
The National Capital Commission was assigned by the Government of Canada the mandate of managing federal real property. Subsection 15(1) of the National Capital Act states:
Except with the approval of the Governor in Council, the Commission shall not
(a) acquire any real property for a consideration in excess of a value of twenty-five thousand dollars; or
(b) enter into a lease enduring for a period in excess of five years [including amendments to existing leases of over five years] or grant an easement enduring for a period in excess of forty-nine years.
And subsection 15(2) states:
The Commission shall not dispose of real property for a consideration in excess of ten thousand dollars—
This same provision of the National Capital Act stipulates, among other things, that the transactions must be done in accordance with subsection 99(2) of the Financial Administration Act, whereby the National Capital Commission may sell or otherwise dispose of any property held by the corporation and may retain and use the proceeds of disposition thereof, but only in accordance with the regulations, or on the authorization of the Governor in Council. In similar cases, Crown Corporation General Regulations, 1995 applies.
The legislation and the regulations in place reinforce the need, when there is disposition of real property—including leases—to respect the principle of “market value”, which I will discuss in more detail in a few minutes. Applying this principle to crown corporations also complies with the framework of the Treasury Board policy that governs federal departments and agencies. I must say that, knowing the provincial government of Ontario as I do, this province is acting in an almost identical fashion.
The proposals made by the minister responsible, in this case, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, are governed by a regulatory framework that requires a series of approvals from the special committee of council, the Treasury Board and possibly from cabinet.
The motion before us today outlines a scenario in which the Government of Canada plans to change the lease signed between the Queensway-Carleton hospital and the NCC that would require the hospital to pay $1 a year rather than $22,909, as it currently does.
I must say that, as the former director of education for the French language Catholic school board in eastern and central Ontario, we had similar leases with the National Capital Commission, at the Sainte-Geneviève school, for instance, and we too would have liked to have paid $1. I do not think we can start having a double standard that depends on whether or not an issue becomes politicized by an MP.
Because of possible ramifications, decisions of this scope require high-level approval. As we examine this motion, it is important to clearly understand the underlying principle of market value, and to recognize that a decision concerning one single transaction in the National Capital Region would have repercussions Canada-wide, since this principle applies to all federal departments and agencies, including crown corporations, in keeping with Treasury Board policies.
In 1985, under another government, the Nielsen task force on program review released its report on the federal government property management program. It described property management as one of the most politically-charged functions of government. That was back in 1985.
The motion by the hon. member for Nepean—Carleton would make it even more politically charged. This is even the case already, since we are discussing it in the House of Commons.
The report went on to say that property management issues were behind the multiplication of government programs and were used both in pursuit of socio-economic objectives and in the distribution of governmental largesse.
The task force also found that property management decisions at the time were being made with higher socio-economic objectives in mind, rather than the economic considerations of the best possible use of real property or any consideration of acquisition and maintenance costs . The resulting system was a bloated system and politicized with no controls and no direction.
The current Treasury Board policies on property management were intended to remedy those shortcomings. If we do what the member for Nepean—Carleton is asking, we would end up back exactly where we were then, with purely political case-by-case decisions being made to the disadvantage of the community as a whole.
The fair market value system is a matter of impartiality, equity and above all uniformity. I would also like to draw the hon. members' attention to the fact that the land on which the Queensway-Carleton Hospital is located is part of the green belt and the national interest land mass. It is managed according to the green belt management plan, which sets out policies and principles to ensure the long term management and preservation of this land.
The greenbelt and other federal land that contributes to the capital experience have been designated NILM. They are indispensable to achieving the NCC mandate for the long term, which is to ensure that the capital region presents a physical coherence, works effectively and has a symbolic significance to Canadians.
Let us look at the whole picture. I believe there may be some merit to re-examining the entire issue of property or land that would be sold or leased to not-for-profit agencies. Of course, I have some sympathy for this cause, having directed a school board. Nonetheless, we cannot do this in a vacuum. We cannot do what we are doing right now, which is to target a specific issue and present it to the House of the Commons. If the government took this approach, as I was saying earlier, for each of the 200 building leases and sales, we would end up with 200 individual motions. This issue would become politicized. It is a slippery slope.
Furthermore, a transaction of this kind would lack transparency in terms of projected revenue, which would be hard cash, especially after 2013.
In closing, if the committee were to submit a recommendation, the Minister of Canadian Heritage should first present a brief to the Treasury Board. I respectfully propose that the Treasury Board Secretariat base the advice it will give the ministers and members of the Treasury Board on the strategic and regulatory framework that governs such transactions, by taking into full account the repercussions such a precedent would have.
I will close by encouraging the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the National Capital Commission to negotiate in good faith a lease for this hospital that is so dear to us all, but without the sword of Damocles the hon. member for Nepean—Carleton would like to see hanging over us.