Antoine: Lahm Ridge lease was part of YK office plan
Public Works Minister Jim Antoine says the controversial Lahm Ridge deal is part of a larger plan tabled last week in the legislative assembly.
IQALUIT — Bureaucrats in the GNWT’s Department of Public Works and Services expected to negotiate a long-term lease for the Lahm Ridge Tower in Yellowknife five months before the building changed hands.
Last fall, the Yellowknife office building , along with a lucrative long-term lease with the GNWT, ended up in the hands of a company controlled by Roland Bailey and Mike Mrdjenovich — Yellowknife businessmen with close ties to Premier Don Morin.
That prompted a firestorm of controversy over the past week and a half, as MLAs have peppered the cabinet with numerous questions about the deal.
Deal worked out with previous owners?
But Public Works Minister Jim Antoine has tabled documents suggesting that public works officials had agreed to negotiate a long term lease with the previous owners of Lahm Ridge Towers — not with a numbered company controlled by Bailey and Mrdjenovich.
Antoine told MLAs last week that the public works department already had “a fairly good idea” about which long-term leases the GNWT would keep with private landlords by July, 1997.
That appears to explain why the government decided enter into the controversial $10 million long-term lease on the Lahm Ridge building at a time when most other GNWT leases and contracts were frozen.
The GNWT also has 76,000 square feet of empty office space on its hands.
Office space review
According to Antoine, the decision to reopen lease negotiations was apparently based on a review of the GNWT’s office space requirements by the public works department that started in January, 1997.
Antoine then tabled the government’s so-called “Yellowknife Office Plan” in the assembly last week.
The plan, which Antoine explained was approved by cabinet in January, 1998, calls for “a combination of short, medium and long-term leases” to satisfy the government’s need for office space up until the year 2002.
Responding to questions from ordinary MLAs, Antoine insisted that the deal was not conditional upon the sale of the building to 974102 NWT Ltd, the numbered company controlled by Bailey and Mrdjenovich.
Bailey, a former deputy minister of the executive is currently working on a contract with the GNWT to manage the Aurora Fund, while Mrdjenovich owns the house in Yellowknife that Morin rents.
In response to questions from Yellowknife Centre MLA Jake Ootes, Antoine said that it was the building’s former owner, Al Marceau of Lahm Ridge Investments Ltd. who contacted the Department of Public Works last summer to start negotiating a lease extension.
Marceau had been renting the building to the GNWT on a month-to-month basis since 1995, after a previous lease with the GNWT had expired.
Antoine said the GNWT was aware during the negotiations that Marceau was also talking about selling the Lahm Ridge building and that “it is obvious his intention all along was to negotiate the lease, and then sell his property to another company.”
Marceau has since left the Northwest Territories and is said to be living in British Columbia. As of our press-time this week, Nunatsiaq News had been unable to contact him for comment.
Morin lashes out at MLAs
In his own member’s statement last week, Premier Morin accused some members of the Legislative Assembly of using the Lahm Ridge deal to wage a campaign of innuendo against him.
“I categorically deny any wrongdoing or interference in the Lahm Ridge Tower lease by myself, my cabinet colleagues and by my deputy ministers,” Morin said.
“I challenge the member from Hay River [Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen] or anyone else who may believe there is wrongdoing, to file a complaint against me with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner — that is, if they have the guts and political backbone, and if not, let’s get on with the business of good government.”
Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen says she has no intention of filing a conflict-of-interest complaint against anyone at this time.