Accusations fly that politicians compromised Vancouver school board's negotiating position over Kingsgate Mall

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      During the First and Second World Wars, it was often said that loose lips could sink ships.

      Now, one of the longest-serving school trustees in B.C. history has alleged that politicians' loose lips might have helped dragged down the Vancouver board of education's financial ship.

      On Canada Day, former NPA and independent trustee Ken Denike tweeted his alarm over public comments by Vancouver school board chair Mike Lombardi, Green trustee Janet Fraser, and Education Minister Mike Bernier about the Kingsgate Mall.

      The mall at the southeast corner of East Broadway and Kingsway is owned by the Vancouver school district and is leased to Beedie Industrial.

      Denike claimed that the publication of certain details will give the developer an advantage in negotiations.

      Denike served on the Vancouver school board for nearly three decades before being defeated in the 2014 election.

      During the 2014 campaign, Denike proposed turning over the Kingsgate Mall to the B.C. government in return for accelerating creation of new schools in Southeast False Creek.

      After Denike tweeted his concern, Vision Vancouver trustee Patti Bacchus called Bernier's revelations a "reckless political move".

      Bacchus, who's been on the Vancouver school board since 2008, did not tweet any criticism about her Vision colleague, Lombardi, or Fraser (who both mentioned Kingsgate Mall only after Bernier made it public).

      Bacchus also tweeted that the board wrote a letter to Bernier asking him to keep its business information confidential.

      The Vancouver school board met privately on June 29 to discuss the provincial government offer involving the Kingsgate Mall. It generates about $750,000 per year in revenue for the school district. 

      Elected local bodies are required by law to meet in-camera to discuss issues involving land, legal issues, and labour relations.

      The board subsequently issued a news release. It stated that "Chair [Lombardi] reported that the rejected proposal was to use $5.59 million of future VBE capital assets sales proceeds to address some of the district's 2016-17 budget shortfall".

      The board statement did not mention that the Kingsgate Mall was the capital asset at the centre of the private discussion.

      Meanwhile, Bernier disclosed in his own statement that the province would provide almost $6 million "in exchange for a small ownership share" in the Kingsgate Mall if a sale isn't completed in the next school year.

      Fraser subsequently wrote a blog post stating that a "majority of trustees rejected the Minister of Education's proposal to address $5.6 million of our $21.8 million 2016/17 budget shortfall". Fraser's statement also mentioned the Kingsgate Mall.

      Earlier this year, Bacchus told the Straight that she saw opportunities to generate more revenue from the Kingsgate Mall site.

      She even commented on the possibility of selling "air space", i.e. unused density, which could be landed on another site.

      This remark could be seen by any bidder as a message that the board has options for raising money without selling the site. It could also be interpreted as Bacchus playing hardball.

      The Kingsgate Mall's leaseholder, Beedie Industrial, is controlled by the Beedie family, which is well-known in local real-estate circles.

      Since 2005, family members and companies controlled by the Beedie family have donated more than $300,000 to the B.C. Liberal party.