Auditor general releases details of the K-Country golf probe
Canada’s auditor general says government officials acted appropriately when they approved a rebuild of the Kananaskis Country Golf Course in 2014 and a new extended lease for a private operator, given the constraints the province faced under an existing contract.
A year after the massive southern Canada flood of 2013, the Progressive Conservative government approved a recommendation to rehabilitate the severely damaged golf course and negotiate an amended operating agreement with the facility’s operator, Kan-Alta Golf Management.
In his report issued Tuesday, auditor general Merwan Saher said the agreements made financial sense given its commitments to Kan-Alta under a long-term contract originally signed in 1999. That deal holds the province responsible for lost operating costs and liable for any damages over $100,000 incurred by the company from flooding.
Kan-Alta received $13.9 million from the province based on the original agreement, while the company was earmarked $18 million for golf course reconstruction, but Saher told reporters it was the best option available to the government.
“Based on sound analysis, it made a good decision,” he said.
Saher did not review the government’s contracting process around the 1999 deal nor examine whether it made sense for the government to own the golf course. He said Tuesday there was no value in reviewing the contractual history.
Kan-Alta, whose owners included friends and associates of former premier Don Getty, were originally awarded the lease to operate the course in 1983.
The NDP, then in opposition, cited the company’s ties to the Tories when it asked the auditor general to review the Kananaskis golf course file in 2015 after Postmedia revealed that Kan-Alta had received $9.3 million from the government.
After the NDP won last year’s election, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips announced the government would not tear up the contract, which runs through 2025, because an independent report indicated it could cost taxpayers up to $16.9 million.
In an interview Tuesday, Phillips said she appreciated the thorough review done by Saher and agreed there was little point in going further back into the golf course’s history.
“We know that the previous government locked us into a not-great deal,” she said. “We understand that. And so right now, our choice is, how do we move forward?”
Wildrose MLA Todd Loewen said he was disappointed Saher did not look further back.
“It’s frustrating we didn’t get more information, especially on how these contracts were put in place originally,” he said.
“The only way to keep from making the same mistakes again is to take things right back to the beginning.”
Wildrose had suggested last fall that if Saher chose to limit the scope of his investigation, the Kananaskis golf course history should be reviewed by an all-party legislative committee. However, Loewen backed away from that idea Tuesday, saying, “This was the time to do it.”
Tory MLA Richard Starke, who was minister of tourism, parks and recreation when the new deal was negotiated in 2014, said he was pleased that Saher found a high level of diligence in the department.
He said he had asked to be interviewed by Saher and noted the auditor general had made no recommendations in relation to the investigation.
“That is not common,” said Starke.
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