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Toronto Star May 13 2000, - by Richard Brennan, Queen's Park Bureau

Bark Lake deal `stunk': Hodgson

Management Board Chair Chris Hodgson says a controversial land deal in his riding approved by his own Tory government has ``stuck in his craw'' for several years.

Hodgson says he warned his cabinet colleagues and the previous New Democratic Party government at various times - to no avail - that the sale of a provincially-owned children's leadership centre on Bark Lake in the Haliburton Highlands was a bad deal.

``This has actually stuck in my craw for a long time,'' Hodgson, a former Lindsay realtor now responsible for the Ontario Realty Corporation, said in an interview at Queen's Park, reacting to yet another questionable land deal by the Realty Corporation uncovered by The Star.

Hodgson, Tory MPP for Haliburton-Victoria-Brock and the cabinet minister responsible for the ORC, said he first got whiff of the planned sale of the pristine property a year before he entered provincial politics in 1994.

``I said it stunk at the time,'' said Hodgson, who has asked a forensic auditor currently looking at past ORC deals to review this one particularly. Even later, as natural resources minister in the Harris government, Hodgson says he couldn't persuade then management board chair Dave

Johnson to stop the sale, which finally went through on April 30, 1996, for $2.8 million.

``When Johnson looked at it, he said, ``No - of all the offers, this is the best one,' '' said Hodgson

Johnson, who was defeated in the 1999 provincial election, could not be reached for comment.

Hodgson said he was warden of Haliburton County when Anne Swarbrick, then NDP minister of culture, tourism and recreation, called him to say she was under the gun to unload the Bark Lake leadership camp for children but had an idea to save it.

``I understood they (the NDP government) had budget problems and that, but this is an area of the province that is really depressed with a lot of good jobs associated at Bark Lake,'' he said.

Hodgson said it was Swarbrick's idea, and he agreed, to move the Ontario Educational Leadership Centre from government-owned land on Lake Couchiching, near Orillia, to Bark Lake and then sell the more valuable land on Lake Couchiching. That was shot down.

``When we (the Harris government) got in'' he said, ``they had this deal that they (the ORC through Johnson) said was the best value for the property.'' Hodgson said he also tried to convince cabinet that the centre should be sold for $1 to the Friends of Bark Lake, who had put a plan together to run it as a non-profit corporation.

``I took that to Mr. Johnson and asked him to consider that, and they rejected it,'' he said.


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