Politicians only ones benefiting from relocation of Crown Lands HQ, says retiree

A man who recently retired from the Crown Lands division says political gain is the only logical reason for relocating its headquarters from St. John's to Corner Brook.

Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne dismisses criticism, saying 'work should be done where the work is found'

John Kennedy recently retired from Crown Lands following a 37-year career with the provincial government. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The debate over government's decision to relocate the headquarters for Crown Lands from St. John's to Corner Brook is heating up again, with a retired employee saying political gain is the only logical reason.

"It was a huge success for the politicians from the west coast that put 30 jobs in Corner Brook," John Kennedy told CBC News Thursday.

"For them it increases their standing in the community. It didn't do anything to increase the efficiency."

But Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne is fighting back, saying "the work should be done where the work is found."

No compassion, Kennedy says

Kennedy is challenging Byrne's claim that the government treated employees with compassion.

He said it's been a difficult transition for those who made the move, especially those with deep family connections in the St. John's area.

The parking lot at the Howley Building in St. John's is unusually quiet these days following the relocation of the Crown Lands division headquarters to Corner Brook. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Those who didn't transfer to Corner Brook are also paying a heavy price, Kennedy added.                       

"Most of the people ended up with either contractual or temporary jobs with large pay cuts attached to it. So to say that the people were treated with compassion over all this is definitely a misstatement. It's totally untrue," said Kennedy.

Byrne says critics like Kennedy are wrong.

He said it makes good sense to locate the Crown Lands headquarters in the region where foresrty, agriculture and wildlife are also headquartered, at a time when the province is keen to grow the agriculture industry.

As for the employees who did not transfer, Byrne said 13 found permanent positions in other departments at comparable salaries, while others either retired or were close to retirement and were allowed to finish out their pensionable time in St. John's. Two left government, he said.

"I'm pleased with the format of the department," said Byrne. 

Lost expertise, leasing costs

Kennedy decided to go public with his concerns after hearing Byrne describe the move as a "huge success" during an interview on Wednesday.

Others share his concerns but are more cautious speaking out.

A person closely connected to Crown Lands, who asked to remain anonymous because they are not permitted to speak with the media, said the personal lives of employees and their families have been thrown into turmoil, and some families are now split between the east and west coasts.

"Many affected employees and their spouses were mid-career and have invested too much up to this point to just jump ship because the Liberal government tells them to," the person wrote to CBC News.

Kennedy retired in July after 37 years with government and is now free to speak his mind. 

He's been in contact with his former colleagues and said many are "despondent."

Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne says a decision to relocate the headquarters for the Crown Lands division from St. John's to Corner Brook has been very successful. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"Unfortunately, and this has been the case with governments in the past, they can't create jobs so they'll move jobs. The casualty in all that is the people that are in those jobs," said Kennedy.

With the loss of so much expertise and experience from the headquarters, Kennedy predicts an erosion in the level of service.

Unfortunately, and this has been the case with governments in the past, they can't create jobs so they'll move jobs. The casualty in all that is the people that are in those jobs.- John Kennedy, retired Crown Lands employee

"It will take them years to gather the knowledge they need to do the job the way it needs to be done," said Kennedy.

He's also critical of the decision to relocate the Crown Lands headquarters from a government-owned building in St. John's to leased space in two buildings in Corner Brook.

"Moving the headquarters out there won't make the application process any faster. And it won't increase the amount of applications. All it does is transfer jobs to another city."

'We will be impressed,' Byrne says

Byrne, meanwhile, said there's been a surge in agricultural Crown land applications on the west coast and central Newfoundland. This follows a government decision earlier this year to make 64,000 hectares of Crown land available for agricultural development.

"We will all be impressed by the results as we grow our agriculture industry," said Byrne.

As for Kennedy's concern about leased office space, Byrne said his department has significantly reduced the amount of space it is renting, resulting in savings of roughly $200,000 per year.

He said there are no immediate plans to build a new Land Resources building on the west coast.

About the Author

Terry Roberts

CBC News

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.