Minister vows to renegotiate $430K library leases in Corner Brook, C.B.S.
Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Dale Kirby has vowed to get the provincial library board out of two library leases worth a combined $431,000 a year, and redistribute that money to keep some rural libraries open.
In a fiery speech in the House of Assembly Tuesday night, Kirby said the previous Tory administration made "sweetheart" deals with Corner Brook and Conception Bay South to rent library space in municipal buildings as opposed to provincially-owned ones.
"As true as the days are long, I am getting us out of those leases," raged Kirby, directing his ire at the official opposition.
"I'm going to see that that happens. And every cent of the savings of that half-a-million dollars will go into the preservation of rural libraries in this province."
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Kirby does not sit on the provincial library board, and has no ability to make changes himself, if changes are possible. However, he told CBC News Wednesday "I will do whatever it takes to help them" renegotiate the leases.
The Liberal government has come under fire for its cutting of $1-million from the library board's budget, which the board said led to the decision to close 54 libraries in the province.
'A raw deal'
Kirby said the Corner Brook Public Library is in the middle of a $201,000-a-year lease with the city for 20 years, while CBS has a $230,000 lease for 25 years.
He said that's out of step with other libraries, such as Mount Pearl, which Kirby said pays one dollar annually.
"I just think the taxpayers are getting a raw deal here," he said.
Corner Brook's library used to be housed in the provincially-owned Sir Richard Squires Building, but moved to the new city hall in 2011.
Kirby questioned the logic behind that move, pointing the finger at unnamed former Tory MHAs for the area who he feels may have influenced the library board to accept expensive leases.
"I'm going to dig down into all the records in my department to find out if there was some level of political interference in these decisions," he said.
Challenge from Corner Brook
According to Corner Brook's mayor, the move for his city's library was done by the provincial government in an effort to save money.
Charles Pender told CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show the province had about 35 leases across the city for various government departments, and after a cost analysis it proved cheaper to consolidate those departments in the Sir Richard Squires Building and pay one lease for the library.
"I think Mr. Kirby needs to go back and look at some of the facts, and understand that this was not a gift to the city of Corner Brook," said Pender.
"I must say [it's] very upsetting to hear a minister talk about part of an issue like that without having a full understanding."
Kirby said he didn't accept that backstory as fact.
"I have to challenge that. I'd like to see the evidence there that it makes more sense to move out of government owned space...into a lease that's costing towards a quarter million dollars a year."
Kirby could not say what would happen to the Corner Brook or CBS libraries if their leases were reexamined.
With files from The Corner Brook Morning Show