Province wants to sell money-making land titles and corporate registry services

·3 min read

The Alberta government is thinking about selling its profitable land titles, corporate and personal properties registries to a private company, according to public documents posted to its online procurement site.

Service Alberta issued a request for expressions of interest on Monday. The document said the government would be willing to offer "an exclusive 35-year concession to operate an essential services business in the province."

The registries offer potential purchasers a "robust financial profile with highly stable cash flow streams," the document said. Revenues for the three registries totalled $123.6 million in the last fiscal year.

The province's objectives, according to the document, include maximizing "sale value and proceeds to the province" and modernizing technology used by the registries.

If the province receives enough interest, it plans to issue a formal request for proposals in April. About 130 Alberta government employees work in those departments.

Tricia Velthuizen, press secretary for Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish, said private sector operations of registry services have worked in other jurisdictions and the government wants to see if it could work for Alberta.

"Service Alberta would continue to have legislative authority for these services and oversight of a potential private sector partner," she wrote in an email. "Right now, Service Alberta is looking into options to provide more modern and efficient registry services, and no decisions have been made."

The provincial government has retained CIBC Capital Markets to facilitate any proposed sales.

Kevin Barry, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said the government on Monday sent the union notice about the start of the formal 90-consultation, as required under the collective agreement. The request for expressions for interest went online shortly afterwards.

Barry said privatization could mean higher fees for Albertans accessing these services.

He said he can't understand why the government would sell off operations that make money when it has lost so much revenue due to a slump in resource prices.

"They're going to give that revenue up to the private sector," Barry said in an interview with CBC News.

"It certainly is an odd timing with everything that's been happening of late that they're going to give up revenue or (are) even thinking about giving up revenue."

Service Alberta lobbying

According to the lobbyist registry, Regina-based Information Services Corporation hired Wellington Advocacy to lobby the Alberta government between July 23, 2019, and Dec.31, 2021.

Wellington Advocacy was contracted to convince Service Alberta and other government ministries about the benefits of "alternative service delivery and business models for land registry, corporate registry and personal property registry."

The president and founder of Wellington Advocacy is Nick Koolsbergen, who was chief of staff to Premier Jason Kenney when the United Conservative Party was the official opposition. Koolsbergen also ran the UCP's successful provincial election campaign in 2019.

ISC was a Crown corporation operated by the Saskatchewan government until 60 per cent of it was sold in 2013, transforming it into a publicly traded business.

ISC is listed on the Alberta Purchasing Connection site as one of the vendors that has viewed the Service Alberta bidding documents.

Teranet, which operates land registries in Ontario and Manitoba, is also listed.

According to the Alberta Lobbyist Registry, Teranet retained Maple Leaf Strategies to lobby Service Alberta and other areas of government between February 2020 and February 2021 on privatizing land, corporate and personal property registries.