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Family members protest sale of Sinclair Centre

There was more to the measure of Jimmy Sinclair than simply his well-known status as father of Margaret Trudeau and granddad of the children she had with the inimitable Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Mr. Sinclair was a powerful federal Liberal politician on the West Coast long before Mr. Trudeau took up politics, famously sparring with Mackenzie King and serving as fisheries minister when Louis St. Laurent became prime minister in the mid-1950s.

Now, his family believes that the late Mr. Sinclair's legacy is in danger of being tarnished.

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Among the nine federal office buildings the government is selling across the country is the historic Sinclair Centre, named after Mr. Sinclair and perhaps the city's most successfully renovated heritage landmarks.

Yesterday, Mr. Sinclair's second daughter, Janet, a year older than Margaret, stood in the rain outside the Sinclair Centre to condemn the federal sale.

"I know my father would have felt that government buildings we have built and paid for should continue to be owned by the people of Canada," she told a small union protest rally.

"He would have been quite upset by this. ... It's a lovely, pristine, well-constructed building, something that every Canadian should be proud of.

"And they're just letting it go. I find it really astonishing."

At just about the time she was speaking, however, Ottawa confirmed that the nine buildings, including the Sinclair Centre, would be sold to Vancouver-based Larco Investments for a total of $1.644-billion.

Larco, the new private owner, will lease current federal space in the buildings back to the government.

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The original Sinclair Centre, which now includes a seven-story office building with several federal government departments including the passport office, was the city's first post office, completed in 1910.

It was also the site of the infamous "Bloody Sunday" in 1938, when police used tear gas to evict unemployed protesters from the post office, then clubbed the unarmed men as they left.

Public Works eventually spent $38-million renovating several old buildings in the complex into a tony shopping mall, food court and office space, while retaining its original heritage look on the outside, complete with original clock tower and art deco trappings in the lobby.

In an interview, Ms. Sinclair said her father felt a special connection to the building because he worked in the post office there as a young teenager.

"And Dad was so proud when they named it after him. They invited him down for the ceremony just a year or two before he died [in 1984]" she recalled.

"He really thought it was such a good idea that the federal government was doing this."

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Ms. Sinclair, 60, said she talked about the matter over the weekend with two of her sisters and her 87-year-old mother.

"We all thought it was the stupidest thing we'd ever heard, selling something you own, then leasing it back. This is a heritage building and it should be owned by the people of Canada.

"That's what gives you pride in your country, when you own nice things," she said.

Ms. Sinclair was joined in her remarks outside the Sinclair Centre by two other non-related Sinclairs, B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, and Kay Sinclair, regional vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

"On behalf of the 450 federal employees who work here, I urge the government not to sell," Kay Sinclair said. "Taxpayers built these buildings. Why should we be a renter rather than an owner of these prime office buildings?"

Jim Sinclair said the sale was another example of the Harper government "ripping off the workers. ... It makes no sense for them to be selling the farm like this.

"In 25 years, these buildings will be worth a heck of a lot more than they are now. We're tired of being renters in our own country."

Heritage expert John Atkin said the Sinclair Centre is one of the top 10 heritage sites in the city.

"It's got that good Edwardian granite that really summed up the optimism of that age. It's an excellent building," Mr. Atkin said.

"The renovations are another important aspect. Public works actually looked at the heritage, then went ahead, and they showed it was cheaper to do renovations than go out and buy another building."

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