Monday, December 21, 2009

Johnny on the spot

They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

In the world of media, a five-minute interview to enlighten and inform an inquisitive reporter makes all the difference.

Especially an inquisitive reporter who has documents that deserve to be explained by the author of said documents.

Simplicity and efficiency are two principles unknown to VANOC, whose mantra is "we cannot be seen to be losing."

The paranoia about seeming vulnerable appears precisely why I cannot get a straight answer from chief financial officer John McLaughlin on his March 26 plea for more British Columbia taxpayers' money and the accounting for VANOC construction at B.C. Place Stadium, the ceremonies venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

I couldn't get it on an Oct. 26 conference call. I couldn't get it via email -- instead I got a prepared statement of little value from a public relations staffer.

I also couldn't get a straight answer from McLaughlin in-person on Dec. 21 when I persisted to ask the questions in a scrum at VANOC headquarters the day the latest quarterly report was released. I was interrupted by deputy CEO Dave Cobb (McLaughlin evidently couldn't do the scrum solo) and underling Chris Brumwell.

Am I naive to believe that a senior executive of a government-backed corporation with a $1.76 billion operations budget can't stand on his two feet, look me in the eye and answer questions on his own?

McLaughlin instead looked like a deer in headlights and offered a feeble answer about government funding being minimal in the VANOC operations budget. But, as is par for the course, he couldn't provide numbers or percentages. The operations budget wasn't supposed to be propped up by the government. Then the recession happened. It has been a trying year at 3585 Graveley Street; I don't envy them for a moment.

Cobb was a tad unhappy with me as he left the room. Not for asking the question, but for asking it in front of several TV cameras. I wasn't performing for TV cameras nor did I intend for McLaughlin for underperform in front of TV cameras. The real reason for Cobb's complaint is in paragraph four. See above.

Of course, McLaughlin and Cobb could have been answering questions on other topics had their organization followed the straight line axiom and satisfied the reasonable curiosity of an inconvenient sleuth.

Don't believe me? Check out the email trail below.

From: Bob Mackin
To: Renee Smith-Valade; Chris Brumwell
Cc: John McLaughlin
Sent: Thu Oct 29 08:41:28 2009
Subject: annual report follow-up

I have been unsuccessful since Monday in arranging through Jason and then Greg a chance to be briefed by John McLaughlin about the VANOC-specific construction funding at B.C. Place and a request made to the B.C. Secretariat for additional ceremonies and torch relay funding.

I asked John McLaughlin on the Monday annual report teleconference about a Feb. 5 invoice to the Secretariat for $3.5 million and a March 26 request for the additional funding. Both items -- letters to Philip Steenkamp -- were received through FOI. This is related to the June 16 announcement of increased funding for VANOC work at B.C. Place.

On the call, John said: "We're going to need to do a little bit of checking up for you on some of that stuff and we'd be happy to talk to you a little bit further about it... We'll arrange to talk after this."

I moved on to another topic of questioning and did not press the matter, since John has been very accommodating in the past. hope he would agree it would be mutually beneficial to spend a few minutes on the phone to enlighten me on the above communications with the B.C. Secretariat and how B.C. Place funding is reflected in the annual report.

I know this has been an abnormal week, what with the funeral and the torch relay. I am wondering if you could kindly help make this happen? I'm heading over to Victoria today after 3 p.m.


On 29-Oct-09, at 9:30 AM, Renee Smith-Valade wrote:

I can try Bob. But appreciate your recognition that this indeed an extraordinary week and our ability to make interviews happen
and follow up on media requests is not as fast as usual.

I will offer this; as soon as we are back in the office next week I will work with my team to get you some time with John m as soon as he is a available.

Does this work for you?


Original Message
From: Bob Mackin
To: Renee Smith-Valade
Cc: Chris Brumwell; John McLaughlin
Sent: Thu Oct 29 15:05:30 2009
Subject: Re: annual report follow-up

Thank-you. Could we do it at the earliest convenience on Monday?

From: Bob Mackin
Date: November 2, 2009 8:44:31 AM PST (CA)
To: Renee Smith-Valade
Cc: Chris Brumwell,
John McLaughlin
Subject: Re: annual report follow-up

Good morning, ;Just touching base again regarding my request.;



On 29-Oct-09, at 3:40 PM, Renee Smith-Valade wrote:;
We'll do our best, Bob.


From: Bob Mackin

To: John McLaughlin 
Cc: Renee Smith-Valade; Chris Brumwell 

Sent: Tue Nov 03 06:56:44 2009

Subject: Fwd: annual report follow-up 

Hello Mr. McLaughlin,

I have tried both patiently and diligently through the official channels in the communications department to schedule an interview with you regarding the inquiry I made during the annual report conference call on Oct. 26. I have CC'd you on my correspondence with the communications department. I received no reply to my latest inquiry on Monday.

My deadline is 2:45 p.m. today. Would you kindly have some time to talk with me about this matter?

Bob Mackin
Vancouver 24 hours
604-xxx-xxxx mobile

From: Bob Mackin

To: Renee Smith-Valade

Cc: John McLaughlin; Chris Brumwell

Sent: Tue Nov 03 07:13:27 2009

Subject: Re: annual report follow-up 

Thank-you. The best, most accurate response is via an interview with Mr. McLaughlin. I hope you can help make that happen today by my 2:45 p.m. deadline.

On 3-Nov-09, at 7:06 AM, Renee Smith-Valade wrote:

Bob -- you will get your reply today. We appreciate your patience. Anything with financial content understandably goes through a number of checks at VANOC before being responded to and we are concluding the process on your request. 

Your questions include not only the annual report but also documents you sourced through FOI. I trust you appreciate that requesting and sourcing those documents under through FOI and determining your line of questioning was a process that understandably took you several days and we are taking the same to ensure you receive the most accurate response. 


From: Bob Mackin [] 

Sent: November 3, 2009 1:09 PM

To: Renee Smith-Valade

Cc: John McLaughlin; Chris Brumwell

Subject: Re: annual report follow-up

I must remind you that John was on the record saying: "We'll arrange to talk after this."

An email response is not a talk. Could you please reconsider?

On 3-Nov-09, at 7:23 AM, Renee Smith-Valade wrote:

Our response will be by way of an e-mail Bob. 


From: Renee Smith-Valade
Date: November 3, 2009 1:52:02 PM PST
To: Bob Mackin
Cc: John McLaughlin,
Chris Brumwell
Subject: RE: annual report follow-up

Talk can happen over e-mail, Bob. We will send you a statement this afternoon.


Renée Smith-Valade
Vice President, Communications
Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games

Begin forwarded message:
From: Greg Alexis
Date: November 3, 2009 4:38:32 PM PST
To: Bob Mackin
Subject: RE: annual report follow-up

Hi Bob,

My apologies for not getting back to you sooner but unfortunately John McLaughlin isn’t available for an interview so I’m hoping my email can provide some further clarification to your questions.

In regards to the $3.5 million invoice you mentioned, this amount falls under the $272,316 million project-to-date contribution from the Province of British Columbia which you will see on page 12 of MDNA. This contribution is part of VANOC’s $580 million venue construction program (funded equally between the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada) which has not changed.

As for your other inquiry about the March 26 letter to the Province of British Columbia from VANOC, as we have stated in the past we’re in continuous dialogue with all our partners regarding possible opportunities to further leverage their investment in the Games. I would recommend following up with the Province of B.C. for further details.

I trust this will answer any outstanding questions you have.


Greg Alexis
Specialist, International Media Relations
 Specialiste, Relations avec les medias internationaux
Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An ode to VANOC sustainability: reprise

'Twas 69 days before the Olympics, when all through the yard,
Not a creature was stirring, except for a guard.
The VANOC General Motors fleet parked with care,
In hopes that drivers soon would be there.

VANOC's main vehicle commissioning and decommissioning lot in Richmond.

Paint the town red, believe what you're told,
Canadians wait for their first home-won gold.
This is the Greenest Olympics Ever, don't be wrong.
Says the Premier, the Mayor and John Furlong

If you're a skeptic and need proof,
Come here, see the rippling roof.
On federal government port land
by the large Lafarge cement plant.
At the south foot of Richmond's No. 8 Road,
Where VANOC cars, SUVs, trucks and buses are stowed.
Among heated trailers and large peaked tents,
From a company called Karl's Events.

Diesel-powered generator.

The sun was bright and high,
In the brilliant Saturday morning, blue sky.
Gave midday lustre to the vehicles below,
For a deserted Olympic auto show.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
Diesel generators and floodlighting gear!
One, two, three, four.
Five six and more,
Scattered around the site,
So shiny and bright!
Spewing smoky pollution and exhaust,
But at what financial and environmental cost?
Who really cares what it all does mean,
Didn't you hear, the 2010 Olympics will be green!

(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, creator of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas).

More lights, but no action at VANOC lot in Richmond.

VAN-Rock rolls into the Commodore

If those party-crashing Salahis were in Vancouver tonight, I know where they would be.

The Commodore Ballroom on the Granville Mall.

Canada's best music hall is hosting the VANOC Christmas Party. It's called VAN-Rock. Get it? Apparently members of the 2010 Winter Olympics' organization will be performing on stage while their cohorts will be bouncing on the famed floor and drinking Molson Canadian, Coors Light and the plonk produced by Vincor.

Bootleggers -- please send your MP3s to

Wonder if the bilingual police from Ottawa will show up to regulate the lyrical content of the music/musique?

Binner opens can of whoopass on UFC and UWC day at Vancouver city hall

Once upon a time, they were called scavengers.

In politically correct Vancouver, city hall calls them "binners" and their activity is called "binning."

To me, there is only one Binning in B.C. and that is B.C. Binning, the great artist.

Maybe it's some bureaucrat's play on words, because most of the so-called "binners" are also "aint's." As in "ain't got no home, no job."

While gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded during the 2010 Winter Olympics, 68 scavengers, er, um, binners will get steady work collecting aluminum, glass and plastic, thanks to a Dec. 17 decision by Vancouver city council.

The non-profit United We Can is getting $50,000 for an Olympic version of its Urban Binning Unit Cart Program to supply binners with customized recycling carts. Surely someone at VANOC will wave this in the air as proof that the Inner City Inclusive Commitment Statement is being fulfilled. Sustainability in action, they'll say.

Some 250 temporary recycling receptacles will be installed in public places to collect the Olympic beverage containers. MolsonCoors and Coca-Cola, two sponsors who will be generating much of that waste, were notably absent. Wonder if city hall even asked? Both companies are being protected by the city's anti-ambush marketing bylaws.

The decision wasn't popular with one independent scavenger unhappy with what appears to be the growing UWC dominance of the scavenging trade. Frederick Tourney, who already got his free five minutes, voiced his outrage when the grant was approved.

"You just stole everything from the poorest of the poor... you stole from the crippled, the poor… you people are sick puppies! Why don't you guys come and follow us for one day, you wouldn't be able to!" Tourney shouted.

"It's called stealing our bottles. We don't get a choice to participate now. Way to go guys. We get nothing. Sick puppies. We get nothing, we get cut out of the whole damn thing!"

The city's Olympic operations general manager Peter Judd was standing nearby in the council chamber and quietly invited Tourney to speak with him in the lobby. The elderly Tourney proceeded to give Judd a two-handed push not once, but twice.

Judd lost his balance and nearly fell over, but didn't retaliate. There was no security guard on-duty at the city council chamber.

This incident happened the same day that city council okayed next June's Vancouver debut of Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Vancouver councillor plays the markets

Coun. Tim Stevenson has an interesting disclosure statement. Wonder why none of the Olympic Resistance Networkers who have appeared before city council have never noticed this.

His Jan. 15, 2009 form -- which is on the city's website -- says he holds shares in Bell Aliant Regional Communication Trust, Bombardier Inc. and Teck Cominco. That's a hat-trick of VANOC sponsors. City hall does business with Bell and Bombardier.

Not only that, but it also says Stevenson's assets include shares in Canadian Oil Sands Trust.

Canadian Oil Sands Trust? Oil sands? Isn't that the favourite target of environmentalists around the world? I thought Vision Vancouver, the party to which Stevenson belongs, was all about green energy. This is the Green Capital, isn't it?

Lululemon 1 VANOC 0

Chip Wilson is no dumb dude.

The Kitsilano surfer and clothing tycoon founded Lululemon Athletica in 1998 and carved a lucrative niche with yoga-style sportswear targeted to twentysomething women.

The company -- listed on NASDAQ (lulu) and TSX (lll) -- is known for controversial, headline-catching marketing gimmicks. Remember when it offered free clothes to the first 30 customers who showed up at stores in their underwear in 2005? Remember when it claimed its clothes contained stress-relieving seaweed in 2007? (The New York Times debunked that one.)

On Dec. 9 its latest quarterly results showed revenue of $112.9 million (compared to $87 million for the same period a year earlier) and a profit of $20.9 million.

Just in time for Christmas -- and the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics -- Lululemon launched its "Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 and 2011" winter clothing line on Dec. 14. It includes toques, hooded sweatshirts and T-shirts in colours of Canada, United States, Sweden and Germany. No Olympic trademarks were harmed in the design or manufacture of the duds.

That cool sporting event in B.C. is not the B.C. Lions temporary move to their original field at Empire Stadium. It's the 2010 Winter Olympics and the organizing committee played right into Lululemon's clever strategy.

In what was supposed to be an attempt to protect its brand and that of official clothing retailer Hudson's Bay Company, a prepared statement was issued Dec. 15 by VANOC commercial rights manager Bill Cooper.

"We expected better sportsmanship from a local Canadian company than to produce a clothing line that attempts to profit from the Games but doesn't support the Games or the success of the Canadian Olympic team," Cooper said.

So, with just over one shopping week left until Christmas, the score is Lululemon 1 VANOC 0 because the world now knows where they can buy the "Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 and 2011" products.

Wonder if anyone at VANOC owns Lululemon shares?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sooner or Purolator you'll get your tickets

Purolator is the 91% Canada Post-owned courier company that is also the official courier company of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

A courier company, by its very nature, is supposed to offer faster, higher-quality service than a post office. I might as well have been at a Canada Post outlet Tuesday night to pick up a package of Olympic tickets. I wasn't home when delivery was attempted on Monday.

There already was a lineup when I arrived at the Lonsdale outlet in North Vancouver around 6:20 p.m.

One staffer was so mesmerized by her paperwork and data entry duties at the front desk that she did not even acknowledge the growing lineup. The one employee who was handling customers disappeared for up to five minutes behind-the-scenes with customers' photo identification and the door-hanger left by the delivery driver to retrieve their ticket packages. A manager not wearing a Purolator uniform eventually showed up at the desk to handle other customers.

Idle chatter among the lineup, which grew to eight people, concluded that everyone was attempting to pick-up Olympic tickets. VANOC set a mandatory minimum $10 charge on ticket deliveries through Purolator. One middle-aged woman approached the staffer on paperwork and data entry duties and politely asked why she wasn't helping serve those lined-up and was greeted with a rude response: "I have work to do!"

I finally got my package and was out the door by 6:35 p.m. Clearly one Purolator outlet is not ready for the prime-time crush of Olympic ticket-holders and the experience only added to the frustration many have felt in their quest to get tickets to witness first-hand the Games they're already funding through their taxes.

Tell me your Olympic ticket purchase experiences: or

Monday, December 14, 2009

Paul and Pechstein: peas in a pod?

It's not something Ingrid Paul wanted to deal with on her birthday. And it's not something that speedskating needed on the road to Vancouver 2010.

The Speedskating Canada coach, who was born in Gouda, Netherlands, turned 45 on Monday amid allegations that she conspired to bribe a Polish speedster at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics.

The Royal Dutch Skating Union and Netherlands Olympic Committee are investigating Katarzyna Wojcicka's claim that she was offered 50,000 Euros not to race the 5,000 km event. The allegation was broadcast Dec. 13 on NOS TV, the Dutch public broadcasting company. It includes archival footage from Torino 2006. Read the NOS story in English and watch the investigative report here.

Had Wojcicka quit, Gretha Smit of the Netherlands would have stepped in because she was the first alternate. Paul was Smit's coach.

"Where would I have got the money from?" Paul said, according to "And as far as I am aware, the sponsor did not offer any money either."

Canada's Clara Hughes was first, Wojcicka was last among the 16-skater field.

The allegations follow the last pre-Olympic world cup meet in Salt Lake City, site of the 2002 Games. Among the competitors was German Claudia Pechstein, who set world records in the 3,000 and 5,000 metre races at the last North American Olympics.

She finished a distant 13th in Friday's women's 3,000 m, just behind Canada's Cindy Klassen who is struggling to return from double knee surgery. It was five-time Olympic gold medalist Pechstein's first meet of the season after a positive doping test in February meant a two-year ban from the sport. It was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but the Swiss federal court gave her the green light to compete in Salt Lake while her final appeal is pending.

Coincidentally, Pechstein is a police officer and the Vancouver 2010 anti-doping laboratory is located inside the Richmond Olympic Oval speedskating arena.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Vancouver city hall posts Olympic rings upside down

Behold, the official City of Vancouver Olympic Lane sign.

Yes, you'll see these around the city wherever the lane restrictions exist. It'll be the express lane for the Olympic family, security vehicles and certain Coast Mountain bus routes from Feb. 4 to March 1. Taxis and public vehicles are not welcome.

When these signs are displayed in the new year, you can bet they'll be affixed properly to poles. This one is upside down and facing the wrong direction.

Yes, the Olympic rings are upside down in the Olympic city, across the street from city hall.

The same building where councillors spent most of Dec. 3 debating amendments to controversial bylaws aimed at protecting the Olympic rings and the International Olympic Committee's sponsors.

Only in Vancouver.

Olympic lane sign at 12th and Cambie.

Olympic lane sign at 12th and Cambie.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Graham cracks up security conference

Nobody will ever attempt a citizens' arrest of Victoria Police chief Jamie Graham on charges of being boring.

The oft-outspoken top cop of the land of the newlywed and nearly-dead was at it again Nov. 30 at the 12th Vancouver International Security Conference. The theme of the two-day get-together at the Marriott Pinnacle Hotel was preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It is, after all, the biggest peacetime security operation in Canadian history and the most expensive at $900 million.

Graham revealed policing cost-overruns for the Oct. 30 launch of the Canadian leg of the Olympic torch relay and injuries to motorcycle cops. He shocked the crowd when he disclosed that an undercover police officer was at the wheel of a bus carrying anti-Olympic protesters from the Lower Mainland.

Members of the Olympic Resistance Network that I have contacted are shocked speechless after being infiltrated. They're planning to meet Wednesday night to consider their next move.

Listen here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Eby has left the building!

There wasn't a lot of love for VANOC or the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit at Simon Fraser University's Harbour Centre campus on Nov. 26. That may be an understatement.

Am Johal's Impact on Communities Coalition forum on Olympic security and civil liberties lost its civil libertarian early when B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director read a scathing open letter to VANOC and V2010 ISU and dramatically departed.

VANOC commercial rights director Bill Cooper was part of the panel while vice-president of sustainability Linda Coady was watching from the audience, along with other staffers.

Eby read an eight minute, 17-second litany of historical VANOC errors of omission and commission and earned a raucous round of applause from the audience upon his exit from stage left. The VANOC and V2010 ISU types were not clapping.

Here are excerpts from his speech.

"The things our community says mean little to your organizations at this stage... nothing anyone says here today will make you change your plans and tactics.

"I'm concerned with your wilful and continuous disconnect from our community.

"It seems trite at this point to mention the Inner City Inclusive statement and report that you broke your promises. But I will. And you did.

"You promised to protect low-income tenants, you did not do so. You promised to leave a legacy of affordable housing, you abandoned that plan when it looked like it might cost more than anticipated.

"You promised ot arrange the Olympics so they did not make the lives of the poorest and most marginalized in our society worse. Then you said you'd arrest those who squatted in your secuirty zones. Your leadership endorsed the plan to arrest the homeless who refuse to report to shelters and you ran two Olympic lanes up the middle of Hastings Street. You promised to fund a watchdog to ensure that you'd keep your promises. That promise too is a lie and hardly a surprise.

"VANOC, an organization that is funded by government, the majority of whose board is appointed by government, whose business plan is directed by government, and who, despite this, spent tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars, convincing a court they are exempt from the Charter or Rights and Freedoms, that engaged in such a practice for the remarkable purpose of preventing women from competing equally in a sport that men compete in.

"What do you say to representatives of VANOC? A group already exempt from Freedom of Information laws, but who nonetheless pioneered the idea of a meeting where no minutes are kept, so that freeodm of information requests to government partners will not reveal what hidden policy agendas they're pursuing. How can we as citizens demand any accountability when it's simply impossible to know who's steering the Olympic ship into the rocks at what time?

"This evening it's my luxury to ignore your concerns...

"Just as for the last five years you had better things to do than listen to our community, this evening I have better things to do than to listen to you. I wish you a good evening."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fuel for the Flame: No foolin'

On May 15, I told you about the hole that crews dug (and covered) at the centre of B.C. Place Stadium's floor.

That's where the Olympic cauldron is going, say my sources. It's a logical spot because it's the most visible location as far away as you can get from the air-supported fabric roof while still being indoors. See the video.

Now I have more fuel for the fire. A natural gas pipe was installed in the east end zone tunnel next to section 227. I shot photos after the B.C. Lions' regular season finale on Nov. 7. The cauldron will be fed with natural gas to keep the Olympic flame burning Feb. 12 to 28.

VANOC's virtual disgrace

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the Saturday morning gong show in the VANOC headquarters and at!

The Nov. 7 online and phone sale of 100,000 tickets for the 2010 Winter Olympics in the Canadian market could have generated, by my estimate, at least $15 million in a single-day if all sold out. That's money that cash-strapped VANOC needs so it can avoid relying on a line of credit to get by.

The first signs of trouble were apparent shortly after 10 a.m. PST when not even the virtual waiting room was open. Many prospective customers got a page that said tickets would go on sale at 10 a.m. PST on June 6! That was the start of phase 2. This was supposed to be phase 3.

Anger mounted on Twitter and after an hour some people said they would give-up. The silence from VANOC and was deafening. It was as if they didn't know what was wrong themselves. It is clear to see that VANOC is not equipped with crisis communications skills. This was a crisis in consumer confidence.

The website cited high demand, but that wasn't what VANOC spokesman Chris Brumwell said. A man who answered the phone and said he was assistant to executive Tom Benson said "They're all in meetings right now looking at it."

Finally, a news release was issued at 1:14 p.m. PST in which CEO Larry Witherspoon apologized. The news release explained there was a configuration difficulty "between the virtual waiting room and the ticketing transaction site."

In plain English: somebody wasn't doing their job properly. The virtual waiting room seemed to work during phase 2 in June. Most complaints had to do with the long waits to get out of the waiting room and into the ticket-ordering website. But the demand-management measure didn't work on the phase 3 launch day. It was a multimillion-dollar mistake that left egg on the face of both VANOC and

I wonder how many techies will get virtually fired?

I wonder if VANOC will swallow its pride and offer something to recognize the time spent by prospective ticket buyers on Saturday morning? A free souvenir pin to each and every one who tried logging on would be a nice gesture. (Certainly the VANOC servers should have recorded digital footprints.)

I wonder how many unhappy customers will hold their noses and try again when the ticket window reopens Nov. 14?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Turn off the spin, because it's reality check time

Olympic reality check #1

Statistics Canada reported that the 2008 gross domestic product for British Columbia was $199.214 billion. That's the total estimated value of goods and services produced in the province for the year.

A Nov. 5-published PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the effects of the 2010 Winter Olympics says the Games will benefit the
B.C. economy by $4.2 billion from 2002 to 2010. That's 18 years. Do the math and that's $233.3 million a year.

The same report also said the Games produced as many as 20,850 jobs between 2003 and 2008 in a province where the government pegs the workforce at 2.2 million people.

Any Olympic financial spinoffs are greatly appreciated, but in the grand scheme of things, it's just a mogul on a mountain. Premier Gordon Campbell would lead you to believe that the Olympics are the driver of the economy. They're not.

They are, however, costing taxpayers at least $2.5 billion, according to a 2006 B.C. Auditor General's report. Add related infrastructure projects and it's more than $6 billion. And then there are the disruptions to businesses caused by Olympic security and transportation. Suddenly it's no longer the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that Campbell said it would be. None of that was considered by PwC, because it wasn't a cost/benefit analysis.

"Even in Economics 101, large-scale projects are evaluated on the principle of opportunity costs," said Impact on Communities Coalition's Am Johal. "If we spent the equivalent amount of public money in other priority areas, what would be the economic spin-off of that? Rather than spend $900 million on security for the Olympic Games, for example, we could have spent $900 million on social housing which would have used a lot of B.C. wood products and put alot of construction workers on a job site."

Well, enjoy the party, hope most of the gold medals remain in Canada and pray for snow on the mountains and blue skies!

Olympic reality check #2

Health Services minister Kevin Falcon claimed the H1N1 virus -- not the 2010 Winter Olympics -- was the reason why the government was ordering ambulance paramedics to return to full service. The paramedics, who have been prevented from a full strike by essential services designation, are considered one of the three major risks to the 2010 Winter Olympics by the IOC, according to a VANOC memo.

VANOC medical director Dr. Mike Wilkinson gave the B.C. Ambulance Service an Oct. 1 deadline because emergency planning for the Games was three months behind.

"At the latest IOC Coordination Commission review in August, the (British Columbia Ambulance Service) strike and uncertainty was raised as one of the three major risks to the Games from the IOC's point of view," said Dr. Mike Wilkinson's Sept. 14 memo to BCAS executives. The memo was copied to VANOC executive vice-president Cathy Priestner Allinger.

Falcon did two things wrong. First, by not disclosing the real reason for the back-to-work order. Second, by fanning the flames of H1N1 paranoia.

Now is not the time to exploit pandemic fears to score political points.

Exclusive: 2010 Olympics went cap in hand to government

Turns out that VANOC chief financial officer John McLaughlin has either been muzzled by his employer or isn't a man of his word.

I'm hoping it's the former. McLaughlin has answered my questions before -- even though some of the answers were vague. But at least he took the time to do his best to represent his organization. For some reason, McLaughlin couldn't talk about the VANOC bid for a bailout from taxpayers and the unusual accounting for Olympic stadium construction.

When he was on a media teleconference Oct. 26 to discuss VANOC's annual report through July 2009, I asked about a letter he wrote March 26 to Philip Steenkamp, CEO of the B.C. government's 2010 Winter Games Secretariat. See above (click to enlarge). I got it via a Freedom of Information request to the B.C. government. In that letter, McLaughlin sought more taxpayers' money to pay for the Olympic torch relay and opening ceremony at B.C. Place Stadium. How much money? Well, that was censored by some bureaucrat, based on the fear that disclosure would compromise financial interests.

I also asked McLaughlin about the Feb. 5 invoice for $3.5 million for Games-related B.C. Place Stadium upgrades. It's also above. Until then, only $300,000 was spent. McLaughlin told media on a June 16 conference call that the VANOC board okayed on May 20 an $8.3 million withdrawal from the construction rainy-day fund.

The report for the period ending April 30 included an extraordinary footnote about the board decision, which made the B.C. Place budget $12.1 million. VANOC has never explained how the extra funds would be spent, citing the need to keep secrets to preserve a surprise for the opening ceremony. None of the government documents I received gave a hint. Such withdrawals from the construction rainy-day fund are supposed to be backed-up with paper work to the Secretariat, the B.C. government agency overseeing VANOC.

Could that money have actually been diverted to the torch relay and opening ceremony operational budgets, as per the March 26 plea? Could it have gone to payroll?

McLaughlin said on that Oct. 26 conference call that he would "be happy" to talk to me about these matters. "We'll arrange to talk after this," he said.

McLaughlin didn't respond to subsequent emails over the following week and VANOC communications vice-president Renee Smith-Valade and her staff claimed he was "unavailable." I had similar luck trying to get Steenkamp to talk.

When reporters hear "unavailable," it really means "doesn't want or not permitted" to comment. But I got to thinking, maybe VANOC is right. Maybe McLaughlin really is unavailable.

Maybe he is:

A. sick with H1N1;
B. vacationing in Mexico;
C. playing the Mario and Sonic Olympic video game;
D. writing more bailout request letters to governments at all levels;
E. recovering from H1N1 in Mexico by playing the Mario and Sonic video game between writing letters seeking more government bailouts.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just a tease?

C is for Canada, conservative and champions.

Canada’s 2010 Winter Olympic athletes will be sporting a conservative look in their quest to Own the Podium at the Vancouver Games in February.

This is in stark contrast to the very loud styles worn at Beijing 2008. Those duds were a dud, because they earned a thumbs down from consumers and the media. They were stacking 'em deep and selling 'em cheap even before the Games opened!

I spotted the items below on the shelves and racks Sept. 23 at the Park Royal location of Hudson’s Bay Company, the VANOC sponsor/Canadian Olympic Committee supplier. Is HBC quietly slipping some items into stores to create a buzz? Or did somebody open some important boxes before they were supposed to?

The black circular C on white with the red maple leaf in the middle is prominently featured. Another icon features a shield with a black, snow-capped mountain above ocean waves with 2010 in white across the middle. The shirts and drink containers include O Canada lyrics True North, Strong and Free.

True North, Strong and Free. It’s also used as the minority Conservative government’s slogan. The Tories, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, view the Games as a an international image-building vehicle to exert sovereignty over the Arctic and boost the might of Canada’s military, which is fighting in Afghanistan.

Official unveiling is Oct. 1 at the downtown Vancouver HBC store, site of the official Olympic Superstore.

Canada's 2010 Olympic team T-shirts.

HBC-designed Canadian Olympic team logo.

HBC's Chinese-style 2008 team clothes were panned.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vancouver cops loafin' and sweepin' at the Bayshore

While the Canada Maritime Conference opened at the Westin Bayshore hotel in Vancouver on Sept. 23, Vancouver Police Department officers were huddled on the second floor for Sweep Training. That's what the lobby sign said.

That explains the well-groomed, plainclothes types spotted slowly wandering Coal Harbour area sidewalks with clipboards. The duos and trios were noting every parking meter, pole, fire hydrant and crack in walkways. And, no, they weren't armed with brooms or brushes.

Every Olympic venue will be thoroughly examined in security sweeps during pre-Games lockdowns.

The cops came and went in some of the newest additions to the VPD fleet, Dodge Sprinter vans. The rest of the world knows it as a Mercedes-Benz model or a "bread van" for the loaf-shape.

These vans are popular with police worldwide, from the scene of European soccer riots to patrols of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Look for them around the Olympic city.

The Olympics are a venue for Nike and Adidas to show off their latest, high-tech gear that turns mere mortals into gold medalists. It's also an occasion for security and safety equipment suppliers to hype their products.

The Westin Bayshore, by the way, will be among the three most-secured locations of the 2010 Winter Olympics because it is the primary Olympic family hotel. Only the Vancouver and Whistler Olympic villages will have such tight security.

Sweep Training sign in Westin Bayshore lobby.

VPD bread van outside the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver.

VPD bread van near the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Wacky week

This week's VANOC theme is Chilliwack.

On Sept. 21 at the Roundhouse Community Centre, 70 projects were added to the 2010 Cultural Olympiad. The news conference ended with a performance by Bill Henderson, leader of the classic rock band named for the "green heart" of the Fraser Valley.

On Sept. 23, VANOC is staging a dress rehearsal of the Olympic torch relay, sans flame. The route hasn't been published, but VANOC said the convoy would go through Hope, Seabird Island, Harrison Hot Springs, Agassiz, Rosedale, Chilliwack and Abbotsford from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The same communities are scheduled for a visit by the torch on Feb. 7 when it's en route to the Feb. 12 opening ceremony in Vancouver.

Media have been advised the faux relay will pass Chilliwack Spirit Square at 12:50 p.m. A test community celebration will be held at 1:14 p.m. at Chilliwack Landing Leisure Centre.

The first torch will be lit in Olympia, Greece on Oct. 22, run around Greece for a week, handed-over to Canada's Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean on Oct. 29 and then transported in a canister aboard a Canadian Forces military charter plane for the Oct. 30 arrival in Victoria.

The torch will be accompanied on its tour by a convoy of vehicles. Some documents I have obtained show three police cruisers, two torchbearers’ motorcoaches, two SUVs, five trucks, two buses for security and guest relations, six police motorcycles and an ambulance. The torchbearer will be escorted by two RCMP “security runners.” Some 45,000 kilometres must be covered in 106 days by 12,000 people. More clicks will be counted on the odometers of airplanes and automobiles than on the feet of humans. This is more a Great Canadian Road Trip than it is a human-powered feat.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Inside the B.C. Showcase at Robson Square

The British Columbia Showcase at Robson Square in downtown Vancouver is open and ready to promote business. Well, at least it's had a soft-opening. The official ribbon cutting with Premier Gordon Campbell is coming soon. Because it's not officially open until Gordo says so.

Sept. 21 featured a reception for Vancouver Island's Comox Valley and its main attraction, Mount Washington resort.

The ski, snowboard and snowshoe area next to Strathcona Provincial Park is hosting nine national Olympic teams in seven sports in January and February. Among the guests was Swedish Olympic Committee sports director Peter Reinebo who was spotted with Vancouver Canucks legend Thomas Gradin and Susan Kelsey, the Montreal 1976 bronze medal swimmer who is Comox Valley's biggest cheerleader.

The Showcase itself is like a small-scale version of the B.C. Canada Pavilion at Beijing. B.C. wood abounds, as do video screens of all shapes and sizes. The B.C. Explorer interactive map is featured prominently. B.C. is branded "Canada's Pacific Gateway" instead of "The Best Place on Earth." If the province really is "The Best Place on Earth" -- as government propaganda tells us -- then why not say so to B.C. Showcase visitors?

Construction workers have packed up and gone home. The new domes and the Ice Plaza rink are ready. Just add ice. The official opening of the reborn rink is coming in the third week of November, according to title sponsor GE.
Susan Kelsey (left), Thomas Gradin and Peter Reinebo.

Video screens at B.C. Showcase in Robson Square.

B.C. Showcase at Robson Square.

B.C. Explorer at B.C. Showcase

Front door of B.C. Showcase.

Robson Square's GE Ice Plaza. Just add ice. Coming in November.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pavilion panoply

When the global economic crisis hit last fall, the promotional plans of Olympic sponsors were turned upside down.

Only Molson-Coors, Samsung and Coca-Cola, B.C. Lottery Corp., and Heineken have announced public pavilions so far. Governments, however, don't seem concerned about spending taxpayer dollars. In fact, the governments appear to be rescuing VANOC in a subtle way that will be not-so-subtle come February.

Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan will have pavilions on the old Expo 86 site, the northeast False Creek Concord Place. The Atlantic provinces are joining forces at the Arts Club Theatre on Granville Island. Manitoba will be at the EasyPark live site along with the Sept. 20-announced Canada Pavilion.

The Canadian Heritage ministry is spending $10 million on the tourism and trade exhibit. The last paragraph of the news release, however, says bids will soon open for designing, building and operating the pavilion. Hurry up, guys and gals, the opening ceremony is in less than five months! Seems like this was written on the back of a napkin by Gary Lunn, the junior minister for the Olympics.

Why do I say that? Not because of cynicism. As recently as July the federal government was studying the feasibility of an Olympic and Paralympic pavilion being part of a national tour hitting big domestic events. In fact, the feds are well-advanced in their planning for the Canada Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 World Expo and renovations to make Trafalgar Square's Canada House embassy the Canada pavilion for London 2012.

In August, the B.C. government released a request for proposals for a B.C. Canada Pavilion in the fourth floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Victoria and Ottawa partnered on pavilions in Torino and Beijing. Problem is, there was previously no plan to do a joint B.C./Canada pavilion at Vancouver 2010 and the entire B.C. presence was supposed to fit in Robson Square. Renting space in VAG was not part of the plan.

Robson Square was simply to host the B.C. International Media Centre, B.C. Showcase, 2010 Commerce Centre and the GE Ice Plaza free skating rink. The list is right here. A pavilion, per se, was not part of the plans that were originally envisioned by B.C. 2010 Winter Games Secretariat CEO Annette Antoniak. She was suddenly replaced last January by Phil Steenkamp.

Apparently, Mr. Steenkamp has new ideas. Or perhaps someone in the Liberal government asked for the Secretariat to do more while VANOC and the local economy have to do with less from recession-hit, penny-pinching Olympic sponsors.

Maybe B.C.'s junior minister for the Olympics, Mary McNeil, has a pen and napkin just like Lunn's.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Not Done Properly

Gotta laugh at the NDP.

One of the reasons why it didn't win the May 12, 2009 election was its completely inept strategy. Before the election and after the election, the NDP was quick to criticize the massive amounts of money spent on the 2010 Winter Olympics and the corresponding secrecy employed by the Liberals and VANOC.

During the election, the NDP shied away from the Olympics, the Olympic Villages and the big elephant in the corner, B.C. Place Stadium.

How do I know? I broke the story about VANOC's last-minute plea for $499,000 to pay for the one-year countdown ceremony at the Richmond Olympic Oval. I also broke the story about a WorkSafeBC report that said B.C. Place Stadium roof controllers were not properly trained to keep the air-supported roof from falling.

I tried diligently during the campaign to arrange phone interviews with NDP leader Carole James. Her people just couldn't find the time in her schedule, which is political spin code for "we don't want to talk about it with you."

I did interview deputy leader Mike Farnworth about the B.C. Place issue at the time. He understood the magnitude of the problem because it is Vancouver's Olympic stadium. He said all the right things in a genuine fashion. Who can speak out against workplace safety?

Only Liberal finance and Olympics minister Colin Hansen returned my calls during the campaign, though one could easily find fault in his answers to my questions.

So, I got my first morning giggle on Sept. 19 when I turned on CKNW and heard James talk about "learning" this week that the Liberals spent $500,000 on the one-year ceremony.

Not only did the NDP not notice that story published was during the campaign, but I received a call from NDP researcher Amy Higginbotham at the start of June for information about the fishy payment. I informed her of what I had already published.

In recent weeks, the Liberal government has announced a $2.8 billion deficit and may not be able to afford completing the $365 million B.C. Place Stadium renovations with a retractable roof. Meanwhile, more revelations of poor workplace safety have arisen after I broke a story about a B.C. Place janitor who collapsed on the job in November 2006 with a severe headache and died later in hospital. Her death was covered-up by Modern Cleaners and B.C. Place Stadium management until a worker blew the whistle in November 2006.

When will the NDP take these issues to Question Period? Or is it afraid of alienating the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union which appears to have an unusually cozy relationship with B.C. Place management? Outgoing NDP president Jeff Fox is a BCGEU director who checks his words carefully when asked about B.C. Place and all of its troubles.

And the "kneedippers" wonder why they're not in power.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A bushel of Bushes

Expect to see the Bushes at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

No, not necessarily the father and son ex-presidents.

Billy Bush hosts the syndicated Access Hollywood, an NBC Universal production that will no doubt be following the celebrities expected to show-up in Hollywood North at Games-time. Cousin Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter of "Dubya," got a new gig on Sept. 17 when she was unveiled as the newest on-air personality for NBC's Today Show.

The Today Show will broadcast at Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver during the Games. Its announcement on Aug. 12 was the highlight of an otherwise boring six-month countdown to the Games.

While he was vice-president, George H.W. Bush visited Vancouver's Expo 86. Two-term president George W. Bush did not visit Vancouver. He did open the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics and "Dubya" also attended the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Vancouver 2010 organizers are hoping President Barack Obama accepts an invitation to attend. Obama is sending First Lady Michelle to Copenhagen to support Chicago for the Oct. 2 election of a host city for the 2016 Summer Games.

Secrecy crosschecks transparency, but no penalty called.

Rene Fasel is a busy cat.

The former hockey referee and dentist is an International Olympic Committee executive board member, heads the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations and is president of the International Ice Hockey Federation. He is also the chair of the sub-committee that oversees the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

So when he was accused in May of receiving kickbacks, it made big headlines around the world. After all, the IOC has been no stranger to corruption.

On Sept. 17, the IIHF received a report from accounting firm Deloitte AG that the IIHF says clears Fasel of the allegations. Deloitte's Canadian office is a VANOC sponsor.

Here's my story.

Since then, I asked Deloitte AG in Switzerland and the Switzerland-based IIHF for a copy of the report. The IIHF press office didn't respond to me. Instead, it was Yves Vonlanthen who is administration and legal manager and assistant to the president.

"Dear Mr Mackin, Many thanks for your request. Please be informed that the report will not be published," said the Vonlanthen email.

So if the report will not be published, how is the world to know that Fasel is truly innocent of corruption?

Just asking.

2010 Olympic transparency is dead. Long live transparency.

Transparency: easily detected or seen through; characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.

Before Sept. 17, one could have successfully argued that the words "transparency" and "VANOC" didn't belong in the same sentence.

Now there is no argument.

Vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade told media about the new normal in a briefing update sent Sept. 17. It serves as the de facto obituary for transparency.

The board will meet via teleconference on Sept. 18. It was supposed to meet in-person on sept. 16.

According to Smith-Valade, VANOC board meetings are now "subject to change from time to time."

Only three are scheduled before Games-time, but board meetings will continue to be reported via news releases.

"Our website will be adjusted promptly to reflect changes in meeting dates and agendas will continue to be posted approximately one week in advance of the meeting," she wrote.

So reporters will have to become frequent visitors to the VANOC website to find out when there may be a board meeting. That will serve to inflate the visitor statistics for the Games website.

To VANOC's credit, a schedule of regular subject-specific media briefings is being developed, but those details will come another day. Topics will include weather, anti-doping, athletes villages, commercial rights management in venues, aboriginal programs, medical services, protocol, volunteer-training, accreditation and asset management after the Games.

With five months remaining until the Games, is there enough time left for all these topics? Beijing organizers held Wednesday afternoon briefings just like this. But they started one-year out.

Quarterly financial reports will continue (hey, where's the overdue report on the period-ended July 31 and the annual report? ) but venue tours will be fewer, further-between and on a case-by-case basis.

You might remember that on May 16, 2007, VANOC -- in its own words -- took steps "to increase transparency and accountability."

It rejected calls to allow the public to observe board meetings and continued its policy of issuing no minutes. It did say it would be "Hosting a media briefing following each Board meeting with the Board Chair, the CEO and other director (s) or members of the VANOC senior management team needed to elaborate on matters to be reported."

The Sept. 18 meeting will be via teleconference and the media will be allowed to call-in afterward. Gone are the face-to-face news conferences and the subsequent scrums. Voices will be heard, but faces will not be seen.

Transparency, VANOC-style, is dead. Long live transparency.

Friday, September 11, 2009

History not cheap

When VANOC looks to be hitting a home run, or even a grand slam, sometimes the dinger just dies in the wind and lands in the warning track.

The latest example is a news release issued Sept. 11 about a promotion with the Historica-Dominion Institute.

It proclaims 40 budding teenage journalists or videographers from across Canada will be chosen to come to Vancouver, be given tickets to 2010 Winter Olympic events and ceremonies and then have their stories and video diaries published on and A great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for 26 Metro Vancouver students and the rest from elsewhere in Canada who enter the best essays or videos explaining why they should be chosen.

VANOC supplies the tickets and (for out-of-towners) Canadian Heritage the airfare. The 16-to-18-year-olds will get homestay accommodation. But there's a catch. Each student is required to pay $625 for "meals, local transportation and other costs during their week at the Games." Teenage unemployment is at record highs, so that's a lot of pop and beer cans to cash-in.

Normally, such a national contest would involve a big-name sponsor, be all-expenses-paid and the scales wouldn't be tipped towards Metro Vancouverites. But it's another sign of how the recession has impacted VANOC.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vancouver Olympic stadium bigwigs scared speechless?

By now you probably know that B.C. Place Stadium is a dangerous place to work.

A female janitor with the stadium's official contractor Modern Cleaners collapsed with a headache while on the job and died later in hospital.

Nobody cared to tell WorkSafeBC, the provincial workplace health and safety regulator. That's a big no-no. The Workers' Compensation Act says any serious injury or death of a worker must be reported immediately by the employer. It says so in section 172 under "immediate notice of certain incidents."

WorkSafeBC found Modern in violation of section 172. No sanction was levied on B.C. Place, however. Stadium management, however, knew about the fatality. Proof includes a Nov. 20, 2006 investigation by stadium security supervisor Eric Borglund.

When did WorkSafeBC find out? Oct. 6, 2008. Who reported it? An unidentified worker. That's right. Not an executive, director or a manager. A worker.

That's right. Not Modern management. Not B.C. Place management. But an unidentified worker. B.C. Pavilion Corporation freedom of information officer Steve Lingenfelter told me in writing that records of correspondence between B.C. Place and Modern about this incident do not exist. All this and more in these exclusive documents.

The janitor, Pritam Kaur Sandhu, died of apparent natural causes. No police investigation took place. No WorkSafeBC claim was made in her name; perhaps a payout would've helped her family with funeral expenses? Even the stadium's own management and union-run occupational health and safety committee did nothing.

Did B.C. Place and Modern simply forget to notify WorkSafeBC? Was it procrastination on a grand scale? An Alphonse and Gaston impersonation? Or were they conspiring to hide a deep, dark and dirty secret?

Wish I knew the answer to those questions. I know there are people who do, but they don't seem to be in any rush to offer their knowledge about the dome and the death. You might wonder if they're scared speechless.

B.C. Pavilion Corporation CEO Warren Buckley, B.C. Place general manager Howard Crosley and Omni Facility Services national safety manager Rennie Kissoonsingh have not responded to any of my repeated phone messages or email. I even resorted to a third-party, Pavco media relations contractor Norman Stowe of the Pace Group. No luck there, either.

Hey guys, I don't bite. I only want to ask some questions.

B.C. Place Stadium is Vancouver's Olympic stadium, where the Winter Games will open on Feb. 12, 2010.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Welcome to the Blunderdome

Those that work in Vancouver's Olympic stadium don't call it the Blunderdome for no reason.

B.C. Place Stadium is a well-documented dangerous workplace. A janitor collapsed on the job and died later in hospital. Her death was covered up for almost two years!

Now the government is getting cold feet about the $365 million plan for pre-Olympic renovations and a post-Olympic replacement of the air-supported fabric roof with a retractable system. This type of roof-swap has never been done anywhere. If it goes ahead, is completed on-time and on-budget, it will be an engineering marvel.

If it fails, it will be the west coast equivalent of Montreal's Olympic stadium.

The Liberal government led by Premier Gordon Campbell has been a promoter of public/private partnerships and privatization. While cutting back on schools and hospitals in a recession, Campbell has suddenly realized taxpayers may not want their dollars spent on a publicly owned stadium. Has a P3 or privatization been contemplated? No public statements were made to that effect by Campbell or B.C. Pavilion Corporation. In fact, the business plan and funding formula for this whole project have never been released. Here's what the government told me when I asked for a copy.

Don't taxpayers have the right to know how the government is managing public assets and spending public money?

But, imagine if you will, that a business plan and funding formula do not exist. Is this the only guide for the most-expensive renovation of a public building in this province's history?

Minister responsible Kevin Krueger, B.C. Pavilion Corporation CEO Warren Buckley and B.C. Place general manager Howard Crosley have ignored my interview requests.

This building is supposed to be the most important and famous stadium on the planet when the 2010 Winter Olympics open Feb. 12 and close Feb. 28.

Surely the International Olympic Committee should be concerned at least about the stadium's sorry record for workplace safety. Surely it should be pushing for improvement. It would be a black mark on the Games if a worker, volunteer, spectator, athlete or -- gasp -- a VIP or IOC member is hurt because of the negligent or incompetent activities that seem to be ingrained in the stadium's culture.

I asked Games' executive director Gilbert Felli on Aug. 26 in a news conference. His response? “We cannot comment on your assessment of local issues here.”

Apparently the IOC has its "eyes wide shut."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

VANOC will rule Britannia, despite opposition

VANOC is coming to Britannia Centre Aug. 26 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with its Game Plan 2009 community relations open house to discuss venue plans and neighbourhood impacts.

The Commercial Drive area was one of the only voting districts in the February 2003 civic plebiscite on the Olympic bid to vote no to the Games. The long-running debate over whether Britannia Ice Rink should host Olympic hockey practices included raucous public meetings at which opponents vastly outnumbered hockey fans. Opponents didn't want Olympic surveillance cameras, police or soldiers in their neighbourhood and were worried about cost overruns.

Last fall it was finally settled when the frightened Britannia volunteer board made an impromptu and controversial decision to hold a secret-ballot vote at a public meeting. The VANOC proposal won.

What VANOC may or may not reveal at the open house is the schedule for its use of the ice rink. A source said the key dates are as follows:

Exclusive use Jan. 27-March 3 for Britannia Centre and permit parking areas;
Overlay fitout is Jan. 27-Feb. 2 and includes installation of perimeter fencing, electrical, lighting and communications systems, tents, trailers and porta-potties.
A lockdown security sweep will happen either Feb. 2 or 3.
Olympic operations will run Feb. 6-Feb. 27.
Remediation and handback are March 5.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tourism B.C.'s Black Monday

Maybe, the 2010 Winter Olympics will be the athletic and creative success that VANOC is promising.

But all bets are off about any sort of economic windfall.

Oh, sure, the powers that be in Victoria can say nobody could have predicted "this" recession. "This" recession being the worst economic trouble since 1929. If they didn't see "a" recession coming down the slope, they weren't following the headlines since 2007 when the sub-prime mortgage meltdown reared its ugly head south of the 49th parallel.

The latest bad news is the most telling indicator in recent months of how dismal the economic forecast is for the Games themselves. The British Columbia government on Aug. 17 fired Rod Harris, the head of Tourism B.C. Deputy minister Lori Wanamaker took over.

According to its 2008 summary compensation table, Tourism B.C. paid Harris $380,506 in the last fiscal year.

The 15-member board that oversaw the Crown corporation was also turfed. In its place will be a five-to-nine member advisory group. And, by the way, it will no longer be a Crown corporation as of April 1, 2010.

Part of this story was told under a government news release headlined "B.C. strengthens and aligns tourism promotion."

It didn't list the 15 directors who are gone. They are: Museologist Bill Barkley, Whistler Blackcomb president Dave Brownlie, Best Western Inn at Penticton managing partner Colin Campbell, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies general manager Andrew Cohen, North Island College tourism department chair Harley Elias, Accent Inns founding president Terry Farmer, Hells Gate Airtram owner Debbie McKinney, London Drugs chief financial officer Laird Miller, Hupacasath First Nation chief Judith Sayers, Links Investments principal Michael Smith, Prince Rupert Port Authority business development and marketing head Shaun Stevenson, Capilano Suspension Bridge owner Nancy Stibbard, Lexlaur Properties president Allen Tozer, Discovery Club and Oak Bay Beach Hotel owner Kevin Walker and former Vancouver Canucks' president Chris Zimmerman.

Something either went horribly wrong inside Tourism B.C. or the Liberal government found a convenient scapegoat. This comes less than six months to go before the biggest tourism promotion in the province's history.

I reported on Aug. 12 that neither the Canadian Tourism Commission nor Tourism B.C. had any records related to attendance or spectator ticket purchases by out-of-province visitors for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

In the same story, VANOC CEO John Furlong claimed the Games would eventually sell-out, but he did not have any ticket sales numbers or dollar figures to back-up his statements when he was asked by me on Aug. 7. If the news really was good, Furlong would have the statistics tattooed on his brain and the entire staff of the media relations department at Campus 2010 would be beating the drum loudly and rapidly.

Based on VANOC disclosures in quarterly reports, the Games have surpassed the halfway point in ticket sales revenue. That's as good as it gets.

By the way, I'm writing from Seattle where I'm taking a short break. That's why I missed the Canada Line debut and the Hockey Canada jersey reveal. The latter was no surprise -- save, perhaps, for the nifty official supplier deal cut with VANOC.

I have been looking for any hint that the next Winter Olympics are scheduled to occur in the next big city to the north. So far, nary a hint.

When I return north via Interstate 5, I expect to see the same "Best Place on Earth" British Columbia propaganda sign that fails to mention the province is hosting the next Winter Olympics.

I covered Torino 2006 and was not the only one surprised by the lack of Olympic fever in Milan, about a 90 minute train ride away. That lack of regional activation was something that Tourism B.C. was supposed to avoid for Vancouver 2010.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Greetings, fellow mushrooms of the Olympic city

There are mushrooms in the Olympic city. I don't mean the hallucinogenic kind.

They're you, me, the butcher, the baker, the old lady at the bus stop. They're everywhere.

Yes, we've been fed you know what and kept in the dark by those organizing the 2010 Winter Olympics. Their task is, well, Olympian. It's not easy to move tens of thousands of people around a crowded city for 17 days.

Disclosure is the problem. The Olympic transportation plan has been formulated behind close doors with no public input.

Time is running out and the official transportation plan is neither finished nor properly disclosed to the public. The pressure on the Olympic and Paralympic Transport Team members must be enormous. But they're obviously afraid of being upfront with the public.

Compare this with London where organizers of the 2012 Summer Games have sought public input twice. Yes, twice.

In Vancouver, it's been a case of cultivating mushrooms and putting the cart before the horse. With TransLink's budget woes, horse-drawn carts might just be in the fleet.

Which brings me to the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. It has done what the official authorities have failed to do. That is to publish a detailed list of streets that will be closed or restricted in the first quarter of 2010. See below or visit the Vancouver 24 hours unofficial Google map of the 2010 Winter Olympics so you know what's where when the world comes.

Live near any of these streets? Have something to say? E-mail me:

University of B.C.
-Wesbrook Mall between 16th Ave West and Agronomy Rd.
-Thunderbird Blvd. between East Mall and Wesbrook Mall

Olympic Village:
-1st Ave. from Quebec St., to Wylie St. (plus all the streets running between 1st and 2nd Ave. along this section of 1st Ave.)
-Quebec St. from 1st Ave. to Terminal Ave.
-the portion of the seawall between Quebec St. and Spyglass Pl.

Richmond Olympic Oval:
-roads in and around the venue site of the Richmond Oval at 6111 River Road, possibly including the dyke pathway (this is the extent of the information in the documents)

Britannia Centre:
-several alleys around the Britannia Community Centre (not precisely specified in the documents)

John Hendry Park:
-Victoria Dr. from E 16 St. to Commercial
-E 19 St. from Victoria Dr. to Hull St.

Hastings Park:
-Renfrew St. from McGill St. to Hastings St.
-Kaslo St. from McGill St. to Hastings St.
-the following streets between Kaslo St. and Renfrew St.:
-Eaton St.
-Cambridge St.
-Oxford St.
-Dundas St.
-Triumph St.
-Pandora St.
-Franklin St.

Vancouver Main Media Centre:
-Canada Place Viaduct from Howe St. to Thurlow St.
-Thurlow St. from Canada Place Viaduct to West Cordova St.
-Howe St. from Canada Place Viaduct to West Cordova St.
-Burrard St. from Canada Place Viaduct to West Cordova St.
-West Cordova St. from Thurlow St. to Howe St.
-Waterfront Road from the Cordova Street Ramp, located at the foot of Main Street

GM Place and B.C. Place Stadium:
-Georgia Viaduct from Beatty St. up to and including Gore St. off ramp and Main St. off ramp
-Dunsmuir Viaduct from Beatty St. up to and including Gore St. off ramp and Main St. off ramp
-Beatty St. from Smithe St. to West Georgia St.
-Pacific Blvd. from Nelson St. to Quebec St., including Cambie St. Bridge off ramp
-Expo Blvd. from Smithe St. to Quebec St.
-Griffiths Way from Pacific Blvd. to Expo Blvd.
-Abbott St. from Pacific Blvd. to Expo Blvd.
-Carrall St. from Expo Blvd. through Pacific Blvd. to South end of Carrall St.
-Terry Fox Way from Pacific Blvd. to Expo Blvd.

Beatty Street EasyPark Live Site:
-Georgia St. from Cambie St. to Beatty St.
-Beatty St. from West Georgia St. to Dunsmir St.
-Dunsmir St. from Beatty St. to Cambie St.
-Cambie St. from Dunsmir St. to West Georgia St.

David Lam Park Live Site:
-Pacific Blvd. from Drake St. to Homer St.
-Drake St. from Pacific Blvd to Marinaside Cres.
-Homer St. from Pacific Blvd. to Beach Cres.

Downtown pedestrian corridors:
-Granville St. from Helmcken St. to West Hastings St.
-Robson St. from Beatty St. to Jervis St.
-Hamilton St. from Drake St. to Georgia St.
-Beatty St. from Smithe St. to Dunsmuir St.

Westin Bayshore Hotel:
-Bayshore Drive from Denman St. to Cardero St.
-Cardero St. from Coal Harbour Quay to Hastings St.
-1500 block of Coal Harbour Quay

Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Centre:
-Dinmont Ave. from Midlothan Ave. to Peveril Ave.
-Peveril Ave. from Dinmont Ave. to Ontario St.
-Midlothan Ave. from Ontario St. to Yukon St.
-Ontario St. from Peveril Ave to Midlothan Ave.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Souvenir of Beijing, your marching order

One year ago today... at the moment I write, actually... the Beijing Summer Olympics' opening ceremony was on in the Bird's Nest.

The world was watching the biggest, most controversial event ever staged on this planet.

The opening ceremony was a stunning feast for the senses for those of us lucky to be there on Aug. 8, 2008. "Ba-ba, er-ling-ling-ba" as they say in Mandarin.

The four-hour-plus show was so long because of the march of athletes. It began with Greece and ended with China. Always the originator first and the host nation last. Two-hundred-four teams, to be exact. Canada was 63rd, based on its Mandarin pronunciation: "jia-na-da."

Japan was followed by Taiwan (which marches and competes at Olympics under the monicker "Chinese Taipei) and then the Central African Republic and Hong Kong.

Download your own official list.

Beijing 2008 opening ceremony athletes' marching order.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bad karma, bad parkma

So long EasyPark Chinatown Plaza Parkade.

Or, as they say in Mandarin, zai jian.

Tonight's the end of our great relationship. You were like an oasis in a parking desert.

As parkades go, you were among the cleaner ones. The stairwells were less urine-stained and cigarette-butt polluted than most in the city. Maybe that's because they are closed for security precautions when the evening progresses. I never saw broken glass beside a car. I had peace of mind that my wheels were safe and secure. Maybe the security attendant on patrol was another deterrent. Maybe it was the Feng Shui vibe.

I joined the line up of vehicles on Columbia Street on Aug. 7. I turned the corner onto Keefer Street to the point of no return. The bargain $3 evening flat rate signs were gone, replaced by ones proclaiming $15 event parking because of the B.C. Lions' game 3.5 kilometres away at B.C. Place Stadium. Yes, $15. The price quintupled. In the middle of a recession.

Usually a price increase is justified with an improvement in service, but I hardly expect to return to find my car washed, shined and polished.

Gone were the kind booth attendants to take my toonie and loonie combo. Credit cards are now accepted. What a hollow consolation that is. The surly woman who processed the transaction will probably be replaced by a machine sooner than later.

I did get a relatively decent parking space, only two floors from ground level. That's because the parkade is more than half empty. It wasn't that way when the cost was $3 a spot and demand was high.

Tonight there are 30,000 people at B.C. Place Stadium and a few thousand at the Chinatown Night Market. EasyPark, which is owned by city hall, is reaping the bad karma of a silly decision obviously connected to city council's desperate need to pay its Olympic bills.

EasyPark is the brand name for the Downtown Parking Corporation, which registered a tidy $17.1 million profit in 2008. City hall got into the business of selling parking to attract people to the downtown core where it was hoped they would do business, shop and eat, thus benefit the economy. EasyPark is no longer easy on budget-conscious sports fans. Certainly this will also impact Chinatown Night Market merchants and shoppers and those who play soccer, softball, Gaelic football and ultimate on the Andy Livingstone Park synthetic turf fields.

The net effect will be fewer people visiting Chinatown.

So, goodbye Chinatown Parkade.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

VANOC in July: a helluva month

It was hotter than hell in Vancouver in July, a month that can only be described as hellish for Vancouver's struggling 2010 Olympic organizing committee and its government partners.

While Canada Day celebrations across the country included the countdown to Vancouver 2010, VANOC's 76-year-old chairman Jack Poole was in Vancouver General Hospital, under the knife for cancer surgery almost two years to the day of his pancreatic cancer surgery. Poole made a comeback in 2008 after seemingly winning that battle. But pancreatic cancer cells made a comeback in 2009. Poole did not attend the July 15 board meeting. An errant VANOC statement issued the day before the board meeting said his condition was "unrelated" to his previous ailments. Poole's condition was finally disclosed a week later and it unfortunately was very related to his previous battle.

After that closed-door board meeting, VANOC finally owned up to the damage done by the recession. Phase two ticket sales in Canada stalled at 155,000 (130,000 were sold in four hours on June 6 and only 25,000 since) and $12 million of out-of-home advertising VANOC bought for re-sale to sponsors and governments was unsold. The $285,000 deluxe ticket packages were far behind sales. Only 25 of the 100 available have been bought. Luxury suites still remain for sale at B.C. Place Stadium and General Motors Place.

Need surgery in February? Unless you're an athlete or International Olympic Committee member, you're out of luck. A July 9 Fraser Health memo said 2,000 surgeries -- over 3% of the annual load -- would be canceled during Games time. Vancouver Coastal Health is doing the same. Traffic gridlock and fears of the H1N1 flu pandemic and terrorism are among the reasons. VCH has earmarked Vancouver General Hospital for sick IOC members, sponsors and media and St. Paul's Hospital for spectators.

Women hoping to ski jump at the 2010 Games got news they didn't want to hear on July 10 when Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon published her verdict. She was powerless to force the IOC to add their sport because the IOC is Swiss-based and not subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She did, however, make two significant rulings. The women were victims of gender discrimination and VANOC is subject to the constitution because it is an organization carrying out a publicly funded, government activity. An appeal was filed in Vancouver, Kamloops and Victoria so that a tribunal can consider overturning the Fenlon verdict before the Games.

Speaking of flying, Vancouver 2010 airspace restrictions were quietly released July 2 by NAV Canada and copied by the FAA. They're so drastic, that even model airplanes can't be used in the vast no-fly zone. Those who breach the restricted airspace could receive a visit from a military fighter jet.

RCMP Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit chief Bud Mercer appeared before Vancouver city council on July 7 to give an update on Olympic security planning. He was evasive when asked about free speech areas (aka protest zones) at Thunderbird Arena, Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Centre and the Pacific Coliseum. But they're going to be there. Mayor Gregor Robertson said the whole city should be a free speech area, but later in the month supported a bylaw that goes in the opposite direction. Mercer said it took him 10 minutes to search around the Internet and find discomforting images that indicate the safety of the Games is at stake. It took me 10 minutes to find some interesting things on the Internet when I found out that Mercer's given names are actually Gary Russell.

Three people were shot at the gate of the Squamish Nation Pow Wow late July 11 at the Capilano Indian Reserve. No suspects have been arrested. It happened, coincidentally, on the eve of the annual march against violence and abuse near the Humulchesan longhouse. That's the site of a Feb. 10 stop on VANOC's Olympic torch relay and next to the site of a Squamish Nation house-building boom. Chief Gibby Jacob, a VANOC director, claims there is no connection to the Olympics, despite the reserve being visible from the very busy Lions Gate Bridge.

"I don’t foresee any future problems, but i don’t have a crystal ball either," said Deborah Baker, one of six Bakers on the 12-member Squamish Nation council, a Pow Wow committee member and part of the North Vancouver community torch relay task force.

Vancouver park board rubber-stamped a contract July 20 to turn 365 spots at Jericho and Spanish Banks beachfront parking lots into recreational vehicle spots for Feb. 8 to March 2 at $95 per spot, per night. Fort Langley's Duckworth Management Group scored the deal, but it was greeted with scorn by the North West Point Grey Home Owners' Association who had a rare "not in my front yard" grievance.

VANOC began its Game Plan 2009 tour of communities impacted by the Games, but they weren't getting the full story. NPA parks commissioner Ian Robertson said VANOC has not been forthcoming with its game plan for the three Hillcrest Park soccer fields to close more than two months before the Games.

Resort Municipality of Whistler council put off a plan to charge for parking at municipal lots when enough citizens who were put off by the idea showed up at a July 21 council meeting. Many of the citizens told council that it was spending too much on Olympic frills, like tickets and jackets for politicians and bureaucrats. Pique Newsmagazine editor Bob Barnett noted the discontent in the editorial of an edition that featured parodies of the VANOC mascots on the cover.

On July 29, RMOW advertised for a new general manager of environmental services. The Pique reported the suspicious departure of Brian Barnett, who was also on the Olympic and Paralympic Transport Team. Did he quit? Was he fired? RMOW wouldn't say.

Vancouver city council voted 9-2 for an omnibus Olympic bylaw package that creates massive bubble zones around Olympic venues from Jan. 1 to March 31. It raised the ire of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association because of the potential for the city, on behalf of VANOC and the IOC, to curtail freedom of political and commercial speech far away from the grounds of Olympic events.

City manager and VANOC director Penny Ballem gained extraordinary and controversial powers to create bylaws during the Games because there will be no scheduled council meetings. More than two dozen people appeared at council to speak against the proposal, including Downtown Eastside citizens unhappy with the Olympics' impact on their depressed neighbourhood.

On July 23, Premier Gordon Campbell and finance minister Colin Hansen announced the provincial sales tax would be combined with the federal goods and services tax on July 1, 2010, effectively hiking the cost of many goods and services by 7%. They call it the harmonized sales tax, but it's already causing chaos.

Colleague Bill Tieleman and ex-Premier Bill Vander Zalm are working on their own for a tax revolt. Some citizens say it's really the OST, as in Olympic Sales Tax, meant to mop up the red ink left behind by the Games. The hike in the consumption tax could lead to the downfall of Campbell because it's going to hit hard those who form his party's grassroots support: retailers and restaurateurs. The Liberals disavowed tax increases before they won re-election on May 12. Perhaps this surprise tax shuffle was foreshadowed when longtime Olympics minister Hansen dropped the portfolio to rookie Mary McNeil in the June 12 cabinet shuffle. Campbell isn't stupid. He knows Hansen has two hands, not three. Hansen can't carry an Olympic pom-pom at the same time as a budget-cutting axe and a bag to fill the new tax loot.

VANOC's press chief Lucia Montanarella offered a rare glimpse of the unease inside Fortress 2010 when she told the Associated Press in a July 24 story that the Games would be good, but not spectacular.

A lightning-started forest fire on Blackcomb Mountain's Crystal Ridge on July 30 was too far away to threaten the Whistler Sliding Centre. But it did happen on the first anniversary of the rockslide that closed the Sea-to-Sky Highway for four days. A reminder that Mother Nature could throw the Games a curveball that can hit harder than any human misdeeds or economic challenges.

Impact on Community Coalition chairman Am Johal went to Geneva, Switzerland July 31 to deliver two complaints to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Johal asked the UN to send observers to Vancouver to ensure civil liberties are upheld and the poor aren't evicted during the Games. Johal claims VANOC has failed to implement the Inner City Inclusive Commitment Statement that it used to win the bid.

VANOC ended the month on July 30 begging for companies and governments to loan 1,500 employees for two to six month periods. VANOC cannot afford to fill the positions as it wrestles with the recession. CEO John Furlong's Nov. 13, 2008 appeal to businesses at a Vancouver Board of Trade lunch to send in free labour was a flop. The organizing committee said 20 sponsors and governments contributed 45 people.

The Games need all the stars they can get, but will not have Michelle Kwan. U.S. figure skating legend Kwan -- who won one of her five world championships in Vancouver in 2001 -- announced July 31 that she would not make a comeback for Vancouver 2010. The 29-year-old, Nagano 1998 silver medalist will instead seek a master's degree in international affairs from Tufts University.

Tufts luck, indeed.

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