Thursday, December 16, 2010

Another chapter in VANOC history about to close

One step closer to the end of the secretive, government-funded agency that organized the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Here's the official media invitation:

Media Advisory – VANOC Board to review final financial and sustainability reports on Friday, Dec. 17

VANCOUVER, Dec 13 /CNW/ - The Board of Directors for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) will meet in downtown Vancouver on Friday, Dec. 17th. The meeting will include a review of the final financial report for the Games and receipt of the final sustainability report. Following the meeting, and assuming their approval, VANOC will hold a media briefing to release the two reports, provide comment and answer questions.
Media are welcome to participate in the media briefing in person or by teleconference. If attending in person, please advise VANOC by Wednesday, Dec. 15th at to help organizers ensure adequate space and technical preparations are in place.

When: Friday, December 17, 2010
Approximately 11:30 am (Pacific Time)

Timing note: (Please note that the media briefing might start at this time or possibly later based on the duration of the meeting.)

Where: BC Hydro offices
333 Dunsmuir Street
Vancouver, BC
Media registration will be in the lobby at street level

By phone: 866-226-1792 or 416-340-2216

Who: Rusty Goepel, VANOC Board Chair
John Furlong, VANOC CEO
John McLaughlin, VANOC Chief Financial Officer
Terry Wright, VANOC Executive VP Services and Games Operations
Ann Duffy, VANOC Corporate Sustainability Officer

VANOC would like to thank BC Hydro for providing office space for the Board meeting and news conference as part of its sponsorship for the 2010 Winter Games.

Previous reports:
Past reports that include a comparable level of details to the reports expected to be issued on Friday are available at the following links: Financial (January 2009): Sustainability (2008-09):

BC Hydro and VANOC share an interesting relationship. VANOC's executive vice-president of construction, Dan Doyle, became the Crown corporation's chairman last year. In May 2010, VANOC deputy CEO Dave Cobb became the BC Hydro CEO. One of his first hires was Renee Smith-Valade, the VANOC vice-president of communications. Smith-Valade, in turn, hired ex-VANOC communications staffers Chris Brumwell, Greg Alexis and Jennifer Young.

VANOC has made Canadians wait until the last Friday before Christmas -- when shopping and holidays are top-of-mind -- to make its first financial disclosure since Dec. 21, 2009. The Games operating budget is expected to break-even, but with a great deal of unforeseen help from taxpayers.

By comparison, the B.C. government released the post-Expo 86 financial report just over a month after the world's fair ended. On Nov. 17, 1986, Finance minister Mel Couvelier said the fair’s deficit was $349 million. On Oct. 9, 1987, the final deficit was reported as $336.7 million.

Other arms of the government were carrying the debt load. In March 1987, the Social Credit government disclosed that B.C. Place Corp. had a $194 million debt while B.C. Development Corp. owed $190 million. B.C. Place Corp. built B.C. Place Stadium and the Expo 86 site and was in charge of the legacy buildings the Roundhouse, Expo Centre and Plaza of Nations. BCDC backed the Whistler ski resort development.

More recently, the organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics issued their post-Games financial report on April 24, 2002 -- only two months after the Olympic flame was extinguished.

They showed a $40 million profit on a $1.39 billion operating budget.

The Vancouver Winter Games festival ended when the Paralympics closed March 21 in Whistler. The decision to withhold financial reports for so long must be rooted in VANOC's notorious fear of embarrassment. No corporation, no government, nobody waits so long to convey good news.

Except when it comes to the Bailout Games.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mayor's Mysterious Middle Kingdom trip

Mayor Gregor Robertson was the world's most famous mayor in February 2010 when he waved the Olympic flag during the Vancouver 2010 closing ceremony at B.C. Place Stadium. Throughout 2010, he has made attempts to capitalize on the notoriety. But it has only led to questions that have not been adequately answered.

It has taken months to extract information about the Mayor's trip to New York City. The bill has now reached more than $10,000.

In September, Robertson led a trade mission to China. Among the expenses I found out was that Vancouver taxpayers were charged the equivalent of $500 to plant a cedar tree in sister city Guangzhou, China on Sept. 15.

A cash receipt was included in documents supplied to 24 hours after a Freedom of Information request about Mayor Gregor Robertson’s trade mission.

Robertson and assistant Lara Honrado visited China Sept. 4-16, while chief of staff Mike Magee went Sept. 7-14 and Coun. Raymond Louie Sept. 9-16. They submitted claims for a combined $27,327.03. Expenses were to be reimbursed by the taxpayer-funded Vancouver Economic Development Commission.

The four spent a total $7,760.20 on luxury hotel rooms at the St. Regis in Beijing, Ritz-Carlton Portman in Shanghai, Sheraton and Tuan Bo Lake Hotspring Hotel in Tianjin and the Shangri-La Hotel in Guangzhou.

Taxpayers got billed $2,184 for a lunch hosted at the South Sea Forest Park restaurant in Guangzhou on Sept. 16, but the names and affiliations of attendees were not disclosed.

The city also paid the Canadian consulate in Guangzhou $1,372 for interpreter services and a photographer and $468 to hire Beijing Liangdian Photography Services for Robertson’s Sept. 7 stops in Shijiazhuang and Baoding. The website includes only seven photos from China.

Honrado, who accounted for $11,979.93 in expenses, did not respond to an interview request. Likewise, silence from Magee.

The trip included visits to the Shanghai World Expo and Tianjin World Economic Forum. Representatives of 22 companies joined Robertson on the trip. Three symbolic agreements were signed, but no contracts.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Procrastination prevails in the Olympic city

I’m forecasting a cross-Canada blizzard of information emanating from Vancouver on Friday, Dec. 17.

The Vancouver Olympic organizing committee will publish its long-overdue, post-Games financial report. (It hasn't published any financials since Dec. 21, 2009.)

The next phase in the PricewaterhouseCoopers study on Olympic economic impacts will also be released.

The annual disclosures of British Columbia legislature members will also become public, including what gifts they received during the Games.

Maybe the minority Tory government (that has hid what it spent on the Games) will join the party and finally cough up its information. City of Vancouver in April and Province of British Columbia in July told their taxpayers how expensive the Games were ($554.3 million and $925.2 million, respectively). Ottawa has been suspiciously silent on how much of your money it spent.

All this activity is coming at a time when citizens are more interested in Christmas shopping or traveling to visit loved ones or get a tan.

Timing is everything and all those who are issuing reports deliberately chose Friday, Dec. 17. That is essentially the last Friday of 2011 on which important public business will be conducted and two days after Parliamentarians begin their break until Jan. 31.

It is human nature to spread good news far, wide and fast. When the news is not so flattering, then procrastination prevails.

Politicians have parroted the line about the Vancouver Games being the most successful Olympics ever without fully quantifying their statements.

The Vancouver Games do deserve the top, golden step in Canada’s Olympic podium. Calgary 1988 gets silver and Montreal 1976 the bronze. Vancouver 2010‘s double gold in hockey and a record 14 overall for a Winter Games host are significant achievements. But the greatest ever?

The memories will inspire a new generation of Canadian athletes. Vancouver, Richmond, Whistler and West Vancouver have varying degrees of new sport and recreation facilities for all ages. The Sea-to-Sky Highway and Canada Line make it easier to move about the region. The Vancouver Convention Centre could be one of the world’s best places for mega-meetings.

Ultimately, the Games were not financially or environmentally sustainable. There were not 3.5 billion viewers, but an estimated 1.8 billion. Ticket sales fell below projections. Salt Lake 2002 organizers published financial results in June 2002, heralding a $40 million surplus for amateur sport. VANOC has waited almost 10 months. Along the way, CEO John Furlong told us there would be no surplus. The budget is expected to balance, but with at least $80 million extra from taxpayers. These were, after all, the Bailout Games.

Nor were the Games the solution to the great ripple effects of the Great Recession. A lot of people had a good time (myself included), but the party was a nightmare for some. The families of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and Minnesota bus driver Dale Roberge never got to welcome them back home to hear their stories of the Games. Instead, they hosted funerals. Drunken fights and sexual assaults were up region-wide. A woman staying aboard the Mona Lisa cruise ship for VANOC workforce was raped.

We still don’t know what conditions the makers of the famed Hudson's Bay Co. red Olympic mittens faced in their Chinese factory. There was no major legacy project to solve homelessness in Vancouver.

Torontonians should take notice and begin asking questions of their leaders -- including newly elected Mayor Rob Ford. Toronto is getting the Pan American Games in 2015. Four-and-a-half-years can go by quickly.

Multisport Games are massive spectacles that transcend sport. They are neither cheap nor easy, regardless of the season in which they're held.

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