Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why I don't miss the National Hockey League

The battle of millionaires and billionaires that is the National Hockey League lockout continues until the day they kiss and make-up.

This lockout, like the one that cancelled the season in 2004-2005, has been all about economic issues that concern the players and owners. The fans, who ultimately pay the bills, are seemingly not on the minds of either side. Those fans have taken their wallets elsewhere and some of them may not return to NHL arenas in this shaky economy. 

During the era of Gary Bettman as commissioner, prices have risen and the quality of the game has fallen. Any discerning hockey fan who has attended a midseason NHL game knows this to be true. (Are all the people attending games, particularly in Canadian cities, true fans? Or are many taking advantage of corporate expense accounts?)

Following are my 10 reasons why I don't miss the NHL. 

No team has been rewarded with a point for losing a game in overtime or shootout. (C'mon NHL, be like soccer: 3 points for a win, 1 for a tie, 0 for a loss. Stop the socialism! Let a tiebreaker be a true tiebreaker!)

No worthless fights have occurred. (Does hockey really need fighting anymore?)

No player has been suspended 10 games while his victim is out for 20 games or more with an injury. 

No player has returned too early from a concussion. 

No player has suffered a season or career-ending concussion.

No player has been caught doping. (Yes, only one player has been suspended for failing one of the maximum two-per regular season tests that aren't conducted in playoffs or regular season. Former World Anti-Doping Agency boss Dick Pound says the NHL anti-doping program is a joke.)

Nobody is complaining about underperforming multimillionaires. 

Nobody is getting gouged at NHL franchise ticket box offices. 

No fans have been subject to price-gouging at arena concession stands, where arena owners (who are often team owners) exploit their hunger and thirst in a captive marketplace. (The fan cost index for the NHL -- the average cost for four tickets, hot dogs, two small beers, two small soft drinks, parking, two programs and two caps for a family of four -- was $328.81 in 2011. Six of Canada's seven teams were above the average. The Toronto Maple Leafs were tops at $626.45, followed by the Montreal Canadiens ($486.28) and Winnipeg Jets ($485.52). The Vancouver Canucks were sixth at $371.94.)

No specious sellout streaks. (Evidence shows the Canucks' sellout streak may not have existed after March 15, 2007NHL teams use ticket scanners at gates and know precisely how many people enter their buildings. Many teams lazily and deceptively report a full house, even while there are obvious game-long groups of empty seats in various price categories. Fans are owed transparency. Show them, on the official scoresheets, the actual numbers of people who attended games. Tickets distributed is not attendance.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Exclusive: storm makes B.C. Place a danger zone

Red "danger" tape surrounded B.C. Place Dec. 19.
So-called "ice bombs" from the cables of the new Port Mann toll bridge damaged dozens of vehicles on a stormy Dec. 19 -- just 18 days after its official ribbon-cutting by Premier Christy Clark.

Problems were apparent in the early afternoon when callers to the Simi Sara Show on CKNW AM 980 reported gridlock and being inside vehicles that had broken windshields or dented hoods and roofs. 

The Transportation Investment Corporation, the Crown corporation that oversees the $3.3 billion Port Mann Highway 1 Improvement Project, wasn't prepared for the storm and ought to have known the risk. The cable-stayed bridge wasn't built with mitigating measures, such as heaters to prevent icing. Falling ice is a problem at other, similar bridges, from Tacoma, Wash., to Toledo, Ohio. There is even a Danish academic study on the specific problem. 

But the Kiewit-Flatiron-built Port Mann Bridge wasn't the only cable-supported structure where chunks of ice were crashing to the ground. 

Workers at B.C. Place Stadium in downtown Vancouver were ordered to surround the building with red tape emblazoned with "Danger" in black, capital letters to keep pedestrians from walking under the towers to which the cables are connected after mini-avalanches of snow and ice crashed to the plaza below. 

Terry Fox Plaza was closed because of falling ice.
One of the Terry Fox statues at the foot of Robson Street was behind the tape and a stanchion. Outside the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, the red tape was awkwardly tied around the right foot of the Percy Williams statue. The stadium was surrounded by a half-inch layer of slush and ice. 

According to a source, while daytime temperatures fluctuated, drainage pipes on the roof overflowed, causing flooding inside the stadium. 

This happened, coincidentally, the same day that lawyers for steel contractor Canam and cable installer Freyssinet were in B.C. Supreme Court for a judicial management conference. Canam claimed Freyssinet caused a $26 million cost overrun. Freyssinet is suing for $6 million. General contractor PCL and Crown corporation B.C. Pavilion Corporation are listed as defendants. The blockbuster trial is scheduled to begin in October 2013 and last 17 weeks.
Percy Williams statue outside B.C. Sports Hall of Fame

Heavy, wet snow was allowed to pile up on the roof of the stadium on Jan. 5, 2007 and management neglected to order the roof heaters be activated. A sudden spike in air pressure forced an avalanche that ripped open part of the former air-supported roof. That incident led to the $514 million, post-Olympic renovation that includes a retractable roof. Crews continued through the summer of 2012 to patch holes and replace panels stained by grease leaking from the cables. 

UPDATE (Dec. 20): PavCo interim CEO Dana Hayden did not respond to my query, but the stadium's marketing manager Duncan Blomfield claimed the closure was simply a temporary precautionary measure in "anticipation of falling wet snow." He denied there was any flooding in the stadium, but admitted that a "downpipe became temporarily disconnected and water spilled onto the field area. Buckets were used to catch the water until the pipe was reconnected in short time. The field area is self-draining, so there was never any issue with flooding."

Air Christy update

Updated May 14, 2013
In a Dec. 3 post, I updated the cost of Premier Christy Clark's charter flights on Blackcomb Aviation during her less-than-two year Premiership to $201,133.37.

If you're a B.C. taxpayer worried about where the government's finances are heading, I have bad news.

The latest records I received via Freedom of Information (below) were for flights on carriers other than CN Rail boss David McLean's Blackcomb.

During the first nine months of her Premiership, Clark flew in style and comfort on an additional eight trips worth $43,384.43. That included a $20,313.79, two-day charter for a group of 10 on London Aviation Services from Vancouver to Prince Rupert and Terrace and back on Sept. 18-19, 2011. During that jaunt up north, Clark took a side trip worth $2,330.40 to Kitimat.

In Prince Rupert she announced port funding, while in Kitimat, Premier Photo Op hyped her ambitious liquefied natural gas plan (that may never come to fruition).

That brings Clark's disclosed total to date to $244,517.80 for 36 trips.

(I am in the progress of tallying the cost of Gordon Campbell's trips for his last two years in the Premiership, but I do know that he flew exclusively on LAS for 18 trips in 2009 and 2010 all within B.C. Clark has chartered Blackcomb Aviation for flights to Yellowknife, Edmonton, Regina, Seattle and Boise.)

Government travel regulations allow ministers to book charters if there are no conveniently scheduled, commercial flights available.

UPDATE: May 14, 2013If Christy Clark’s two-year tenure as Premier of British Columbia is not extended by voters today, it will be wheels-down for good for “Air Christy.” 

On Jan. 18, 2013, I reported that her spending had exceeded $250,000 through Oct. 5, 2012. 

In the period from her March 14, 2011 swearing-in through March 22, 2013, the Office of the Premier billed taxpayers $285,422.70 for charter jet flights that traveled a combined distance of 22,407 nautical miles. By comparison, the equator is 21,638.8 nautical miles.

In 2011, there were 15 trips, with the most expensive being $20,313.79 on Sept. 18 of that year to Prince Rupert and Terrace for the unveiling of Canada Starts Here: The BC Jobs Plan. 

That trip included her aide Gabe Garfinkel, press secretary Chris Olsen, Transport Minister Blair Lekstrom, ProShow audio/video technician Ben Laurence and photographer Jeff Vinnick. 
Minister Pat Bell and aides Stacie Dley and Jessica Hodge were on the return flight to Vancouver on London Aviation Services. 

In 2012, the most-expensive trip was $15,470.07 for a one-day trip to Regina and Edmonton aboard Blackcomb Aviation with Garfinkel, assistant deputy minister Neil Sweeney and her security guard aboard a Cessna 550. She met Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Alison Redford privately in advance of the national premiers’ summit. 

Clark also spent $9,781.88 for a two-day Calgary visit that included a BC Liberal fundraiser on Oct. 1, 2012 after the famous “short and frosty” summit with Redford. Garfinkel, press secretary Mike Morton and Sweeney were along for that trip. Sweeney traded his seat on the return flight to Katherine Bergen, Clark’s event and project coordinator. 

Only one trip in 2013 was disclosed: a Feb. 15 Penticton appearance for $3,414.15 to tour the city’s hospital. 

Prince George was the most-popular destination, visited nine times by Clark and her entourage: three times in 2011 and six in 2012. 

The latest on Air Christy

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

“She’s got her mug on TV out there, selling her propaganda campaign”

“Half of all advertising is a waste of money; we just don’t know which half.”
Henry Ford 

On April 1, 1999, the opposition BC Liberals attacked the governing NDP on spending taxpayers’ money foolishly on government advertising. 

Liberal leader and Premier-in-waiting Gordon Campbell rightly called it “propaganda.” NDP Finance Minister Joy MacPhail displayed the arrogance of someone who had been on the government side of the Legislature aisle too long. 
Campbell: "How many heart surgeries have you cancelled for $600,000 of NDP propaganda? 
MacPhail: "Actually, I'd like to correct the Liberal Leader of the Opposition. We're actually spending closer to $700,000 on our advertising campaign. People want to know how they're going to access the programs that have been funded in this budget..."
Campbell’s tag-team partner in holding the NDP feet to the fire was none other than his future successor, Christy Clark.

“People don't want the government to spend 700 grand of their money so they can find out how to access services; people want this government to spend their money so that those services are there for them to access. That's what British Columbians want," said Clark, who became the Liberal leader and Premier in 2011. 
"So I'll ask the minister this. We were up all night debating this budget because they can't introduce it until the very last minute and before we're even finished our debate on second reading, she's got her mug on TV out there, selling her propaganda campaign. Can the minister tell us this: how many hospital beds, how many firefighters, how many police officers will not be on the street because she's spending $600,000 on her advertising campaign?”
Gretchen Brewin, the Speaker of the House, ordered Clark to withdraw the “mug on TV” comment. Clark complied, but the quotes remain on the public record in Hansard. Clark resumed her hard questioning.
“The minister says that the public just doesn't understand the NDP. It's not that the NDP have done anything wrong; it's not that they've taxed people out of the province; it's not that they've driven up waiting lists to amongst the highest in the country; it's not that parents are having to buy textbooks for their children's basic curriculum in schools. The problem is that the NDP are just misunderstood, so they've got to spend $700,000 of taxpayers' money to make sure that the public is just smart enough to try and understand the well-meaning government. Well, anybody who's seen their grandchildren move to Alberta or their grandfather not get his heart bypass or their kid not get a course in university understands NDP budgeting.”
Fast forward to 2012 and it’s the Liberals who are clinging to power, believing they’re so misunderstood that need to spend your money on advertising. 

New records released via Freedom of Information include briefing notes containing scripts of answers to anticipated questions from reporters about government advertising spending.

One briefing note contains a chart that compares expenditures under the NDP from 1993-94 to 2000-01 to those during the Liberal era.

The NDP budgeted a combined $154.761 million, but wound up spending $160.462 million. 

The Liberals have outspent the NDP at $166.958 million since 2001-02, but wisely budgeted $211.532 million to make it appear they're responsible with the public purse. 

But the statistics demand a closer look and you'll find that the Liberals are no better than the NDP in election years. 

In 1995-96, the NDP budgeted $20.73 million but spent $22.468 million. Glen Clark led his party to victory and the NDP spent $13.496 million of the budgeted $22.439 million in 1996-97. 

Five years later, Ujjal Dosanjh was the Premier and the NDP budgeted $20.435 million, but spent $21.381 million. It didn't help the NDP because the Liberals under Campbell came to power in a landslide. Campbell kept his promise to slash spending. In 2001-02, the Liberals began their “new era” by spending only $5.276 million of a $22.853 million advertising budget. 

That prudence did not carry on. In 2004-05, the Campbell Liberals budgeted $12.108 million, but spent a whopping $21.617 million. Their second term began with a return to modest spending, only $8.365 million doled out of the $13.967 million budgeted. 

Campbell and the Liberals got their hat-trick in 2009. They budgeted $29.502 million for government advertising, but came in at $28.311 million. The recessionary, post-election budget for 2009-10 was $6.95 million, but only $3.587 million was spent. 

In 2011-12, $36.065 million was approved and $34.56 million was spent. The spending trend is heading to $64 million over her less-than-two-year Premiership. Her BC Jobs Plan is the biggest expenditure and she told CKNW the goal is to drive consumer confidence. Evidence presented by Sun Media's David Akin shows that the BC Jobs Plan is not really working. 

Meanwhile, the B.C. deficit has risen to $1.47 billion and the debt is $51 billion. Auditor-General John Doyle said the government understated the 2011-12 deficit of $1.84 billion by $520 million. And Moody's has downgraded the B.C. government's debt rating to negative.

Clark is spending a lot of your money to buy your votes. She could instead be spending on hospital beds, firefighters and police officers.

If the NDP under Adrian Dix win the May 14, 2013 election, will they enact new laws and policies to end the wasteful ad spending habits of power-hungry governing parties in B.C.? 

Advice to ministers on B.C. government advertising.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Is this the Women's World Cup Canada 2015 logo?

The eyes of the women's soccer world will be on Vancouver's B.C. Place Stadium on Dec. 14 where the logo for the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 will be unveiled during a live webcast at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern.

B.C. Place is one of six host venues for the expanded 24-nation tournament and is in the running to host the championship final for the planet's biggest women's sport tournament. (That announcement is expected sometime in the spring of 2013.)

A non-coloured logo with the Canada 2015 word mark, however, is already on public view on the website for the Canadian Intellectual Property Office's Trade-marks Database

The website says the trademark was filed Nov. 29 by Smart & Biggar of Ottawa on behalf of FIFA. The logo on the CIPO page features a stylized, 11-point maple leaf with feathers, rays of light, trees, and mountains inside. A female figure is in the foreground, with arms raised in victory, above the Canada 2015 word mark. 

To say the list of goods and services to which the logo may be attached is exhaustive would be an understatement. The last items on the list of wares are "cigarettes; tobacco." 

Hey, wait a second, FIFA… 

The FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 logo? 

UPDATE (Dec. 14): Yes, indeed that is the logo. Here it is in better detail and in living colour.

Facts about the logo, from the organizing committee:

  • The inspiration or the design comes from Canada's national motto "A Mari Usque Ad Mare", which means "From coast to coast"
  • The unmistakable iconic maple leaf forms the basis of the Official Emblem design and in itself transports a strong sense of national pride and heritage. In a way the maple leaf may be seen to represent the country outline
  • Three sections contain elements that are open to interpretation but present Canada as a multicultural nation, showcasing both national and urban environments - the ocean, mountains, cityscapes and flora and fauna
  • There are eight elements which comprise the Official Look of a multifaceted Canada - Coast; Sky, Ice & Cityscape; Ambition & Mountains; Modernity & Urbanism; Pride & Honour; Water, Ocean & Inspiration; Celebration & Fans; Passion & Innovation
  • At the heart of the maple leaf stands a figure, a victory pose. As the stem and vein of leaf, it symbolizes not only the energy of the Canadian nation in hosting this prestigious competition but also awakens a sense of hope, joy and friendship
  • The Official Emblem is designed within the FIFA brand architecture

Liberals pondered liquor store privatization

One of the biggest provincial stories of 2012 was the BC Liberals' controversial, aborted attempt to privatize the Liquor Distribution Branch's warehousing and distribution.

There was no business plan and no formal industry consultation. There was plenty of intrigue, because BC Liberal backroom boy and BC Rail adviser Patrick Kinsella was lobbying for Exel Logistics. The government did its best to wrap the deal in a shroud of secrecy. We still don't know precisely how and why it was kiboshed before the shortlisted bidders could make their final presentations.

But the government didn't count on me and my li'l library of #LiquorLeaks shining some much-needed light on the specious process. Thanks, also, to good ol' fashioned brown paper envelopes and the documents inside. (I'm not finished yet. Far from it.)

So, what's the latest, you say?

Remember when the government released Treasury Board and Cabinet reports in late May? They were so heavily censored that the only information visible had been cut-and-pasted from already published service plans and financial reports. I appealed and pressure from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner caused the government to uncensor portions of those reports. I'm not satisfied yet, but I am happy to report what the government was hiding from you.

Specifically, that the government was studying the sale of its chain of 197 B.C. Liquor Stores, along with the LDB logistics! I revealed this in Business in Vancouver on Dec. 13. The documents are below, which indicate anticipated opposition from the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union was the biggest obstacle.

The government opted to keep the stores, but tried to sell the warehouses and distribution. Then, on Sept. 27, it agreed to a new two-year deal with the BCGEU that included a moratorium on any LDB privatization. This happened after liquor minister Rich Coleman spent six months banging the drum for a private warehouser and distributor to come along and help government save money (despite industry players warning that higher prices would be the outcome).

Cabinet & Treasury Board documents recommending privatization of liquor distribution in British Columbi...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Of the Gifted Bloy and Minister "Cadeau"

Photo of MLA Stephanie Cadieux

Photo of MLA Harry BloyIn Business in Vancouver on 12-12-12, I revealed the latest annual public disclosure statements by British Columbia's members of the legislative assembly.

The statements are required under conflict of interest legislation and give a peek into the finances of those who either have a hand in the public purse or are watchdogs of the public purse. I stress the word "peek" because the details are rather slim. But there is enough to discuss, particularly in the gifts category.

When Children and Families Minister Stephanie Cadieux (upper right) went to Premier Christy Clark's annual fundraising dinner for the BC Liberals, a big, multinational pharmaceuticals company paid. Cadieux reported on her form that Hoffmann-La Roche paid for her pair of tickets, worth $700.

Harry Bloy (lower right), Clark's only leadership supporter in caucus, scored a $2,000 package of eight Vancouver Canucks' tickets and a Christmas party from Pacific Western Brewing (makers of, ahem, Scandal Ale). PWB, you may recall, benefitted from a tax break. The company's lobbyists include Patrick Kinsella and Mark Jiles -- who were also working for Exel Logistics in its attempt to privatize the Liquor Distribution Branch.

See the full disclosure statements below for all MLAs, including Pat "Wendy's" Bell and Gordon "Boston Pizza" Hogg.

Coming in 2013, B.C. Place strike?

Is it too early to make predictions for 2013?

Here's one that's pretty safe. Labour strife at B.C. Place Stadium.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union workers reached a settlement in the fall of 2011, meaning labour peace for the 99th Grey Cup. That contract ran out May 31 and negotiations fell apart on Dec. 10. The gap between the two sides is, well, about as big as when the stadium's retractable roof is open (which is, despite the price tag, a rarity).

Here is the notice that was posted on the BCGEU website on Dec. 12. The only two events planned for January are both late in the month: the Maple Leaf Monster Jam and Year of the Snake Chinese New Year Expo. 

Bargaining has not been productive. On December 10, 2012 the parties reached impasse. It has become apparent on the twentieth day of bargaining that the parties are not any closer to reaching a tentative agreement. The parties are just too far apart on many issues to look for assistance of a mediator.Your bargaining committee clearly outlined members’ priorities while remaining open and flexible to negotiating specifics. The Committee made it clear that this is not a round of bargaining that would contain any concessions for our membership. We have no choice but to look to the membership to support your bargaining committee and give us a strike mandate to send a clear message to the employer. We are looking for a fair deal, job protection, with no concessions.Please make every effort to get out and vote in support of your bargaining committee's recommendations. 
YWCA – Royal Bank Room, 733 Beatty Street, Vancouver: 
December 20 from 2:30pm–6:30pmDecember 21 from 11:30am–6:30pm; December 26 from 1:00pm–5:00pm; December 27 from 11:30am–6:30pm 
Balloting at the BCGEU Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley Area Offices: December 17–21, 2012. 
In solidarity, 
BC Place Bargaining Committee 
Dave MacDonald, Committee Chairperson 
Allen Fong, BCM, Nadine Gagnon, BCM, Barry Cameron, BCM Lisa Trolland, Staff Representative

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

No briefing note for the Premier on Haida Gwaii quake

Premier Christy Clark has 23 people listed in the government directory as her staff in the Office of the Premier, but not one of them got around to creating a briefing note after the Oct. 27 Haida Gwaii earthquake. That, according to a Dec. 10 "no records" letter sent to me by the government.

Briefing notes are a cornerstone of government communications and decision-making, as this government web page explains.

That magnitude 7.8 shaker could be felt far and wide across British Columbia and served as a wake-up call to remind us we live in a seismically active corner of the world. It took almost 50 minutes for Emergency Management B.C. to get into action. American authorities had already issued a tsunami alert.

Clark's chief of staff Dan Doyle and Deputy Solicitor General Lori Wanamaker were monitoring the situation, as their emails below indicate. Clark was apparently advised, via Athana Mentzelopoulos, the Deputy Minister of Government Communications and Public Engagement (and Clark's onetime bridesmaid). Justice Minister Shirley Bond did a media conference call late that night. She said Minister Bill Bennett was also involved, communicating with coastal communities.

Clark may have been preoccupied with social gatherings in Whistler after the end of the BC Liberals' pre-Hallowe'en "open" convention. It wasn't the first time a major provincial event passed without a briefing note for the Premier. The 2012 Stanley Cup riot was not documented, despite all the reasons why it should have been. (I do know that the Premier left Rogers Arena and went home that chaotic night, instead of attending an emergency operations centre.)

Communications staffers worked the morning after the quake and produced a briefing note for Environment Minister Terry Lake. 

No briefing note for the Premier

Dan Doyle's email on quake night

Terry Lake briefing note 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Moray Keith drives away from viaSport


A big shakeup at viaSport, the organization formerly known as the B.C. Sport Agency.

CEO Scott Ackles dropped the bombshell Dec. 10 when he announced Moray Keith (right) was quitting as chairman of the 2010 Legacies Now spinoff. 

Ackles and Keith were named March 1 as the leaders of the "bold new sport agency for B.C." that was to "simplify" and "strengthen" the B.C. sport sector. 

Keith is a big wheel, in more ways than one. His Dueck GM is Canada's biggest auto dealership. He's a director of the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of B.C., B.C. Lottery Corporation, Richmond Oval Corporation and B.C. Football Hall of Fame. He led private groups that partnered with municipalities to build junior hockey rinks in Chilliwack and Langley. In 2011, B.C. Lions' Waterboys co-founder Keith chaired the 99th Grey Cup Committee, of which Ackles was the general manager. Now Keith has left viaSport, with no explanation given.

Here's the Ackles memo:

Good morning everybody,

Please be advised Moray Keith has resigned from his position as chair of the viaSport Board of Directors. 
We thank Moray for his leadership and contributions to sport by leaving the organization in great shape financially, meeting all of its first year goals, and building a strong relationship with the sector and the provincial government. He has been integral to positioning viaSport for future success. 
Current board member, Cathy Priestner Allinger, will take over the position of Chair. Cathy is a long-time champion for sport in B.C. and we look forward to her continued leadership. The board will implement a strategy to recruit new directors in the new year. 
Please join me in thanking Moray for his service, and in welcoming Cathy to the position of Chair.

Scott Ackles


Priestner Allinger
Keith, I might add, is also cosy with the governing BC Liberals. By all credible public opinion polls, the party led by Premier Christy Clark is past its best-before date and a change in government is forecast for the May 14, 2013 provincial election. Keith donated nearly $100,000 to the Libs since 2005, according to Elections B.C. Deputy Premier Rich "Liquor & Lotteries" Coleman maintains his Fort Langley-Aldergrove constituency office near the main entrance of the Keith-developed Langley Events Centre

Keith's successor Cathy Priestner Allinger (left) is no stranger to viaSport. She was also his predecessor as the interim chair. Priestner Allinger is the Innsbruck 1976 speedskating silver medallist who was the executive vice-president of sport and venue management for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics after authoring the Own the Podium blueprint. She also served as managing director of Games operations at Turin 2006 and managing director of sport at Salt Lake 2002. 

Priestner Allinger also chairs the B.C. Games Society and the organizing committee for the 2014 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in Vancouver. 

UPDATE (Dec. 12): Moray Keith says there is "no magic." His departure from viaSport was amicable and part of the short-term plan. He was the startup chairman.

"I'm very content and happy with where the whole thing is going," Keith told me. "I've done my part to get it going and up and to tell you the truth I'm getting older every day and there's too many things going on. It's time for some other folks to grab a hold of the reins and take it to the next level. 

"I can't say enough about Scott Ackles and how well he works, his crew and people around him, I think they're doing a wonderful job.

"Thanks to Ida Chong and Bill Bennett and Rich Coleman. frankly, they really helped us set the stage for where this thing can grow in the future. It was well planned and Cathy Priestner (Allinger) was the one who put the initial planning in place, she's the new chair and I will ride off in the sunset and it will carry on just famously well. I'm very pleased.

"We believe that out of the $24 million budget we have, we're putting about $4 million more to the end sport user than we were a year ago. If on every 20 (million dollars) we can change it by 20% or 25%, that's huge. It's through efficiencies."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Are fences the first sign of casino move?

D is for December and dormant. B.C. Place Stadium is dormant most of December. The only two events scheduled inside are the B.C. High School Football Subway Bowl that kicked off the month and the Contact Winter Music Festival rave on Boxing Day.

But there is activity of another sort outside the stadium, beneath the westside video billboard that faces the Cambie Bridge. 

Crews have erected wooden fences around the trees on the grassy knoll, a telltale sign of impending site preparation for excavation or even construction. 

The west side of the stadium is earmarked to become the new home of Edgewater Casino. Parent Paragon Gaming extended the lease at the Plaza of Nations until 2015 after its expansion bid was shot down in April 2011 by widespread public opposition. But Vancouver city council gave Paragon the okay to move the existing licence across the street. 

B.C. Pavilion Corporation, B.C. Lottery Corporation and Paragon executives huddled through the summer of 2012 about the development plan, as I revealed in this Vancouver Courier story. PavCo, BCLC and Paragon have been hush-hush, knowing that even a relocation of Edgewater will spark some public opposition. 

Last spring, stadium management was getting ready for something to happen on the site. 

According to the May minutes of the stadium's Facility Management committee: 
"The Cambie Street Video Board at the West end may need to come down if development goes ahead; working through the details of this. 
"Ongoing discussions with Paragon continue to take place for West End development and an announcement date is getting near, followed by the development permit application. If it all goes ahead, ground breaking is anticipated in the fall. This will impact the west entry for BC Place. GR (Graham Ramsay) said we would need to start coming up with alternate plans now.  Some relocation of services to the other side of Smyth (sic) St. will also be required. KD (Kathy deLisser) advised that a construction schedule is needed."
What are the odds that the wooden fences and orange nets around the trees are related to the new Edgewater? 

UPDATE (Dec. 12): PavCo interim CEO Dana Hayden did not respond to my query, but B.C. Place manager of marketing and communications Duncan Blomfield did. 
"Concord Pacific is preparing to redevelop their site located to the west of B.C. Place stadium.  The redevelopment of Concord’s site requires the removal of a pedestrian overpass stretches over the Concord site, connecting the Cambie St. Bridge to the stadium. The temporary fencing around trees on the BC Place site is to protect the trees from being damaged by demolition activity in the area. There are currently no plans to remove the board." 
He is referring to 68 Smithe Street, the former Terry Fox Way. The plans show an "entertainment destination complex" on the stadium side of the street. Notice how it didn't say "proposed" and the naughty word "casino" is also missing? 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Butler did it.

The Butler did it. Again. 

Richard Butler, a high-ranking lawyer from the Legal Services Branch, swore his fifth affidavit on Nov. 16. The 12-page statement was the first surprise of the day Dec. 3 at B.C. Supreme Court when the Office of the Auditor General's bid to see the $6 million deal with Dave Basi and Bob Virk resumed. 

A quick refresher: The two BC Liberal government aides copped a plea bargain on Oct. 18, 2010 after steadfastly maintaining their innocence over the 2003 BC Rail scandal. They both got house arrest for two years for taking bribes from lobbyists for Omnitrax. Their legal bills were paid by taxpayers, which is contrary to government policy. Auditor-General Doyle is suing the government to examine the legal indemnity. The government claims it is covered by solicitor/client privilege. Listen to The Investigators from CKNW AM 980 for all the history of this scandal.

Photo of MLA John van Dongen
van Dongen
Abbotsford-South independent MLA John van Dongen successfully applied for intervenor status and has spent $100,000 of his own money so far in his quest to get the truth on the billion-dollar sale of the people's railway. The case was held over four days in September and scheduled for another two in December. It wrapped up in less than a full-day on Dec. 3. That was the second surprise.

In this 11th hour affidavit, Butler made the startling revelation that he did not look at billing certificates when they were submitted and blamed "failure of memory" for making misstatements a year earlier. Read the affidavit at the bottom of this post.

Chief Justice Robert Bauman granted a sealing order for certain documents mentioned in the Butler affidavit. Still, one only needs to read the affidavit to realize how odd it is for such a highly educated and qualified legal mind to bungle the file.

"Here we are right near the end of a case, we've had five days of hearings, virtually finished argument, just getting into reply, the final stage of the case," van Dongen told me outside the Law Courts. "The senior lawyer in government involved in all the indemnity files tables an affidavit saying 'I made a mistake in the previous affidavit,' and points out he was relying on his memory, didn't check the documents before they went out and realized there was obviously a significant misstatement in the earlier affidavit.

"Every step of the way there's a surprise," van Dongen said. "The advice I've been given is it's very unusual for parties to be filing things this close to the end of the case. Yet it happens in this case."

Meanwhile, van Dongen's conflict of interest complaint against Premier Christy Clark is in the hands of Northwest Territories conflict of interest commissioner Gerald Gerrand after B.C.'s Paul Fraser was compelled to hand it over on Nov. 13. Van Dongen found out that Fraser's son, John Paul, is a Government Communications and Public Engagement assistant deputy minister appointed by Clark. Clark and John Paul Fraser are longtime friends.

New information shows that Clark met with the elder Fraser on Oct. 4. The Premier's agenda (obtained by me via Freedom of Information), does not indicate the reason for the meeting. It was, coincidentally, almost two weeks after van Dongen hand-delivered his "grounds for belief and nature of alleged contraventions" about Clark to the commissioner on Sept. 21.

In the absence of a public inquiry about the corrupt sale of BC Rail, British Columbians who care deeply about democracy and integrity of their government are waiting patiently for Bauman's verdict and Gerrand's report. 

Butler Affidavit

Monday, December 3, 2012

Air Christy update: $201,000 and counting

On The Investigators on CKNW AM 980, I have twice explored Premier Christy Clark's frequent flying on the taxpayers' dime via Blackcomb Aviation, the airline owned by BC Liberal bagman and CN Rail chairman David McLean. Here is the Oct. 22 edition and the Nov. 13 sequel.

Government rules state ministers and their staff on government business can charter aircraft only when there is no scheduled service that can meet a minister’s schedule, or the cost is “economical” compared to scheduled service. But how many of Clark's trips were for governing purposes versus political photo ops? How many could have been replaced by two-way videoconferencing? 

Here are details on three of the Premier's latest Blackcomb Aviation trips, released to me via Freedom of Information.

Clark took assistant Gabe Garfinkel, issues management director Shane Mills, Advanced Education Minister John Yap and his assistant Rishi Sharma to Prince George on Sept. 18 to announce $17 million for skills training equipment at B.C. public colleges and universities. The flight from Vancouver departed 9:50 a.m. and returned at 1:55 p.m. Clark's agenda shows she was at the College of New Caledonia from 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Not even an hour. 

Event coordinator Kathryn Bergen joined the party on the return leg. Cost to taxpayers: $6,035.01.
Clark travelled with Garfinkel, now-ex communications director Sara MacIntyre to Kelowna and the secret agent man (a name that is consistently censored from passenger lists for security reasons) for a day on Sept. 20 to open the new Reichwald Health Sciences Centre at UBC Okanagan. The flight departed Vancouver at 8 a.m. The appearance at UBCO was from 8:50 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Not even three-quarters of an hour. There is no other entry on the agenda until the 7 p.m. flight was wheels down at YVR at 7:40 p.m. Cost to taxpayers: $4,062.64.

On Oct. 5, Clark took a one-day trip to Prince George for a chamber of commerce luncheon with Garfinkel, press secretary Mike Morton. "visual communications officer" Justin Schneider, and the secret agent man. The flight departed Vancouver at 10:30 a.m. for the 11:55 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. speaking engagement at the Ramada Hotel. On the return leg, which took-off at 2 p.m., they were joined by events coordinator Tara Zwaan. The charter was back at YVR at 3 p.m. Cost to taxpayers: $6,007.86.

On that trip, she had Schneider shoot this video where she again floated the fabled 57,000 jobs created statistic, which Sun Media's David Akin so deftly deconstructed and deflated in his well-read post, "Do Christy Clark's boasts on job creation hold up? Nope. Nada. Not even close."

Gotta love how The Prince George Citizen's editorial started: "Premier Christy Clark brings her bogus five conditions that must be met for her support of Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline to a Prince George Chamber of Commerce lunch today."

For those keeping score at home, Clark has traveled 17,222 nautical miles around B.C. on 28 Blackcomb Aviation round-trips since becoming Premier in March 2011. That's the equivalent of 31,895.1 kilometres. By comparison, the equator is 40,075. 

The total cost to taxpayers so far: $201,133.37. 

But there is more... much more than that. On Oct. 1, Clark, Garfinkel, deputy minister Neil Sweeney, Morton and the secret agent man jetted to Calgary aboard a London Air Services charter for what turned out to the Short and Frosty Summit with Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Clark and co. returned to YVR the next day. The cost of that charter trip has yet to be disclosed. 

Coincidentally, Clark hired a new communications director on Dec. 3. He is former TV news anchor and current Justin Trudeau supporter, Ben Chin. His last job? As a vice-president with the Air Miles frequent flyer consumer loyalty program. Response - LetterAirChristy

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