Saturday, March 10, 2012

Does Brown-out signal lights out for Premier Photo Op?

The shocking resignation of Peter Brown from the board of the B.C. Pavilion Corporation could be the beginning of the end for Premier Christy Clark's nearly year-old reign as Premier of British Columbia.

Brown was in New York March 9, while Clark was in Ottawa. Brown's name and profile disappeared from the B.C. Pavilion Corporation website at the end of the same week when Clark and Minister responsible Pat Bell publicly confirmed that the B.C. Place Stadium naming rights deal with Telus was cancelled. Telus had installed $10 million to $15 million of wi-fi stations, mobile phone antennas and video screens in the stadium as part of the deal that PavCo recommended to cabinet.

Through his Vancouver investment house, Canaccord, Brown has donated $312,230 to the B.C. Liberals since 2005 and backed George Abbott for the leadership of the party in the 2011 race. Brown was one of the biggest boosters of Gordon Campbell, who left the premiership after almost a decade and is now Canada's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Clark was sworn-in on March 14, 2011.

Brown has resigned before from a similar organization because of political interference.

Brown was vice-chairman of the Expo 86 Corporation and chairman of the B.C. Place Corporation, a PavCo predecessor which merged with the B.C. Development Corporation to form the B.C. Enterprise Corporation.

Brown resigned in April 1988 after he was accused by Premier Bill Vander Zalm's secretary David Poole of wining and dining Li Ka-Shing, the eventual winning bidder for the Expo lands. Brown admitted hosting Li's son Victor for dinner at his Point Grey home, but denied any wrongdoing. He offered a stinging rebuke of Poole, the most powerful unelected official in the Vander Zalm government.

"The dinner in my house was part of a purely proper program to encourage any bidder that we could to participate in the B.C. Enterprise bid process," Brown was quoted in the Vancouver Sun. "Any attempt to cast aspersions on that function by anyone is a bitter and petty act by someone who's proved before he's not sure what the rules are."

Brown was on the board of directors for the original North American Soccer League Vancouver Whitecaps. He is also a collector of Group of Seven masterpieces.

It could be theorized that Brown's resignation in 1988 was part of the slow process that led to the eventual fall of Vander Zalm, who was finally forced out in 1991 by the Fantasy Gardens conflict of interest scandal.

Could the fumbling of the renaming of B.C. Place be the undoing for Clark?

UPDATE: On March 12, I received the following email from Peter Brown, who declined my March 10 request for an interview ("At 70 years of age I am trying to get my privacy back which is more difficult than it should be," Brown wrote, via his iPad.)

"It would be nice to be in a profession like yours where rampant poetic license was practiced. Here are some facts that you neglected in your blog:

"I did not back George Abbott for leadership of the Liberal Party as I believed he never had a chance.

"I entertained every bidder for BC Enterprise in my home and Grace McCarthy, the Minister responsible, was always present.

"That newspaper reference was caused by David Poole's attempt to improperly influence the privatization of the assets of BC Enterprise. This was a failed attempt by him. I had always agreed to serve as Chairman of BC Enterprise until the principle assets were privatized which was concluded with the sale of the Expo Lands. The government of the day had nothing to do with my decision.

"My current resignation is as I publicly stated. I agreed to go on the board of PAVCO to oversee the complex construction of two major Vancouver icons. That job is complete and I believe that board representation should now come from people in Tourism and Marketing - neither of which are my expertise. The decision was compounded by the fact that I have taken on too many boards and committees and need to cut back on boards like this where my contribution going forward is less relevant.

"As to my politics, I think it should be obvious to everyone that I am a supporter of governments who believe in free trade and free markets and believe the best results for all citizens will be generated by free enterprise alternatives. In this case, even you should be able to ascertain my political choice as the only one possible which makes the inferences in your article ridiculous. All the more so when one considers choices in the upcoming election and the critical impact the wrong decision could have on our economic well being."

Peter Brown

I followed up and asked Brown about how Canaccord Capital donated $11,500 to Abbott's campaign on March 28, 2011. No donations to any other contestant are listed on the Elections B.C. database. Canaccord donated $25,000 to Vision Vancouver in 2009. The Non-Partisan Association is the civic free enterprise party in Vancouver. I asked for, and Brown declined to supply me, the date on which he tendered his PavCo resignation and the contents of the resignation letter. This is how he responded:

"Abbott's donation was nothing to do with me. I was quite active with another candidate. Canaccord and my personal donations are very separate as I stepped down as CEO five years ago. I am only responsible for donations in my name and the name of the Peter and Joanne Brown Foundation.

"If I had known the renewal for Directors was May 27, I probably would have waited until then as there was no sense of urgency. I had already said publicly that I am on too many Boards and had just agreed to Chair another so I was looking to cut back. As to sharing my letter of resignation with a reporter that I don't know -- I am sure even you know that would be extremely inappropriate. The letter was addressed to PAVCO and it is there prerogative to release it of not

"It was always the government's prerogative to approve or disprove the TELUS contract that was being negotiated under the Letter of Intent so, once again you are on the wrong wicket

"I hope this ends your unwanted entry into my personal affairs."

My questions pertained only to Brown's activities as a director of taxpayer-owned bodies and his publicly disclosed donations to political parties. As I reporter, it is vital that I ask such questions of someone who is appointed to be part of a group managing public assets and funds.

UPDATE: March 14.

PavCo spokesman Duncan Blomfield confirmed that Peter Brown's resignation letter was dated Feb. 13, but he declined to discuss the contents.

Vaughn Palmer, the dean of political reporters in B.C., has confirmed that Peter Brown resigned from the PavCo board, "in protest" over the cancelled Telus naming rights deal. Read his column here.

Funny how Brown's story changes, depending on the media outlet he's in contact with. Readers are smarter than he thinks.

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