Saturday, March 10, 2012

Exclusive: inside the B.C. government name game

Some observers of the government's snub of Telus over the B.C. Place Stadium naming sponsorship wonder why the government didn't just let Budweiser buy the name and be done with it.

Telus installed $10 million to $15 million worth of wi-fi and mobile phone systems and video screens as part of the deal it reached with B.C. Pavilion Corporation in March 2011. That $35 million to $40 million you've heard about is not all cash on the table. It relied heavily on the provision of goods and services. Now PavCo has to buy its way out with your money and mine. The only way it can soften the blow now is to designate Telus as an exclusive or official supplier.

But the bigger reason is that no provincial government building in B.C. can be named after Budweiser. Or Molson Canadian. Or Guinness. Or even the Sorrento, B.C.-made Crannog Back Hand of God Stout or Gael's Blood Potato Ale.

The province's Naming Rights Policy says government will not approve an opportunity for naming recognition:

"that involves an individual, business or organization whose main business is derived from the sale of alcohol, other than a provincial or national industry association that focuses on harm reduction regarding the responsible use of alcohol."

Yes, the province has a naming rights policy and applications are overseen by a little-known committee of bureaucrats (chaired by Executive Lead of Strategic Vendor Management Richard Poutney) under the Intellectual Property Program within the Ministry of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government. You can read it here. However, the policy contains a loophole that opens the decision to political interference.

Section 4.5 of the policy says cabinet will decide on naming opportunities if:

(a) the size or visibility of the asset is of particular significance;
(b) the value of the contribution is greater than five million dollars;
(c) the asset is or will likely be the object of media attention, or is otherwise in the public eye;

All three apply in the context of the B.C. Place naming rights opportunity. The minutes for the committee's only meeting in 2011 (below) show that the Telus proposal to rename B.C. Place Stadium as "Telus Park" was not submitted to the committee. This was handled (or, perhaps, mishandled) solely by cabinet and, therefore, we may not know the details until 2026 or 2027 when the particular cabinet documents would become public.

What do you think? Should the naming of any and all provincial buildings in B.C. be vetted first by a committee that reports publicly (and doesn't wait for reporters to file a Freedom of Information request)? Should cabinet have a role, particularly when the bidder is a major donor to the ruling party or a major government contractor? (Telus donated more than $350,000 since 2005 to the B.C. Liberals and was given a $1 billion, 10-year government service contract in 2011.) And what happens if the chairman of the public body with the name up for sale has close ties with the corporation that wants to buy the name of the public building? (David Podmore's Concert Properties board includes two senior Telus executives and two senior officials from the Telecommunications Workers Union.)

It is, after all, taxpayers' money and taxpayers' own the buildings...

Province of British Columbia Naming Committee

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