Amid the most controversial privatization in British Columbia since BC Rail was sold to CN Rail in 2003, Jay Chambers, the $200,000-a-year general manager of the Liquor Distribution Branch, dropped a bombshell on June 14 by announcing his resignation.
Here is the memo to staff, obtained by #LiquorLeaks:
"I am writing to advise you of my decision to resign from the Liquor Distribution Branch effective July 6, 2012.
"It is with very mixed emotions that I have made this decision. Words cannot properly describe just how much I have enjoyed being the General Manager of the LDB. However, I have been in this job for over 15 years and I feel that it is time for a change, both for me and the LDB.
"I have accepted an offer to be the President of the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of BC. In this role I will continue to have the opportunity to work with government, stakeholder associations and consumers. These are the areas I have learned so much about during my time at the LDB and I look forward to being involved in them at the VSA.
"Upon my departure, Roger Bissoondatt, our Chief Financial Officer, will be acting as the General Manager of the LDB until the process of finding a permanent replacement has been completed.
"On a personal note, what I will miss most about working at the LDB is you, the great employees. It has been a pleasure and privilege to work with you. The LDB was a very well-run business when I joined the company and I am very proud to say that, because of your efforts, it continues to be a very well-run business. This is a reflection of the quality of staff that work at the LDB – no individual or single department has been responsible for your success – it is a team effort."
A source told me there was an employee breakfast at the LDB headquarters in Vancouver where Chambers was serving flapjacks with a smile to workers on the morning of June 14. Workers were flabbergasted when, about an hour later, they received the resignation memo from Chambers.
There you have it. The general manager of the province's liquor retail authority isn't sticking around to complete the taxpayer-owned company's biggest strategic move in its history. He is instead going to oversee the retail of automobiles and trucks. From the drinking industry to the driving industry, in a legal fashion.
The Motor Vehicle Sales Authority was established in 2004 as a non-profit, industry self-regulator during Premier Gordon Campbell's first term. MVSA regulates and licences 1,600 dealers and 7,000 salespeople and now reports to Justice Minister Shirley Bond. Former Nanaimo mayor Graeme Roberts is the chairman of an 11-member board. Directors include Langley lawyer and onetime Liberal nominee Rebecca Darnell and Richmond chiropractor Dr. Don Nixdorf, also a Liberal donor. Darnell, according to the Elections B.C. database, donated $14,475 to the BC Liberals since 2005. Nixdorf donated $1,170 since 2006. The most-prominent director is the province's biggest car dealer, Moray Keith of Dueck GM.
Keith is also chairman of the new B.C. Sport Agency, director of B.C. Lottery Corporation, co-founder of the B.C. Lions Waterboys and chairman the 2011 Grey Cup Festival. His Chiefs Development Corporation built the Langley Events Centre. One of the tenants is liquor minister Rich Coleman's constituency office.
Keith donated $95,000 to the BC Liberals via Dueck, $3,825 through the B.C. Automobile Dealers Association and New Car Dealers Association of B.C. The latter entity is a client of lobbyist Mark Jiles, who is also a lobbyist for Exel Logistics, the German-owned, leading bidder for the LDB logistics contract. Exel boasted in an internal memo that it had a close relationship with Coleman and pondered influencing the writing of the request for proposals.
It's a small province, after all.
Doug Longhurst, MVSA's Director of Finance and Operations and Director of Learning and Communications, told me previous president Ken Smith announced his retirement last fall “as his contract required six months notice” after serving eight-plus years.
“The recruiting and advertising was handled by (corporate headhunter) Pinton Forrest Madden," Longhurst said. "The process was directed by a three-member committee of the board beginning in the fall. The process included the normal process of development of the position description for the posting, a long list, a short list and final selection. The position was on the PFM site for two months (plus or minus).”
Coleman did not respond to yet another one of my interview requests. (Yes, "Mr. Coleman Country," I'm like a broken record.) Neither did Chambers reply to repeated requests.
In a statement provided by Coleman's office, the liquor minister claimed the Chambers shuffle is unrelated to the LDB privatization and his departure won't affect the process. NDP critic Shane Simpson is, understandably, in disbelief. Chambers is the key bureaucrat on the file, heading a committee of LDB executives charged with sifting through the bids and picking the best one.
Bids are due June 29 and the shortlist of one to three companies is expected July 20. The winner is expected by October and the contract to be executed by March 2013 -- right before the May 2013 provincial election.
In the summer of 2006, then-liquor minister John Les was pondering a corporate shakeup, including hiring a new GM, at LDB. That never came to fruition. My sources tell me Chambers was planning on retiring from LDB after the logistics privatization was complete.
You can hear his voice in the audio below recorded May 9, 2012 at an industry information session at the LDB Vancouver headquarters about the privatization.
Boost your volume. It's especially entertaining at the 3:30 mark after the first of several pointed questions by Spirits Canada executive vice-president C.J. Helie, who opposes the set-up of an Alberta-style, private monopoly to store and move booze in B.C.