Saturday, February 9, 2013

Taxpayers footing bill after Cap-in-hand strategy works

The Vancouver Whitecaps will finally make their debut at the National Soccer Development Centre at the University of British Columbia on Feb. 26 -- the day before they unveil their 2013 uniform.

Will Premier Christy Clark show up for a photo op? The training centre is in her Vancouver-Point Grey riding. The Whitecaps' general partner, Greg Kerfoot, is a personal friend of hers and a BC Liberal Party donor of almost $37,000 since 2005 through a personal donation, his company Inspirit Group and the Whitecaps. Media-shy Kerfoot, who has never sat down for an interview since buying the Whitecaps in 2002, is a 1983 UBC computer science graduate.

Clark wasn't there when the training centre was announced on Sept. 6, 2012. B.C. taxpayers are subsidizing the facility through a $14.5 million grant. UBC is providing the land. The Whitecaps are supposedly paying the remaining $15 million.

The whole shebang was originally a $17.5 million gift of taxpayers' money to the Whitecaps from Premier Gordon Campbell on May 2, 2009 -- 10 days before that provincial election -- as a desperate ploy to get parachute candidate Wally Oppal elected for the Liberals. Vicki Huntington eked out a victory as an independent. Delta council eventually nixed the Whitecaps' application. Sites in Surrey and Burnaby were considered, but the Whitecaps' brass evidently grew impatient with the bureaucracies in those municipalities. Sources tell me the feeling was mutual. The Whitecaps already benefitted heavily from taxpayer subsidies as the primary tenant of B.C. Place Stadium, which was renovated for $514 million despite Kerfoot having the financing and desire to build his own stadium. 

On Jan. 30, the Whitecaps issued this progress report.

Via Freedom of Information, I tried to get the Whitecaps' application for funding, the government's business case and evaluation, and approval letter. There is supposedly a 59-page business case for taxpayers subsidizing the privately owned Whitecaps, but the government refused to disclose it to me based on "cabinet confidences."

The heavily censored documents they did send me (see below) include Treasury Board requests, Whitecaps' internal correspondence and correspondence with Liberal politicians. (The Sept. 8, 2010 Treasury Board funding request letter from then Finance Minister Colin Hansen to Sport Minister Ida Chong was, coincidentally, on the same day as the 31st anniversary of the North American Soccer League Whitecaps' winning Soccer Bowl.)

Evidently, the government wasn't going to write a cheque without a promise that amateur soccer would benefit. A July 31, 2012 letter by Whitecaps' COO Rachel Lewis to Chong said UBC would get 65% of time on the fields. On the same day, B.C. Soccer Association executive director Bjorn Osieck wrote to the government in support of the Whitecaps, pointing out the 120,000 registered players in B.C. -- making it the province's biggest team sport.

Whitecaps' chairman John Furlong wrote to Chong's deputy minister, Don Fast, on Aug. 2, 2012 to reiterate the playing time commitment. He said the artificial turf field and two new grass fields would be available for 3,920 hours of playing time each year. 

Of that, an estimated 2,019 hours of field access time has been committed for community playing time for BCSA Premier League, Vancouver United Soccer Club, school physical education or soccer teams, community clinics and tournaments, youth sports camps and a partnership with the University Neighbourhood Association. A lofty promise, but let's hope Furlong, Lewis and the Whitecaps stay true to their word. (Oddly enough, the records released don't include any endorsement from the Canadian Soccer Association, despite the complex being labelled the "National Soccer Development Centre.")

The most interesting document? The Feb. 14, 2012 letter to Lewis from Kerfoot. While it was heavily censored by the government, it does contain Mr. Kerfoot's signature. For someone who has taken overwhelming efforts to keep himself shielded from the public eye, it is rather odd that the Whitecaps didn't oppose the publication of his signature. 

(Note: the Whitecaps' unveiling of their 2013 uniform is an invite-only affair at the Rocky Mountaineer Station on Feb. 27. Furlong is chairman of both companies. Furlong was subject to new allegations in a Jan. 21 B.C. Supreme Court defence filing by journalist Laura Robinson. None of the allegations has been tested or proven in court and no trial date has been set. Furlong's official court response in the defamation lawsuit that he launched last November is overdue. A media statement attributed to his family was published Jan. 23, claiming he is innocent of the many abuse allegations that were published by the Georgia Straight on Sept. 27, 2012. "These shocking allegations are without merit and portray a character whom none of us recognizes," said the statement.)

1 comment:

Guy Chua said...

When I first read about tax dollars to the Whitecaps months ago... I thought this is complete BS. What right does Christy Clark or Gordon have to be giving public funds to a private sports team. The part about local soccer teams was simply made to avoid a public backlash. I guarantee you... this is NOT for the benefit of local soccer. Let's assume the Whitecaps made it to the playoffs & so did a local kids team. Who do you think will get to use the new stadium ? Complete BS from the most corrupt government in BC history.

Guy in Victoria

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