Friday, February 15, 2013

PavCo tries to blacklist inconvenient sleuth

Remember the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, the private-public partnership seaplane dock built at the $883 million Vancouver Convention Centre (which was supposed to be built for $495 million)?

Holdout Harbour Air agreed to move from a temporary marina into the new $22 million VHFC, but pay $2 million for its own dock. Harbour Air was balking at the excessive $12 per-passenger tax. VHFC was built by Ledcor and Graham Clark, who was part of the board that privatized Vancouver International Airport and imposed the unpopular passenger tax called the Airport Improvement Fee

In September 2012, the lawsuits were dropped and VHFC and PavCo settled. According to the below settlement agreement, obtained under Freedom of Information, PavCo agreed to pay VHFC a secret sum and amend the lease agreement. The parties agreed to bear their own legal costs.

These documents should have arrived long before now. I made the request Sept. 13, 2012. It took just over five calendar months for PavCo to make the disclosure. And, as you can see, it is not even a full disclosure. 

This may be one of the last Freedom of Information disclosures I get, if PavCo has its way. 

PavCo Assistant Corporate Secretary and Freedom of Information Manager Alexandra Wagner notified me on Feb. 15, 2013 that PavCo filed an application on Feb. 13, 2013 under Section 43 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner

Section 43, headlined “Power to authorize a public body to disregard requests,” allows a public body to ask the Information and Privacy Commissioner to authorize the disregarding of requests that “would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the public body because of the repetitious or systematic nature of the requests, or are frivolous or vexatious.”

It seems I am too curious about about PavCo, the companies it hires, the money it spends, the Vancouver Whitecaps and B.C. Lions rental payments (or lack thereof), and the half-billion-dollars of taxpayers' money spent on the stadium renovation, which is now being examined by the Office of the Auditor General. (At least four of John Doyle's staffers, I am told, were seen touring the stadium on Feb. 8.).

Through FOI, I have received documents that helped me expose uncomfortable facts and inconvenient truths about B.C. Place Stadium, such as the janitorial worker whose death after collapsing on the job was covered-up for two years, the grease leaks from roof support cables that have caused millions of dollars in roof fabric stains and the high-level meetings held to resurrect a controversial casino proposal. Those are just three examples of many stories you would never know about if I only relied on PavCo news releases and news conferences. 

Now, PavCo's goal is to refuse to disclose any of my requests from Feb. 13, 2013 onward. 

PavCo wants to shut me down. 

I say, PavCo must not succeed. 

I am a frequent requester, but what I do is not frivolous or vexatious. Nor is it repetitive or wasteful. In fact, it is necessary and it is in the public interest. I ask tough questions of a Crown corporation that is ultimately owned by you, the public. A Crown corporation that runs downtown Vancouver's two biggest buildings and relies on scarce and hard-earned taxpayer dollars. A Crown corporation that has a tendency toward secrecy because it simply doesn't enjoy questions from the public, whether it's about a casino not wanted by neighbours or advertising signs not wanted by neighbours.

PavCo has consistently turned down my interview requests and not provided basic information in a timely manner. FOI has become the best and only tool for gaining knowledge of what goes on behind closed-doors. 

I would prefer I didn't have to ask PavCo to release records. I would prefer PavCo  would see fit to do its business in the open and in a proactive manner. How about public meetings of the board of directors? How about publishing the agenda before the meeting and the minutes afterward? How about disclosing all contracts worth $10,000-and-up on a quarterly basis? How about explaining why some of the contracts were awarded without a competitive bidding process? How about publishing the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee minutes every month? 

Alas, PavCo isn't transparent and I have to ask for these things on the public’s behalf. What makes it even more troubling is that PavCo seems to be contravening Premier Christy Clark’s own government-wide openness directive

The 2011 throne speech said: "Our government is committed to openness, transparency and engaging with British Columbians. Simply put: we need to be open with the information people have a right to see and open to ideas they have a right to voice."
In July 2011, at the 2:49 mark of this video, Clark said: "After all, it's taxpayers' money and it's taxpayers' information."
PavCo's board includes chairman Peter Fassbender (the Mayor of Langley) and Suzanne Anton (who wanted to be Mayor of Vancouver). Both of them are seeking Liberal nominations. I have asked for their assistance in overturning this ill-thought strategy. Ex-NPA Vancouver Coun. Anton, in particular, rallied against Vision Vancouver's creeping secrecy at Vancouver city hall. Now she is part of an entity that prefers to do its business away from the public eye. An entity that reports to Deputy Premier Rich Coleman, who is the minister responsible for PavCo. That's the same Coleman who is oddly never available when I want to interview him on PavCo, gambling and liquor issues.

I have appealed to PavCo to rescind the section 43 application. I hope reason and transparency will prevail at PavCo. I have also complained to Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, asking her to deny the PavCo application. It would be a very sad day for both citizens and the media in B.C. if PavCo were to succeed -- especially when an election is rapidly approaching and citizens need to be informed before they go to the ballot box. 

In the meantime, I have plenty of previously received PavCo information that I will eagerly share with you in the weeks to come, because you have the right to know.

Getcha popcorn ready!

(Pssst... if you have credible information that is in the public interest and you think I should receive it, I gladly accept brown envelopes c/o Business in VancouverThe Tyee or CKNW AM 980. And, you must know that any citizen can make a Freedom of Information request. It is not the sole domain of nosy journalists like me. For instance, you can file an FOI request to PavCo, c/o Alexandra Wagner, by mail: #200-999 Canada Place, Vancouver, B.C. V6C 3C1; fax: 604-484-5154; or email: Never made an FOI request? The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has user-friendly FOI request directions here. Happy requesting!)

UPDATE (7:53 p.m. Feb. 15): Fassbender responded with this message below: 
Thank you for both your phone messages and copying me on this correspondence.  I am going over the circumstances with the staff and am not prepared to comment without having the history from them. I want you to know that my first default is to leave matters like this to staff and do not get involved as I do not think it is appropriate in my role as Chair of the Board. I am sure you would like me to provide more comment but I am not prepared to do so.


Grant G said...

Bob Mackin, you are indeed the hammer, time and time again you impress..

Let me say this, I`m glad you are on the side of open information regardless of who it exposes.

Popcorn, twizzlers, ding dongs and twinkies,(are they still available?) will be at the ready..

A tip of the ht from Grant G and The Straight Goods..

And Bob, don`t forget your flak jacket..


Paisley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paisley said...

I guess Peter hasn’t figured out staff isn’t suppose to direct policy changes, that’s the boards job. So what he is saying here is that the staff runs the ship. No wonder this province is such a cluster guys like this are out right lying or completely incompetent, I choose both.

motorcycleguy said...

I understand the frustration. My own file of FOI's is much larger than it should be for a regular citizen. As a matter of fact, I shouldn't even have one. Most queries could be answered in a 10 minute telephone call, if there was nothing to hide. This is OUR information. One of my last requests was dated Oct 29, relating to information I needed to back up my submissions to the EAO (regarding an IPP on the Sunshine Coast). I very politely articulated the time sensitive nature. A final decision on the matter was due mid Feb. This FOI information is supposed to be supplied within 30 days. The FOI people gave themselves a 30 day extension. Then they gave themselves an ADDITIONAL 30 day extension. They have acknowledged there are records to release "but they don't have time". How can 3 months not be enough time to supply information they admit having already gathered? This is a deliberate move to limit my ability to effectively challenge the EAO process for this project. Keep up the work Mr. Mackin. "They" are counting on us not caring enough about this province to put up with the B.S.

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