In 2012, this blog launched #LiquorLeaks, a flood of documents regarding the Liquor Distribution Branch and the BC Liberal government's thirst to privatize the storage and hauling of booze in British Columbia.
I spelled out how BC Liberal-connected Exel Logistics and ContainerWorld were strategizing to win the business. The tendering process was abruptly halted Sept. 27, 2012, the day the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union reached a two-year deal with government. The four shortlisted companies had yet to make their final presentations.
There is more to come from #LiquorLeaks. In the meantime, I now introduce #RoofLeaks, a compilation of records gleaned from my Freedom of Information requests directed at the B.C. Pavilion Corporation, the taxpayer-owned company that operates the Vancouver Convention Centre and B.C. Place Stadium. These are the two biggest and most-expensive buildings in downtown Vancouver. Magnets for big events and big controversy. And I will demonstrate for you why British Columbians should be concerned about how they are managed.
For starters, PavCo is seeking an order to quash my right to file Freedom of Information requests. It has effectively blacklisted me since making a complaint on Feb. 13 to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, claiming my requests are frivolous and vexatious, repetitive and systematic.
I say PavCo is wrong on all counts and I am contesting PavCo's application, which amounts to intimidation just ahead of the election. As a journalist reporting in the public interest, my goal is to show the public how its money is spent and how its assets are managed.
On Feb. 19, NDP members Doug Routley and Spencer Chandra Herbert took-up my case in the Legislature, seeking answers from Premier Christy Clark and PavCo Minister Rich Coleman. The following is an excerpt from Hansard:
D. Routley: The Premier has made claims to open government being one of her top three priorities, even telling the media that information belongs to the public. Yet on Friday we learned that investigative journalist Bob Mackin received a letter from PavCo telling him they have applied under the Freedom of Information Act to bar him from "frivolous and vexatious" claims to information. Does the Premier agree with this outrageous act by PavCo to silence one of its chief critics?
Hon. R. Coleman: The individual that the member refers to has been making and has received some information with regards to information and privacy from PavCo. But the members opposite and the members of this House should know that he is 89 percent of all the requests of information and privacy at PavCo. It's a large volume of work, so they were finally to the point where some of it became ridiculously frivolous in their minds. They asked and they have gone forward to ask the commissioner for an opinion.
D. Routley: It's about the public interest — an uncomfortable fact for the government. It was through these claims to freedom of information that the public found out about PavCo's hundreds of millions of dollars of overspending. It was only through these requests that the public knew this.
Does the minister responsible for PavCo stand by the position that asking about massive cost overruns is frivolous or vexatious?
Hon. R. Coleman: Through to the member opposite: well, first of all, Member, the first thing you'd like to do yourselves is to try and get your numbers straight when you're actually making public comments. I've heard your members talk about the $100 million figure quoted for the roof for B.C. Place under PavCo's chair back in 2008. The member doesn't actually want to tell the rest of the story, which was about a pillow roof to replace exactly the same roof as was there before and not a significant investment to actually redo the entire stadium, which this was. PavCo announced the final approved budget of $563 million for B.C. Place revitalization in October 2009. They did it for $514 million...
S. Chandra Herbert: This is about freedom of information. This is about giving journalists access to information they need to do their jobs. I know the minister wants to focus on sports stadiums, but we're talking about work that the media needs done so that they can support our democracy. Under the Liberals, PavCo has had a history of mismanagement. Five times over budget, the Telus naming debacle, PavCo's float plane fiasco, PavCo's botched casino deal, the convention centre going massively over budget… The list goes on and on. The Premier claimed that open government was one of her top priorities. Will she stand today and demonstrate that she actually puts action behind her words and tell PavCo to stop trying to ban the media from doing their job?
Notice how Coleman referred to me, not by name, but as "the individual that the member refers to?" The Premier? She didn't stand.
Here's an uncomfortable fact for Coleman: The original budget for B.C. Place renovations was not $100 million, but actually $75 million, including a new, inflatable, fabric roof. That inconvenient truth is contained in a Jan. 8, 2008 letter from PavCo chair David Podmore to Wayne Henderson of Dominion Construction, the company that eventually was awarded the bid for phase 1 work. That letter is below.
By April of that year, PavCo had changed gears and was considering the pre-Olympic installation of a Frankfurt-style retractable roof for $253 million. But the anticipated completion date of Jan. 31, 2010 was deemed too close to the Feb. 12, 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony. The project was delayed until after the Games at a Jan. 9, 2009-announced budget of $365 million.
That budget was increased (after the BC Liberals won re-election) to $458 million on Oct. 23, 2009. The government finally admitted it would be $563 million and now claims the final price was $514 million. Oh, they're so proud that it's $49 million under the final budget. But don't dare mention those pesky scope changes and cost increases! The leaky, grease-stained roof? Nothing to see there, move along. Those are such uncomfortable facts for a party so desperate to remain in power.
For the sake of all, let's hope Auditor-General John Doyle expands his fact-finding mission into a full-blown value-for-money investigation of the B.C. Place project. The taxpayers deserve to know the truth about the evolution of such a risky project that shows no signs of breaking-even.