Saturday, May 23, 2009

2010 medal minting on

VANOC vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade was part of a Saturday panel discussion at the Canadian Association of Journalists' convention on coverage of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. She was joined by local journalists Jeff Lee (Vancouver Sun), Mike Killeen (CTV) and Stephanie Levitz (Canadian Press).

Smith-Valade spiced things up with a small nugget of information. She said that forging of the Olympic medals is underway, but offered no other details. The gold, silver and bronze is supplied by Teck and made into the medals by Royal Canadian Mint. The design is top-secret.

I will be the first to speculate that the medals will not in any way resemble an ashtray to accompany the Bombardier-designed Olympic torch. I was first to point out on Feb. 12 that it resembles a joint. Toronto Star did a feature this week that attracted attention from sources that had not previously paid attention to the 2010 Games.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Viewer mail wanted

Watch the video I shot during my time to ask questions at the May 20, 2009 news conference after the VANOC board of directors got together for their latest closed-door meeting to plan the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

Please do me a favor. Tell me what you think of my questions and the way they were posed. Tell me what you think of the reaction of VANOC chairman Jack Poole (left), CEO John Furlong, deputy CEO Dave Cobb, vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade and executive vice-president of workforce Donna Wilson.

I'd like your feedback to

First some context. The questions related to recent stories that needed updating.

1) Steve Sierros is suing for wrongful dismissal after he was fired by VANOC. The bare bones agenda released to the public included a section of the meeting for an update on legal matters from chief legal officer Ken Bagshaw.

2) Ken Dobell is a longtime associate of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, dating back to Campbell's days as Vancouver mayor and Dobell's duties as city manager. Dobell is the VANOC finance committee chairman and a professional lobbyist. One of his clients is Vancouver International Airport Authority, a sponsor of the 2010 Games.

3) The agenda also mentioned an update on venues. B.C. Place Stadium is essentially Vancouver's Olympic stadium. It'll be the site of opening and closing ceremonies and the nightly medals ceremonies. VANOC will be the most important tenant in the 26-year-old dome's history. On Jan. 5, 2007, the roof ripped and collapsed. On April 9, 2009, WorkSafeBC issued an inspection report that said roof control workers were not properly trained, meaning workplace safety cannot be guaranteed.

You should also know the VANOC board meets six times a year behind closed doors and issues no minutes. A news conference traditionally follows.

Crash pad yes, flop house no

Gotta love VANOC. Its communications department has an irrational fear of giving direct answers in a timely manner to direct questions offered by journalists. Click here for one such case.

Evidently it also doesn't want to give potential bidders the direct link to a notice about a contract advertised May 22.

A news release mentions a request for proposals posted on the BC Bid provincial procurement website. Once an interested party actually finds the VANOC listing, the viewer must click a link which winds up on the VANOC website.

As a public service, here is the document.

It says temporary accommodation is needed at two sites from Nov. 15, 2009-March 15, 2010. The first location will be used for the entire period and must hold 100 guests. The second location is for 200 to 300 guests during early January to the end of February. It's supposed to be for last-minute Games-goers who have nowhere else to sleep and shower.

Deadline to respond is June 22 with the winners notified June 26 and a contract finalized July 22.

There's a catch. VANOC is providing the winning bidder only $250,000 for equipment and operations.

"Costs not offset by this contribution must be covered by the fee charged to guests and by goods and services received as value in kind," the document said. "Guests will be charged a modest fee to offset the costs of the operation."

'lympic rings in 'loops in November

The Olympics are coming to Kamloops. Sort of.

The Nov. 19-22 Fairness in Sport conference will act as a get-together and training session for the VANOC anti-doping team that will be collecting urine and blood from athletes for testing at a temporary laboratory in the Richmond Olympic Oval.

Kamloops -- marketed as Canada's tournament capital -- is interesting on a number of levels. It's the biggest city near Sun Peaks Resort, home of Grenoble 1968 skiing gold medalist Nancy Greene-Raine, one of Canada's newest senators. Sun Peaks is the autumn training home of the Austrian alpine ski team, whose cross-country skiing cousins are notorious. When blood doping equipment was found at Salt Lake 2002, two Austrian cross-country skiers and two team officials were banned for Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010.

B.C.'s governing party traditionally wins a seat in Kamloops, where the civic motto is Salus et Opus (health and wealth). The announcement was the first Friday policy event for Premier Gordon Campbell since winning his third term on May 12.

The B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Contractors Association was announced as the conference sponsor because its president Jack Davidson wants "safe, drug-free work environments." VANOC construction executive vice-president Dan Doyle is listed as an honorary member.

The first workplace death in the buildup to the 2010 Games was on June 12, 2006. Blaster Gary Michael Greer, 45, was killed in an explosives mishap on the 10 km Callaghan Valley Road construction site. The road links Highway 99 with the $120 million Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan. Yes, that's the place where the International Olympic Committee and VANOC won't let women ski jump next February.

Greer's employer Murrin Construction was fined $216,000 by WorkSafeBC for gross negligence. The WorkSafeBC investigation said "the expected level of impairment as outlined in the toxicology opinion may have influenced the blaster's ability to make clear decisions and exercise sound judgments."

Murrin is not listed on the Road Builders' website.

VANOC ignores passing of master architect Erickson

Great Vancouverite Arthur Erickson died May 20. The world-renowned architect was 84.

Erickson, assisted by protege Nick Milkovitch, designed the two flagship buildings by the seawall on Athletes Way at the Southeast False Creek Olympic Village. Erickson's biggest local work is the Robson Square complex, including the Law Courts. Robson Square is undergoing renovations and will be known as GE Plaza during the 2010 Games. A new outdoor public ice rink will form the centerpiece of the B.C. government hospitality site and non-accredited media centre.

Erickson was an early supporter of Vancouver's Olympic bid. He even appears in VANOC's own Celebrate the Possible corporate video. Fast forward and freeze frame it at the 01:20 mark. That's Erickson beside an image of one of his masterpieces, the famed University of B.C. Museum of Anthropology.

VANOC issued a news release May 13 to congratulate Premier Gordon Campbell on his re-election. There was no news release issued after Erickson's passing. Vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade neglected to respond to my request for an official VANOC comment on Erickson.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

May 2007 vs. May 2009

What a difference two years and four days makes.

On May 16, 2007, the city-owned complex that VANOC calls home on Graveley Street in east Vancouver was surrounded with temporary fencing. Behind the barricades were dozens of Vancouver Police officers carrying batons and wearing no smiles. Some had barking, fang-baring dogs on short leashes. Others were on horseback. B.C. Ambulance Service paramedics were on standby for blood, bruises and broken bones.

The reason? The Anti-Poverty Committee vowed to get in and disrupt the VANOC board meeting where directors were supposed to consider whether to open up to public scrutiny.

The APC, led by David Cunningham (where is he now?), was a small but loud group that day. Instead of remaining to protest on an unfenced patch of grass, Cunningham, fellow APC leader Anna Hunter and their followers marched east to Boundary Road.

They blocked traffic, chanted “homes not Games,” waved a “no Olympics on stolen native land” banner, read the names of VANOC directors, chanted “shame” and then dispersed before the post-board meetings news conference began inside.

The police, paramedics and fence rental company must’ve enjoyed the no sweat payday.

The VPD was in face-saving mode after Cunningham and bandana-wearing artist/activist Gord Hill slipped through police lines and jumped on stage at the Feb. 12, 2007 countdown clock unveiling outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. Noisy protesters also drowned out a children’s choir and politicians’ speeches at the March 12, 2007 city hall Paralympic flag-lighting.

The legacy of those three incidents remains. Major VANOC media events are highly controlled and publicized with little advance notice. The official one-year countdown event -- a major come-one, come-all public celebration in other Olympic cities -- was a high-security, invitation-only show for only 1,200 people inside a corner of the vast Richmond Olympic Oval on Feb. 12, 2009. Taxpaying Olympic fans were told to stay home and watch it on TV.

VANOC didn’t become more transparent that day in May 2007, despite a news release that said it would. Governance committee chairman Rusty Goepel dismissed calls to follow the example set by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. The board could not function, he said, in a “fishbowl” with people and the press in the same room as directors. This reporter suggested observers need not be present, because a webcam and microphone could easily satisfy the public’s right to know and protect the board from distraction.

“We didn’t think of that,” said surprised chairman Jack Poole.

Fast forward to May 20, 2009. VANOC board meetings are still behind closed doors and minutes -- if they exist -- aren’t published. The VANOC headquarters still has no Canada, British Columbia or even Olympic flag outside. The only sign that says Vancouver 2010 is a frosted logo on the ground floor glass door. Beijing’s Olympic committee had a five-storey logo and banners down the sides of its tower.

There were no fences, no cops, no dogs, no horses and no paramedics when the VANOC board met for the third of six 2009 scheduled get-togethers. The patch of grass the APC so briefly occupied two years earlier now has green picnic tables and a volleyball net. While streams of VANOC employees went off-site for coffee and to chat about who knows what, some stayed to bump and set over the net under the rays of May. Looks like fun. Wonder if they’d let the media join in?

Inside, reporters were ushered not into the atrium, where news conferences are normally held. For the first time, the post-board meeting news conference was in the boardroom itself. The same place where decisions were made and mostly kept secret.

Federal Tory-appointed francophone director Jacques Gauthier left to catch a flight, leaving only Poole to join CEO John Furlong and newly promoted deputy CEO Dave Cobb for the news conference. (Poole eventually left early from the news conference after handing a scribbled note to vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade, leaving no directors present at the news conference about the directors' meeting.)

The never boring, always good for a quote Poole declared management is “in a pressure cooker environment” because of the recession and rapidly approaching Games. He couldn’t have been more honest.

Beyond the mutual chuckles about the day’s Toronto Star story comparing the Olympic torch to a joint, one could’ve cut the air with a knife. Especially when this reporter asked about three matters for which VANOC did not apparently rehearse. My question about B.C. Place Stadium’s latest safety troubles was as unwelcome as the answers were evasive.

An April 9 report by WorkSafeBC found workers charged with keeping the Vancouver Olympic stadium air-supported roof aloft were ill-trained, thus jeopardizing workplace safety at the most important Olympic venue of all. B.C. Place is hosting the opening and closing ceremonies and medals presentations. Three billion viewers are expected via worldwide TV and the Internet next February. Most images they will see of Vancouver 2010 will originate from B.C. Place.

Emcee Smith-Valade passed the microphone to workforce executive vice-president Donna Wilson who passed the microphone to CEO John Furlong. Not one offered anything of substance or anything to indicate they had actually read the report. Furlong did not answer the key question about whether VANOC had even discussed the matter with stadium management.

Finally, Cobb interjected. “OK Bob, we’re going to cut off your question.”

The big announcement at the news conference was that 150,000 tickets to all events, including some for the B.C. Place ceremonies, would go on sale to Canadian residents on June 6. I can understand why bothersome questions about worker safety at B.C. Place can be so inconvenient in a time of need.

The ticket sale could fetch a much-needed $40 million to $50 million. With sponsors Nortel in bankruptcy and General Motors coasting in that direction, VANOC must cherish any money saved or money earned. Never before has an organizing committee, in North America at least, operated in such an environment of economic upheaval. There is evidently no playbook for this once-in-a-generation game.

It almost makes those 2007 protests seem insignificant.

Monday, May 18, 2009

RCMP's Olympic logistics centre on False Creek flats

The Commercial Drive crowd won't like this.

The Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit's logistics operations support centre will be a short drive from the free-thinking and left-leaning Drive where anti-2010 graffiti and vandalism is not uncommon. The address, included in a request for proposals issued May 15 for rental, installation and removal of shelving and racking, is building #3, 577 Great Northern Way in Vancouver.

The shelves, by the way, must be no higher than eight feet from the floor, and "the system shall be of sturdy, heavy duty construction with a load capacity of 3300 lbs. per bay and a minimum shelf capacity of 330 lbs. UDL. Shelves and uprights shall be constructed of high quality, bright galvanized steel."

The RFP does not say what the shelves will hold. Bids are due May 28. Installation needed by June 15.

Timeline in the evolution and secrecy of the 2010 Olympic security budget

Jan. 22, 2003: Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games Security Operations Financials Concept source of $175 million original security budget.

July 6, 2007: B.C. public safety deputy minister David Morhart, 2010 Winter Games Secretariat CEO Annette Antoniak and federal officials given $466.12 million estimate by RCMP Asst. Comm. Roger Brown and Pacific region chief financial officer Robert Jorssen. PowerPoint presentation says "mid-November 2007: target date for public disclosure of validated security costs." Same communications strategy conveyed in a July 12, 2007 RCMP presentation to Treasury Board Secretariat.

Note the date: July 6, 2007 was the day associate deputy minister of Public Safety William Elliott was announced as the first civilian commissioner in RCMP history, which dates back to 1873. Public Safety deputy minister Suzanne Hurtubise, co-chair of the 2010 security committee, was absent from the meeting. Hurtubise was on the search committee that recommended Elliott for the job.

July 16, 2007: Briefing note by Insp. Alain Duplantie and Jorssen to RCMP commissioner William Elliott: "The new and largely preliminary estimate ($466M) is up considerably from the originally approved $175M security budget... this estimate is based on a comprehensive security package that covers all outstanding security gaps and issues, some of which may not be the responsibility of the RCMP."

That briefing note also said "key personnel" from Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit, VANOC and RCMP headquarters "will meet during the week of July 23 to review deployment numbers, examine opportunities for efficiencies and integration with VANOC, and determine and validate baseline resource requirements."

Note the date. July 16, 2007 was the day Elliott was sworn-in as RCMP commissioner.

July 26, 2007: CBC reveals a Sept. 9, 2005 RCMP "Financial Resource Gap" document that says $175 million insufficient.

Aug. 14, 2007: CTV reports RCMP Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit chief Bob Harriman pushed/jumped out of his job. RCMP news release on Aug. 15, 2007 says Harriman's departure from the post was a mutual decision with RCMP superiors. "He was not fired, nor did he quit," the news release said. "There is no connection (to the Olympic security budget), and the timing is purely coincidental." (In other words: nothing to see here, move along.)

Oct. 24, 2007: RCMP announces hiring of Bud Mercer as the new V2010 ISU chief, "chosen from a shortlist of candidates by representatives from Public Safety Canada and BC’s Police Services Division of the Solicitor General’s Ministry, as well as the RCMP and the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Winter Games."

Nov. 6, 2007: Brown, Mercer and Jorssen update Vancouver 2010 security committee with total RCMP budget estimate of $490.3 million.

July 22, 2008: federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day admits to 24 hours “it’s going to be more than 175 (million dollars).”

Oct. 9, 2008: Day tells Vancouver Sun during federal election campaign that the budget would be more than $400 million and less than $1 billion.

Feb. 19, 2009: New Public Safety Minister Peter van Loan announces $900 million overall security budget for 2010 Games, including $491.9 million for RCMP.

Behold, the B.C. Place Stadium Olympic cauldron hatch?

Workers at B.C. Place Stadium -- Vancouver's Olympic stadium for the 2010 Winter Games -- dug a pit in the concrete floor at the centre of the building. A source inside the stadium tells me it's about 20-feet deep with pistons inside so as to lift a small platform.

Could this be the key to solving the riddle of the keeping the Olympic flame under the air-supported dome? Could this be the site of the cauldron devised by Bombardier's clever aerospace and rail engineers?

One of the few elements that ceremonies executive producer David Atkins has confirmed is the substantial inclusion of Canadian aboriginal creativity. The potlatch is the traditional Coast Salish ceremonial feast. Four Host First Nations CEO Tewanee Joseph has often described the 2010 Games as the "world's biggest potlatch." Then, by extension, B.C. Place Stadium would be the world's biggest longhouse.

Could this hatch really be inspired by a longhouse fire pit? Could the Olympic flame glow, at the heart of B.C. Place, from Feb. 12-28, 2010?

Click on the photos I shot May 13 from the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame window that looks into the stadium. What do you think?

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