Saturday, September 19, 2009

Not Done Properly

Gotta laugh at the NDP.

One of the reasons why it didn't win the May 12, 2009 election was its completely inept strategy. Before the election and after the election, the NDP was quick to criticize the massive amounts of money spent on the 2010 Winter Olympics and the corresponding secrecy employed by the Liberals and VANOC.

During the election, the NDP shied away from the Olympics, the Olympic Villages and the big elephant in the corner, B.C. Place Stadium.

How do I know? I broke the story about VANOC's last-minute plea for $499,000 to pay for the one-year countdown ceremony at the Richmond Olympic Oval. I also broke the story about a WorkSafeBC report that said B.C. Place Stadium roof controllers were not properly trained to keep the air-supported roof from falling.

I tried diligently during the campaign to arrange phone interviews with NDP leader Carole James. Her people just couldn't find the time in her schedule, which is political spin code for "we don't want to talk about it with you."

I did interview deputy leader Mike Farnworth about the B.C. Place issue at the time. He understood the magnitude of the problem because it is Vancouver's Olympic stadium. He said all the right things in a genuine fashion. Who can speak out against workplace safety?

Only Liberal finance and Olympics minister Colin Hansen returned my calls during the campaign, though one could easily find fault in his answers to my questions.

So, I got my first morning giggle on Sept. 19 when I turned on CKNW and heard James talk about "learning" this week that the Liberals spent $500,000 on the one-year ceremony.

Not only did the NDP not notice that story published was during the campaign, but I received a call from NDP researcher Amy Higginbotham at the start of June for information about the fishy payment. I informed her of what I had already published.

In recent weeks, the Liberal government has announced a $2.8 billion deficit and may not be able to afford completing the $365 million B.C. Place Stadium renovations with a retractable roof. Meanwhile, more revelations of poor workplace safety have arisen after I broke a story about a B.C. Place janitor who collapsed on the job in November 2006 with a severe headache and died later in hospital. Her death was covered-up by Modern Cleaners and B.C. Place Stadium management until a worker blew the whistle in November 2006.

When will the NDP take these issues to Question Period? Or is it afraid of alienating the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union which appears to have an unusually cozy relationship with B.C. Place management? Outgoing NDP president Jeff Fox is a BCGEU director who checks his words carefully when asked about B.C. Place and all of its troubles.

And the "kneedippers" wonder why they're not in power.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A bushel of Bushes

Expect to see the Bushes at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

No, not necessarily the father and son ex-presidents.

Billy Bush hosts the syndicated Access Hollywood, an NBC Universal production that will no doubt be following the celebrities expected to show-up in Hollywood North at Games-time. Cousin Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter of "Dubya," got a new gig on Sept. 17 when she was unveiled as the newest on-air personality for NBC's Today Show.

The Today Show will broadcast at Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver during the Games. Its announcement on Aug. 12 was the highlight of an otherwise boring six-month countdown to the Games.

While he was vice-president, George H.W. Bush visited Vancouver's Expo 86. Two-term president George W. Bush did not visit Vancouver. He did open the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics and "Dubya" also attended the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Vancouver 2010 organizers are hoping President Barack Obama accepts an invitation to attend. Obama is sending First Lady Michelle to Copenhagen to support Chicago for the Oct. 2 election of a host city for the 2016 Summer Games.

Secrecy crosschecks transparency, but no penalty called.

Rene Fasel is a busy cat.

The former hockey referee and dentist is an International Olympic Committee executive board member, heads the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations and is president of the International Ice Hockey Federation. He is also the chair of the sub-committee that oversees the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

So when he was accused in May of receiving kickbacks, it made big headlines around the world. After all, the IOC has been no stranger to corruption.

On Sept. 17, the IIHF received a report from accounting firm Deloitte AG that the IIHF says clears Fasel of the allegations. Deloitte's Canadian office is a VANOC sponsor.

Here's my story.

Since then, I asked Deloitte AG in Switzerland and the Switzerland-based IIHF for a copy of the report. The IIHF press office didn't respond to me. Instead, it was Yves Vonlanthen who is administration and legal manager and assistant to the president.

"Dear Mr Mackin, Many thanks for your request. Please be informed that the report will not be published," said the Vonlanthen email.

So if the report will not be published, how is the world to know that Fasel is truly innocent of corruption?

Just asking.

2010 Olympic transparency is dead. Long live transparency.

Transparency: easily detected or seen through; characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.

Before Sept. 17, one could have successfully argued that the words "transparency" and "VANOC" didn't belong in the same sentence.

Now there is no argument.

Vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade told media about the new normal in a briefing update sent Sept. 17. It serves as the de facto obituary for transparency.

The board will meet via teleconference on Sept. 18. It was supposed to meet in-person on sept. 16.

According to Smith-Valade, VANOC board meetings are now "subject to change from time to time."

Only three are scheduled before Games-time, but board meetings will continue to be reported via news releases.

"Our website will be adjusted promptly to reflect changes in meeting dates and agendas will continue to be posted approximately one week in advance of the meeting," she wrote.

So reporters will have to become frequent visitors to the VANOC website to find out when there may be a board meeting. That will serve to inflate the visitor statistics for the Games website.

To VANOC's credit, a schedule of regular subject-specific media briefings is being developed, but those details will come another day. Topics will include weather, anti-doping, athletes villages, commercial rights management in venues, aboriginal programs, medical services, protocol, volunteer-training, accreditation and asset management after the Games.

With five months remaining until the Games, is there enough time left for all these topics? Beijing organizers held Wednesday afternoon briefings just like this. But they started one-year out.

Quarterly financial reports will continue (hey, where's the overdue report on the period-ended July 31 and the annual report? ) but venue tours will be fewer, further-between and on a case-by-case basis.

You might remember that on May 16, 2007, VANOC -- in its own words -- took steps "to increase transparency and accountability."

It rejected calls to allow the public to observe board meetings and continued its policy of issuing no minutes. It did say it would be "Hosting a media briefing following each Board meeting with the Board Chair, the CEO and other director (s) or members of the VANOC senior management team needed to elaborate on matters to be reported."

The Sept. 18 meeting will be via teleconference and the media will be allowed to call-in afterward. Gone are the face-to-face news conferences and the subsequent scrums. Voices will be heard, but faces will not be seen.

Transparency, VANOC-style, is dead. Long live transparency.

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