Friday, December 31, 2010

Vancouver 2010: more to come

This has been an extraordinary year for Canadian sport.

But the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics were not just about sport. That is what I have sought to convey in this blog and will continue to do so as long as there are readers like you interested in the stories I have to tell.

Canada's Games. The Sea-to-Sky Games. The Games of the Great Recession. The Bailout Games. Whatever you call it, Vancouver 2010 will continue to have ripple effects from coast-to-coast-to-coast in 2011 and beyond. The costs, the legacies, the behind-the-scenes secrets. Three words: More to come. The first anniversary is rapidly approaching on Feb. 12, 2011.

The biggest, most-expensive event in Canadian history was also about politics, economics, security and culture. Will Canadian athletes remain a force to be reckoned with in winter sports or become contenders in summer sports? Is Vancouver a better place, after having held the Games? Will the city's poverty and homelessness ever be solved? What were the real costs to taxpayers? Was it all worth it?

The event ended when the cauldron was extinguished, but not the questions. Thanks again for reading and interacting.

May 2011 be a year of less fear, less greed, more peace and more fair play.

Happy New Year.

* * * * *
On the last day of 2010, I am dedicating my posts on this blog this year to Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, Minnesota bus driver Dale Roberge and my family dog, Lucky.

Kumaritashvili, 21, lost his life on Feb. 12, 2010, the opening day of the Games, during a luge training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre. Roberge, 71, died Feb. 22, 2010 while working in the Vancouver Olympic Bus Network. Lucky succumbed to liver failure Dec. 20, 2010. It was a difficult Christmas without her, but I am thankful for the kind words of friends. She was called Lucky, but I was among the lucky ones who shared 14 years with the world's friendliest dog. Consider donating to the SPCA.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Twenty questions for Vancouver 2010

An open letter to the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games:

As you fade away, after claiming a balanced $1.884 billion budget, I thought I would mark the occasion with 20 questions. This is not a game, but a last-ditch attempt to get answers. You see, the more you've tried to stonewall me and lead me astray over the years, the more determined I get. VANOC has proven time and again that its priority is to protect information, rather than share it. It doesn't have to be this way and it's not too late to be informative.

So, I have 20 more questions after the Dec. 17, 2010 news conference at the BC Hydro Customer Centre (right). Please answer to the best of your ability (and I know you are able):

1 - Why did it take so long to publish this 28-page financial report? Salt Lake 2002 organizers did their first report two months after their Games ($40 million profit). Expo 86 finances were released just over a month after the Fair ended ($349 million deficit).

2 - Why were no quarterly reports issued between Dec. 21, 2009 and Dec 17, 2010, after the organization dutifully adhered to the pledge of quarterly disclosures in the 2002 Multiparty Agreement and the May 2007 promise to citizens that the organization would be transparent?

3 - Why all the shoddy editing? Sponsor Millennium Development is referred to as "Millenium." B.C. Lottery Corporation is called "B.C. Lotteries Corporation." Jet Set Sports is called “JetSet Sports.” Certainly the correct spellings of those companies would have been boldly printed on the cheques they sent you for their sponsorship fees and ticket purchases. Assuming, of course, Millennium sent cheques and they were honoured.

4 - Why are the names of directors and senior managers missing from the report? It’s standard for an annual report to include at least the names of the board chairman and chief executive. The VANOC report doesn’t even mention Rusty Goepel or John Furlong.

Your sponsors make sure their shareholders know who is making the decisions. For example: Teck, who provided the metal for the Olympic and Paralympic medals, has a group photo of its directors on page 26 of its 2009 report, followed by brief bios.

Bombardier, who made the Olympic and Paralympic torches, lists directors, committee rosters and senior management on page 207 of its 2009-2010 annual report. The directors’ photos and short bios are on pages 20 and 21. Vancouver International Airport Authority’s board roster is on page 66 of its 2009 report, but it also does a Governance Report. Hey, there’s a certain director-at-large named Ruston Goepel whose term expires in 2010.

Those are just three examples. By not listing your names, you only breed suspicion. But if the Olympics were as successful as you’d like us to believe, they’d have certainly been there, right?

5 - Before noon on April 4, 2010, there was a paper-shredding truck number 533 from Shred-It in your parking lot, next to the low-rise building's entrance. Click the photo to the right to enlarge. What records were being picked up for shredding? VANOC, we know, was not subject to Freedom of Information or Document Retention statutes.

6 - After the B.C. Place Stadium opening and closing ceremonies, the attendance provided reporters who asked was 55,000 to 60,000. Why then only 87,769 total tickets sold for the shows?

7 - You sold 642,223 hockey tickets for $111.9 million. You scored! How many of those were in luxury suites? Because of the recession, you had a hard time selling what you thought would be an easy sell and there were bargains. A box that holds 20 people was going for $2,800 and up. You even published the price list.

8 - Salt Lake 2002 organizers disclosed the full attendance sport-by-sport. The grand total was 1,525,118 tickets sold. Will you kindly tell us how many tickets were sold for each sport or at each venue? We know hockey, but you haven’t told us about figure skating, short-track speedskating, long-track speedskating, curling, snowboarding, freestyle skiing, alpine skiing, ski jumping, cross-country skiing, nordic combined, bobsled, skeleton and luge.

9 - The British Columbia and federal governments gave $187.8 million to VANOC operations. When the business plan was published May 8, 2007, John Furlong said clearly: "The $1.63 billion Games operating budget is funded entirely by the private sector, it is not funded by the taxpayers... and although we're projecting a balanced budget I think we all hope that we will leave a positive financial legacy." Relive the moments Furlong said that in the video below.

There is no "positive financial legacy" - aka "profit - but do tell us when the government bailout began. You really did need it because the May 2007 business plan incorrectly assumed "the Canadian economy will remain relatively strong, with no recession, through Games time."

What is the full and complete tally for all payments made by all government partners, including tickets, advertising, etc.? There were five municipal, nine provincial and three territorial partners.

10 - The $50 million increase in the transportation budget to $173.5 million was poorly blamed on changes in accounting. Yet I see the same language in the May 2007 business plan that I see now in the final report. Bus systems cost $92.6 million after a lengthy dispute with Gameday Management Group was finally resolved in mediation in early November. Was the cost of transportation underestimated in 2007?

11 - The Sustainability Report tells us that the posting of the ethics commissioner's final report to the VANOC website didn't happen because the website is no longer being updated. Could you send a news release via Canada Newswire, post one on 2010 Legacies Now or inform the media on your list about this report?

12 - The Sustainability Report says on page 33: “VANOC required that all directors file, at least annually, a Declaration of Interest by Directors. Senior managers were also required to file such documentation, only once, in 2008, though with a requirement that they proactively update their original filing if their circumstances changed.”

On page 35 it says: “Survey of senior management regarding compliance completed in Q4 2009 for report to audit committee on December 14, 2009. On May 31, 2010, final survey completed with remaining senior managers for report to audit committee at its meeting in early June 2010.

"Declarations of Interest by Directors completed in 2009; exceptions included two directors, whose declarations were received in 2010. VANOC’s procurement team was provided with updates about entities in which directors declared an interest.”

Could you please tell us about the directors, management and the entities in which they have interest? The London 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority, which fulfills a function similar to VANOC, posts what's called a "register of interests" on its website below the biography of each director.

13 - The Sustainability Report stops at April 30, 2010, yet major environmental works were continuing at venues into the summer. The Paralympics, you must remember, ended on March 21. Remediation at Hillcrest, UBC, Cypress, Creekside and the Callaghan Valley was still active. Giant piles of straw existed at Cypress in late May. Biologists you hired to trap mice seen escaping from delivery trucks in February were applying to the provincial government for permits in June. Why, if work was not finished, is this Sustainability Report the last? The previous sustainability report spanned Aug. 1, 2008 to July 31, 2009.

14 - Previous Sustainability Reports included information (though never enough to be satisfactory) from Intertek Group regarding the offshore manufacture of souvenir goods. Page 93 of the previous report even shows 79 factories -- including 57 in China -- were used to make Vancouver 2010 items. You even mentioned on a few occasions that factories had not been in compliance, but were given a second chance. Why, then, is the final report missing this information?

15 - The Sustainability Report is 138 pages. The Games final financial report -- which covers Sept. 30, 2003 to July 31, 2010 -- is just 28 pages. Why is one so fat and the other so thin? By comparison, the report for the fiscal year that ended July 31, 2009 was 31 pages.

16 - There was a $2 million loss because criminals used stolen credit card numbers to buy thousands of tickets on the Fan-to-Fan Marketplace. VANOC was the first organizing committee-to sanction a ticket scalping website. Each transaction was subject to a 20 percent fee (10 percent charged the buyer and 10 percent charged the seller). What was the total net revenue for this site and how many tickets were sold via this channel?

17 - These Games were supposed to be a step forward for Canadian aboriginals. The Four Host First Nations were instrumental in the success. You paid $3.5 million for their pavilion, yet the number of aboriginals on staff seems rather low. The report says only 1 percent of people on staff "self-identified" as being aboriginal. Could you convert that percentage to a number? We already know there was no full-blooded aboriginal athlete competing for Team Canada.

18 - The Olympic Truce was a delicate issue for VANOC, because the Canadian government is spending billions to put our men and women in harm's way in Afghanistan. There have been 154 deaths, including 24-year-old Cpl. Joshua Caleb Baker of Edmonton, who died at a weapons training range near Kandahar on Feb. 12, 2010, opening day of the Games. When VANOC did its part for the Olympic truce, it decided to send sports equipment in so-called spirit boxes to communities in the Canadian Arctic. What became of that program? That information is not reflected in the report.

19 - Certain expensive works were undertaken at B.C. Place Stadium that were never contemplated in the bid stage. The Sustainability Report laughingly claims there were “limited modifications to an existing facility.” In fact, the bid book said no extra money would be spent on capital upgrades there. Things changed when the roof ripped and collapsed on Jan. 5, 2007.

A new roof-heating system by Genivar was installed and in the weeks before the Games, technicians from Riggit were situated on top of the roof around the clock. Oh, there was that time less than a month before the Games when they went for a coffee break and the roof nearly collapsed under rain because the lighting and sound equipment pulled the roof. Then, after the Games, the roof was taken off for replacement. The material isn't biodegradable. Another roof replacement took place at Canada Place. Same material.

Certainly those weren't VANOC construction projects, but VANOC was the most important tenant in both buildings since 1986. Why do those not warrant mention in the Sustainability Report?

20 - Two words: Executive compensation. Four words: Who made how much? I also wonder how many people were working for each executive and how many were given extended leaves for illness or pregnancy.

I kindly look forward to a reply with complete answers to the above questions at the earliest convenience. Do take some time and enjoy the egg nog and yule logs while you ponder the answers. Of course, I do gladly accept plain, brown envelopes without return addresses (Mine is 554 E. 15th Ave., Vancouver, B.C. V5T 2R5).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

--Bob Mackin

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

WikiLeaks rewinds to the 1-year countdown to Vancouver 2010

Just 25 minutes after the precise moment the one-year countdown to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics passed, a memo was sent from the United States Consulate in Vancouver providing an overview of preparations for the Games. The Guardian published the memo on Dec. 21.

The key passage in Consul General Phillip Chicola's memo deals with information that the RCMP was struggling to balance its Olympic security duties with the responsibility of enforcing drug laws. The memo specifically mentions marijuana investigations, but Metro Vancouver is the setting for a battle among gangs to control cocaine and crystal meth trafficking. Late 2008 and early 2009 was an especially deadly period.

The RCMP denies the Olympics compromised drug investigations, but it isn't denying that officers were seconded to the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit.

Thursday, 12 February 2009, 18:25
EO 12958 DECL: 2/11/2019
CLASSIFIED BY: G. Kathleen Hill, Political/Economic Chief, US Consulate Vancouver, State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

US diplomats discuss the financial strain the 2010 Winter Olympics put on its host city. It says there are signs the Vancouver security strategy is feeling the pinch of "economic and personnel shortages", but the Canadians are "sensitive to the issues of sovereignty".

Read related story
1. (U) Summary: The global economic crisis and modern demands of post 9/11 security are proving to be huge challenges for the organizers of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The competition and special events venues are complete and already hosting test events, but the financial crisis surrounding the Olympic Village has consumed local politicians and media (and was probably the determining factor in the recent Vancouver Mayoral election). Finances are also looming large over the Games' security. Original estimates of C$175 million have now ballooned to a figure somewhere between C$400 million and C$1 billion. While the Province and the Government of Canada (GOC) continue to negotiate who pays what, other costs, in the form of police and military resources, are beginning to be born across the region. The impact may reach far beyond the Games, with significant reductions in policing activity and investigations nationwide. Because of the economic downturn, the Vancouver Olympics Committee (VANOC) has already announced modest changes to save money, but is still promising to stage spectacular Games - within available financial resources. End Summary.

Ready to Compete, But Not to Sleep

2. (U) Vancouver is set to host the Winter Olympics in February 2010. Optimism over the event remains strong, as evidenced by the recent phase one ticket sales for Canadians only, which sold out completely in just a few hours and left many subscribers with only a small portion of requested tickets. However the global economic crisis is creating headaches not envisioned when the city bid and won the right to host the Games. Controversies abound over the "true" costs of the Games. The Olympics were used by Vancouver and British Columbia to jump start planned but expensive infrastructure projects such as the C$600 million upgrade of the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler and the new C$2 billion Canada Line rapid transit system. Critics like to lump these costs in with the more direct Olympics costs, emphasizing an overwhelming burden placed on the BC">BC and Canadian taxpayer.

3. (U) Amidst the criticism, VANOC has shown remarkable financial astuteness, beginning serious revisions of the Games' operating budget in spring 2008, well before the serious specter of a global financial crisis became evident. All competition venues, one of the main areas of responsibility for VANOC, are completed or will be completed on time and within budget. VANOC recently announced a revision to the budget, increasing the final price tag on operating the Games by C$127 million to a total of C$1.76 billion. According to VANOC's Executive Vice President, David Guscott, the Organizing Committee has obtained enough corporate sponsorship and ticket and souvenir sales to bring it within sight of this budget, lacking only about C$30 million to reach its goal. But it has had to make sacrifices to keep on target, such as decreasing hiring and making changes in operational plans, including eliminating a nightly medal awards ceremony in downtown Whistler that has that community's residents feeling betrayed. Despite the financial challenges, VANOC's revenue from ticket sales and corporate sponsorship remains on target and the organization appears weQ placed to meet its obligations.

4. (U) The same cannot be said for the C$700 million-plus Olympic Village, a key element of the Games and a major responsibility of the City of Vancouver. The Village is being developed by a private corporation on prime waterfront land provided by the city. It's slated to become a mixed use residential/commercial area after the Games with high, middle and low-income housing. The developer ran into problems in September, when more than C$100 million in cost overruns threatened to stop the project. Then Mayor Sam Sullivan and the City Council held a series of closed door meetings where they developed a plan for the city to provide guarantees so a loan could be obtained to cover the increases. The secretiveness of the financial arrangements became a major factor in the December city elections, which saw Sullivan's coalition lose the mayoral seat and all but one city council position. In addition, the controversy caused the city manager, a senior deputy and the chief financial officer to lose their jobs. In December, just after the elections, the primary financial backer of the project, U.S. company Fortress Investment Group, announced it would not deliver the final C$458 million in capital to complete the project due to financial losses from the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The new mayor, Gregor Robertson, found himself in the same hot seat, dealing with the possible collapse of the project. In the end, he sought, and was granted, special provincial legislative authority for the city to seek loans to cover completion of the project. Olympic critics have had a field day with the problems, promoting stories of taxpayer losses in the billions, and a combination of substantive factors led Moody's and Standard & Poor to place the City of Vancouver on credit-watch status. Real estate analysts have been more optimistic, asserting that the city could make a considerable profit on the deal down the road and highlighting the fact that it is the last undeveloped piece of waterfront property in downtown and very desirable. The city paid only C$50 million for the land through its Property Endowment Fund, a longterm investment fund estimated to be worth almost C$3 billion. Even if the development makes only half of the originally estimated profit, the fund could cover the immediate loss without affecting the city operation's budget and, as a longterm investment, it could still be a win for the city. VANOC's Guscott was confident the city would meet its part of the deal, presenting a completed, functioning Village on time. In VANOC's view the project has been caught in an unfortunate cross between municipal elections and the downturn in the economy, with the financial problems severely overblown.

Security - But at What Price?

5. (U) Perhaps the biggest loss will be taken by the province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada (GOC) which will bear the brunt of cost overruns in the security of the games. The Integrated Security Unit (ISU) was set up to manage the Games' security. It is headed by the RCMP, with representative from all major police, intelligence and defense entities. Original estimates on Olympics security were in the C$175 million range. But now no one is willing to give a number. The provincial Finance Minister, Colin Hansen, will only say it's somewhere between C$400 million and C$1 billion. Hansen admits he was surprised at the estimates coming out of Ottawa for overall security. A special committee was established early on to determine B.C.'s and the GOC's shares of incremental costs above basic policing. The ballooning nature of the security structure and programs has left the committee bogged down in "endless line-by-line micro-analysis," according to Hansen. Consequently the Province offered up a final, comprehensive plan on who pays what which is in Ottawa for approval. Realistically, as the ISU tests and refines its plans, the costs continue to be fluid and the final numbers will not be known until after the Games are completed. BC">BC originally estimated its overall Games' costs, including infrastructure, venues and security, at approximately C$600 million. Minister Hansen announced on February 9 that the new security numbers will force the province well over that mark. With 2009 a provincial election year in BC">BC, the cost of Games' security is becoming a major issue for the ruling BC">BC Liberals, who are hoping a reasonable agreement with the GOC will soften the financial blow.

6. (C) Beyond monetary costs, the Olympics are beginning to create critical resource costs. Law enforcement representatives working at the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver are reporting that more and more of their contacts are being pulled to work on Olympics security issues. A DEA agent was told by one of his RCMP counterparts that by September all regional drug agents could be working on Olympics, with no investigations ongoing until March 2010. Already the RCMP has all but stopped marijuana-related investigations. RCMP is also undergoing severe belt tightening with new, stricter enforcement of overtime rules. To highlight the Canadian constraints, an RCMP officer told us that the Italians put 30,000 Carabinieri in Turin for the 2006 Winter Games and the RCMP has less than 30,000 officers in all of Canada.

Big Business, But no Room at the Inn

7. (U) The 2010 Olympics are presenting significant financial opportunities for area residents and businesses. In addition to the massive infrastructure and construction projects, VANOC is procuring millions of dollars in services and support for the Games. And Canadians are not the only recipients of these contracts. U.S. firms have managed to win several major contracts thus far to provide everything from tents and portable toilets to tickeQprinting, dining services and flags for the games.

8. (U) One big concern for many in the tourist industry, and for those of us working the Games for the USG, is the question of accommodations. The International Olympics Committee requires a host city to provide between 20,000 and 25,000 rooms for just the Olympic "family" alone (sponsors, officials, etc). This leaves little room for the spectators who come to watch the Games and the visiting dignitaries. IOC rules give only five rooms to the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) for official delegations from participating countries. If delegations, and their support and security, are more than five people, it is incumbent on the delegation to find its own additional accommodations. Consulate General Vancouver has already secured accommodations for the agencies participating in the Olympics Coordination Office and the Joint Operations Center but would like to make an urgent plea for notification as soon as possible of the composition of the official delegations to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympic Games. (The Paralympics are much smaller and accommodations will be more readily available.) Accommodations are scarce to non-existent now and the sooner we know the make-up of delegations, the more likely we will be able to provide suitable rooms within reasonable distance of the major venues.

9. (SBU) Comment: It should be noted that in every meeting we have with Olympics officials the first question is "Who is heading your Opening Ceremonies delegation?" Although the official invitation comes from the NOC, in this case the U.S. Olympic Committee, to the VIP, most Canadians involved are hoping that President Obama and his family will attend the Games. The President is immensely popular in Canada and given the Games' proximity to the U.S. there are high expectations that the President and his family will make an appearance.

10. (C) Proximity is also on our minds as we look at overall Olympic security. With the Olympics being held within 30 miles of the U.S. border there are already numerous areas where security is a shared responsibility, such as our pre-existing shared responsibilities over airspace through Northcom. The Canadians are doing an excellent job in developing their security strategy, but we are starting to see some small signs that they are feeling the pinch of economic and personnel shortages. They are sensitive to the issues of sovereignty and we have been reminded repeatedly that they are responsible for the overall security of the Games. Our Olympics Coordination Office and Olympics Security Coordinator are working very closely with VANOC and the ISU and closely monitoring developments with an eye toward any possible further assistance we can provide should the needs arise. End Comment.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Another chapter in VANOC history about to close

One step closer to the end of the secretive, government-funded agency that organized the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Here's the official media invitation:

Media Advisory – VANOC Board to review final financial and sustainability reports on Friday, Dec. 17

VANCOUVER, Dec 13 /CNW/ - The Board of Directors for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) will meet in downtown Vancouver on Friday, Dec. 17th. The meeting will include a review of the final financial report for the Games and receipt of the final sustainability report. Following the meeting, and assuming their approval, VANOC will hold a media briefing to release the two reports, provide comment and answer questions.
Media are welcome to participate in the media briefing in person or by teleconference. If attending in person, please advise VANOC by Wednesday, Dec. 15th at to help organizers ensure adequate space and technical preparations are in place.

When: Friday, December 17, 2010
Approximately 11:30 am (Pacific Time)

Timing note: (Please note that the media briefing might start at this time or possibly later based on the duration of the meeting.)

Where: BC Hydro offices
333 Dunsmuir Street
Vancouver, BC
Media registration will be in the lobby at street level

By phone: 866-226-1792 or 416-340-2216

Who: Rusty Goepel, VANOC Board Chair
John Furlong, VANOC CEO
John McLaughlin, VANOC Chief Financial Officer
Terry Wright, VANOC Executive VP Services and Games Operations
Ann Duffy, VANOC Corporate Sustainability Officer

VANOC would like to thank BC Hydro for providing office space for the Board meeting and news conference as part of its sponsorship for the 2010 Winter Games.

Previous reports:
Past reports that include a comparable level of details to the reports expected to be issued on Friday are available at the following links: Financial (January 2009): Sustainability (2008-09):

BC Hydro and VANOC share an interesting relationship. VANOC's executive vice-president of construction, Dan Doyle, became the Crown corporation's chairman last year. In May 2010, VANOC deputy CEO Dave Cobb became the BC Hydro CEO. One of his first hires was Renee Smith-Valade, the VANOC vice-president of communications. Smith-Valade, in turn, hired ex-VANOC communications staffers Chris Brumwell, Greg Alexis and Jennifer Young.

VANOC has made Canadians wait until the last Friday before Christmas -- when shopping and holidays are top-of-mind -- to make its first financial disclosure since Dec. 21, 2009. The Games operating budget is expected to break-even, but with a great deal of unforeseen help from taxpayers.

By comparison, the B.C. government released the post-Expo 86 financial report just over a month after the world's fair ended. On Nov. 17, 1986, Finance minister Mel Couvelier said the fair’s deficit was $349 million. On Oct. 9, 1987, the final deficit was reported as $336.7 million.

Other arms of the government were carrying the debt load. In March 1987, the Social Credit government disclosed that B.C. Place Corp. had a $194 million debt while B.C. Development Corp. owed $190 million. B.C. Place Corp. built B.C. Place Stadium and the Expo 86 site and was in charge of the legacy buildings the Roundhouse, Expo Centre and Plaza of Nations. BCDC backed the Whistler ski resort development.

More recently, the organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics issued their post-Games financial report on April 24, 2002 -- only two months after the Olympic flame was extinguished.

They showed a $40 million profit on a $1.39 billion operating budget.

The Vancouver Winter Games festival ended when the Paralympics closed March 21 in Whistler. The decision to withhold financial reports for so long must be rooted in VANOC's notorious fear of embarrassment. No corporation, no government, nobody waits so long to convey good news.

Except when it comes to the Bailout Games.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mayor's Mysterious Middle Kingdom trip

Mayor Gregor Robertson was the world's most famous mayor in February 2010 when he waved the Olympic flag during the Vancouver 2010 closing ceremony at B.C. Place Stadium. Throughout 2010, he has made attempts to capitalize on the notoriety. But it has only led to questions that have not been adequately answered.

It has taken months to extract information about the Mayor's trip to New York City. The bill has now reached more than $10,000.

In September, Robertson led a trade mission to China. Among the expenses I found out was that Vancouver taxpayers were charged the equivalent of $500 to plant a cedar tree in sister city Guangzhou, China on Sept. 15.

A cash receipt was included in documents supplied to 24 hours after a Freedom of Information request about Mayor Gregor Robertson’s trade mission.

Robertson and assistant Lara Honrado visited China Sept. 4-16, while chief of staff Mike Magee went Sept. 7-14 and Coun. Raymond Louie Sept. 9-16. They submitted claims for a combined $27,327.03. Expenses were to be reimbursed by the taxpayer-funded Vancouver Economic Development Commission.

The four spent a total $7,760.20 on luxury hotel rooms at the St. Regis in Beijing, Ritz-Carlton Portman in Shanghai, Sheraton and Tuan Bo Lake Hotspring Hotel in Tianjin and the Shangri-La Hotel in Guangzhou.

Taxpayers got billed $2,184 for a lunch hosted at the South Sea Forest Park restaurant in Guangzhou on Sept. 16, but the names and affiliations of attendees were not disclosed.

The city also paid the Canadian consulate in Guangzhou $1,372 for interpreter services and a photographer and $468 to hire Beijing Liangdian Photography Services for Robertson’s Sept. 7 stops in Shijiazhuang and Baoding. The website includes only seven photos from China.

Honrado, who accounted for $11,979.93 in expenses, did not respond to an interview request. Likewise, silence from Magee.

The trip included visits to the Shanghai World Expo and Tianjin World Economic Forum. Representatives of 22 companies joined Robertson on the trip. Three symbolic agreements were signed, but no contracts.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Procrastination prevails in the Olympic city

I’m forecasting a cross-Canada blizzard of information emanating from Vancouver on Friday, Dec. 17.

The Vancouver Olympic organizing committee will publish its long-overdue, post-Games financial report. (It hasn't published any financials since Dec. 21, 2009.)

The next phase in the PricewaterhouseCoopers study on Olympic economic impacts will also be released.

The annual disclosures of British Columbia legislature members will also become public, including what gifts they received during the Games.

Maybe the minority Tory government (that has hid what it spent on the Games) will join the party and finally cough up its information. City of Vancouver in April and Province of British Columbia in July told their taxpayers how expensive the Games were ($554.3 million and $925.2 million, respectively). Ottawa has been suspiciously silent on how much of your money it spent.

All this activity is coming at a time when citizens are more interested in Christmas shopping or traveling to visit loved ones or get a tan.

Timing is everything and all those who are issuing reports deliberately chose Friday, Dec. 17. That is essentially the last Friday of 2011 on which important public business will be conducted and two days after Parliamentarians begin their break until Jan. 31.

It is human nature to spread good news far, wide and fast. When the news is not so flattering, then procrastination prevails.

Politicians have parroted the line about the Vancouver Games being the most successful Olympics ever without fully quantifying their statements.

The Vancouver Games do deserve the top, golden step in Canada’s Olympic podium. Calgary 1988 gets silver and Montreal 1976 the bronze. Vancouver 2010‘s double gold in hockey and a record 14 overall for a Winter Games host are significant achievements. But the greatest ever?

The memories will inspire a new generation of Canadian athletes. Vancouver, Richmond, Whistler and West Vancouver have varying degrees of new sport and recreation facilities for all ages. The Sea-to-Sky Highway and Canada Line make it easier to move about the region. The Vancouver Convention Centre could be one of the world’s best places for mega-meetings.

Ultimately, the Games were not financially or environmentally sustainable. There were not 3.5 billion viewers, but an estimated 1.8 billion. Ticket sales fell below projections. Salt Lake 2002 organizers published financial results in June 2002, heralding a $40 million surplus for amateur sport. VANOC has waited almost 10 months. Along the way, CEO John Furlong told us there would be no surplus. The budget is expected to balance, but with at least $80 million extra from taxpayers. These were, after all, the Bailout Games.

Nor were the Games the solution to the great ripple effects of the Great Recession. A lot of people had a good time (myself included), but the party was a nightmare for some. The families of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and Minnesota bus driver Dale Roberge never got to welcome them back home to hear their stories of the Games. Instead, they hosted funerals. Drunken fights and sexual assaults were up region-wide. A woman staying aboard the Mona Lisa cruise ship for VANOC workforce was raped.

We still don’t know what conditions the makers of the famed Hudson's Bay Co. red Olympic mittens faced in their Chinese factory. There was no major legacy project to solve homelessness in Vancouver.

Torontonians should take notice and begin asking questions of their leaders -- including newly elected Mayor Rob Ford. Toronto is getting the Pan American Games in 2015. Four-and-a-half-years can go by quickly.

Multisport Games are massive spectacles that transcend sport. They are neither cheap nor easy, regardless of the season in which they're held.

Friday, December 10, 2010

GoDaddy Furlong master of his domain

John Furlong at the 2010 Winter Olympics closing ceremony on Feb. 28, 2010 in Vancouver.

John Furlong is now the master of his domain.

On April 26 -- just over a month after the Paralympics closed -- the VANOC chief executive registered with GoDaddy. Interesting choice: he is a daddy five times over and a granddaddy to 10.

On Dec. 7, Nanaimo-based Array Studios launched to promote Furlong's upcoming book launch and his speaking engagements. Furlong's book Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics that Changed a Country is out Feb. 11, 2011, the day before the first anniversary of the Games' opening.

Furlong is going headlong into the world of motivational speaking. If you've got the gift of the gab, might as well use it.

The Nanaimo connection is notable. Furlong is a former parks and recreation director of the Hub City where he promoted the So You Think You're Tough amateur boxing exhibitions.

Furlong hired Sandra Hamilton as his business manager. She is a senior partner with the Twentyten Group, a firm populated with former VANOC marketing executives and headed by Andrea Shaw. The Gastown-based Twentyten Group shares office space in 375 Water Street with VANOC, which moved there Nov. 1.

The location is, coincidentally, one floor below where the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation was in 2003 when the International Olympic Committee chose Vancouver as the 2010 host city.

VANOC is scheduled to finally release its post-Games financial report on Dec. 17. The taxpayer-backed organizing committee's finances have been secret since Dec. 21, 2009.

Olympics boss master of his domain

John Furlong at the 2010 Winter Olympics closing ceremony on Feb. 28, 2010 in Vancouver.

John Furlong is now the master of his domain.

On April 26 -- just over a month after the Paralympics closed -- the VANOC chief executive registered with GoDaddy. Interesting choice: he is a daddy five times over and a granddaddy to 10.

On Dec. 7, Nanaimo-based Array Studios launched to promote Furlong's upcoming book launch and his speaking engagements. Furlong's book Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics that Changed a Country is out Feb. 11, 2011, the day before the first anniversary of the Games' opening.

Furlong is going headlong into the world of motivational speaking. If you've got the gift of the gab, might as well use it.

The Nanaimo connection is notable. Furlong is a former parks and recreation director of the Hub City where he promoted the So You Think You're Tough amateur boxing exhibitions.

Furlong hired Sandra Hamilton as his business manager. She is a senior partner with the Twentyten Group, a firm populated with former VANOC marketing executives and headed by Andrea Shaw. The Gastown-based Twentyten Group shares office space in 375 Water Street with VANOC, which moved there Nov. 1.

The location is, coincidentally, one floor below where the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation was in 2003 when the International Olympic Committee chose Vancouver as the 2010 host city.

VANOC is scheduled to finally release its post-Games financial report on Dec. 17. The taxpayer-backed organizing committee's finances have been secret since Dec. 21, 2009.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

WikiLeaks goes to the Olympics

Among the 251,287 United States Department of State diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks are numerous about the Olympic Games. You will see them first on WikiLeaks, but I will endeavor to reproduce many of them on this blog and offer analysis.

The Olympics used to be solely about sport, but are now more about politics, economics and security.

Here is how the U.S. Embassy in Brasillia, Brazil analyzed the 2016 Rio de Janeiro bid committee's win in Copenhagen, where the International Olympic Committee rejected bids by Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago.



DE RUEHBR #1439/01 3581308
R 241307Z DEC 09


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/24
SUBJECT: 2016 Rio Olympics - The Future is Now


CLASSIFIED BY: Lisa Kubiske, Charge d'Affaires a.i.; REASON: 1.4(D)

¶1. (C) SUMMARY. Brazilians greeted the October 1 announcement that the 2016 Summer Olympics were awarded to Rio de Janeiro with an outpouring of national pride, a party on Copacabana beach and a sense of relief that the country is gaining some long overdue recognition as a regional and international leader. Politically, the GOB is looking to capitalize on hosting the games to solidify Brazil's image as the leader of South America and as an emerging global player. Internally, the IOC decision is being portrayed as a validation of President Lula's administration. The GOB understands that it faces critical challenges in preparing for the 2016 Games and has shown greater openness in such areas as information sharing to cooperation with the USG as a result - even going so far as to admit there could be a possibility of terrorist threats. The Lula government has taken care to associate Lula's chosen candidate to succeed him in 2011, Dilma Rousseff, with the IOC decision and expects the euphoria engendered by Rio's selection to translate into higher poll numbers for Rouseff. There remain, however, significant problems, that could impact the success of the Games , especially in terms of addressing security concerns. The Brazilian leadership remains highly sensitive to perceptions of USG interference and has not begun preparations for international coordination. In addition to preparing for the commercial opportunities the games will afford U.S. businesses, the USG should look to leverage Brazilian interest in an Olympic success to progress in bilateral cooperation in such areas as security and information exchanges. END SUMMARY.

¶2. (SBU) Amid the celebrations of the October 1 selection of Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Olympics there runs a strong current of relief among Brazilian leaders. President Lula described the feeling as "the end of the street dog complex," the idea that Brazil somehow does not deserve the status of an important country. Ministry of External Relations (MRE) Coordinator for Sporting Cooperation Vera Alvarez noted that being the first South American country chosen to host the Games was seen as evidence that the world (or at least the IOC) recognized Brazilian primacy on the continent and regional leadership. Alvarez also echoed a view expressed commonly in the Brazilian press: Rio's competitors had been Chicago (the United States), Madrid (the EU) and Tokyo (the Pacific Rim), and its victory must therefore reflect Brazil's perceived comparative success in dealing with the global financial crisis. "The IOC appreciated that we were the first to emerge from the crisis," she said.

¶3. (SBU) Asked what Brazil's goals for hosting the Games were, Alvarez repeated President Lula's assertion that these would be the "games of South America" and said that the GOB was planning to open its borders to its neighbors to encourage attendance by sports fans from all over the continent. Presidential Chief of Staff and likely presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff said the Games will provide opportunities for a younger generation of Brazilians and said the government would make numbers of tickets available to the youth of South America. Alvarez likened the effect of hosting the Games on Rio to that of the arrival of the Portuguese court in 1808, when Rio went from coastal town to the capital of an empire. She then went on to promise that the 2016 games would be the "greenest" Olympics yet and would improve Brazil's international image with their success.

¶4. (C) Though Brazil has some experience with major events such as the Pan Am Games, the Olympics will be an unprecedented challenge. The great question mark concerning Rio's selection has been the security situation, a question brought to the fore on October 17 as a gunfight between drug gangs resulted in the shooting down of a police helicopter (Ref c). MRE contacts have been defensive on security issues, telling Mission Brazil members (often without being asked) that the IOC clearly did not consider Rio's security situation inadequate. Apart from the standard MRE response, however, GOB officials have shown an understanding that security will be a serious concern for the Games. MRE political military advisor Marcos Pinta Gama suggested that the pending General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) could be followed by another arrangement to share security information for the Olympics. Alvarez went so far as to admit that terrorists could target Brazil because of the Olympics, a highly unusual statement from a government that officially believes terrorism in Brazil does not exist. The SENASP (the National Secretariat for Public Security, Ministry of Justice) has been put in charge of security for the Olympics and will be coordinating the GOB's overall on-the-ground security efforts. Rio authorities, meanwhile, expressed confidence in the impact the Favela Pacification Plan (Ref d) will have on the city's overall security. The Plan - which involves evicting drug traffickers, establishing a sustained police presence, and providing basic services to favela residents - envisions the "pacification" of over 100 favela communities by 2016 (Ref e). Internal Politics

¶5. (SBU) Even before the selection of Rio, the Lula government was hard at work to turn the decision to political advantage. Lula's chosen candidate to succeed him, Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff, was at his side in Copenhagen for the selection, an appearance which Sport Minister Orlando Silva declared "will help Dilma's candidacy." Lula's highly visible role in lobbying for the Games is portrayed domestically as international validation of his administration and recognition of Lula as a key world player. Indeed, the reality is that much of the actual planning and preparation for Rio's bid was done by the Rio state and municipal governments. However, Rio authorities counted on Lula coming in over the top and providing the international prestige needed to win. In a recent meeting, Rio governor Cabral explained to Consul General in colorful detail Lula's tireless lobbying efforts in Copenhagen. According to Silva "The opposition will just have to swallow Lula's leadership." By claiming credit for Rio's victory, Lula seeks to bolster his already high approval ratings and then use his popularity to build support for Dilma Rousseff in the October 2010 Presidential election. As a first step, the Administration has announced a special Olympic Program for Acceleration of Growth (PAC) under Rousseff's leadership. One of Lula's signature initiatives, the PAC is a plan to use government resources to leverage private sector investment in infrastructure ( ref a). While PAC implementation has been extremely slow, the program has a positive image among Brazilians, and by putting Rousseff in the lead, Lula helps build her up as the candidate to prepare Rio for the Games.


¶6. (C) Being awarded the Olympics is seen as a major victory for Brazil in what Brazilians see as a struggle for the recognition they deserve. "We are finished being the country of the future and are the country of the present," Rousseff stated. The risk is that the GOB may choose to rest on its laurels and not get started on the work of planning the Games - Games that Lula has already dubbed a great success. Despite Rousseff's affirmation that "we have learned from the Pan Am Games," coordination for the 2014 World Cup, especially on security, lags. Attempts by Embassy personnel to establish contact with the Ministry of Sport have been refused. The GOB has articulated a vision for the Games - an Olympiad based on South American culture, openness to youth and environmentally friendly that played well in terms of domestic politics as well as appealing to the IOC. At this point, however, though state and municipal planning is moving ahead steadily, there has been little practical planning at the federal level for implementation of this grand vision. NOTE: Rio's challenges in building infrastructure and paying for the Games will be reported septel. For example, to make events more accessible to the South American public, Lula has said the GOB will distribute free tickets to the working classes and the youth of the continent. MRE admitted that there had been no thought given to how this would impact on ticket revenue projections or security, or to how the potential flow of youthful spectators across Brazil's borders would be managed. Rio also faces a host of challenges building infrastructure and paying for the Games. Lula has similarly decreed that Brazil will win more medals at the Rio Games than in the past, but there is no program in place to enhance the development of elite athletes.

¶7. (C) Brazil has shown it can host large-scale events such as the 2007 Pan Am Games, but the Olympics will present a different kind of challenge. While rejoicing in Rio's victory, the current GOB, with less than a year to go in office, seems to be taking a relaxed approach to preparation. The UK Embassy reports they have had less contact with the GOB on the Olympics than we have, even though they are eager to share lessons learned from initial planning for London 2012. While the very weak Ministry of Sport currently has the nominal lead on coordinating Olympic preparations, Mission anticipates the next Administration may organize preparations differently, perhaps through the Ministry of Planning or Casa Civil, or even establish a new agency specifically to coordinate Olympics infrastructure and security planning and logistics. Although the police and military have begun planning, the reality may well be that serious efforts await the next government, which will take office January 2011.

¶8. (C) Articulating the big picture goals and leaving details to the last minute may be a typically Brazilian approach, but could lead to problems. The delays we expect from the GOB in planning and executing the preparatory works for a successful World Cup and Olympic Games will almost certainly place greater onus on the USG to ensure that necessary standards are met. Mission Brazil has already begun coordinating among USG agencies in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, and has begun forward planning for the significant increases in personnel, facilities, and resources that managing U.S. involvement in the Games will require. Given the high degree of interest in the Olympics among Brazilians and the high value Brazil places on conducting a successful Games, there are already opportunities for the USG to pursue cooperation toward the Games, and to use such cooperation to further broader USG objectives in Brazil, including increased cooperation and Brazilian expertise on counterterrorism activities. As we look ahead, taking advantage of the Games to work security issues should be a priority, as should cooperation on cybercrime and broader information security (see ref B for additional areas for potential cooperation). We should also look to build in offers for dialogue on preparations for major sporting events as part of all high-level contacts with the Brazilians. KUBISKE

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sorry Edmonton, no Expo for you.

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore in January at the site of Canada's $10 million Olympic Pavilion in Vancouver. Moore owes Canadians an explanation: how much more of their money was spent on the 2010 Winter Olympics?
Junior Sport Minister Gary Lunn (right) with Canadian skiing legend Steve Podborski. If James Moore was Quatchi, then Lunn was Mukmuk. He, too, owes Canadians an explanation about how much of their tax dollars were spent at the Olympics.

Brace yourself. It's coming and it won't be pretty.

I'm talking about the report on how much the Government of Canada spent on the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

The Province of British Columbia and City of Vancouver have reported on how much taxpayers' dollars they spent on the Games. Ottawa has been a laggard. It disclosed the G8 and G20 summits cost almost $860 million when it made a massive Friday dump of documents in the House of Commons on Nov. 5. Those events took place in Ontario in June. The Olympics were in February and Paralympics in March. Why are the Tories sitting on the numbers? What do they have to hide?

Dumb question...

Opposition parties that pander to voters in populous Ontario screamed bloody murder at G8 and G20 costs before the riot-marred Toronto summit happened. Here's what Liberal leader Michael "Iffy" Ignatieff wrote to Auditor-General Sheila Fraser. NDP Public Safety critic Don Davies also complained. Those same opposition parties have been silent on the Olympics. Seems their leaders are too afraid to question an event that delivered Canada a record 14 gold medals, including Sidney Crosby’s golden goal heard from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

They should be ashamed. They are abrogating their duties to citizens. Patriotism is about more than waving a flag and cheering at the national winter pastime.

Why am I so sure that the costs of the 2010 Winter Games will be a shock to taxpayers?

On Nov. 22, Heritage Minister James Moore wrote to Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel to tell him that Ottawa would not fund a bid for Expo 2017. Without the $706 million needed from the federal government, the $2.3 billion exposition won’t happen.

“This amount doesn’t take into account the full costs of security for this three month event nor the full costs of the Federal Government's obligations to host an event of this size,” Moore wrote. “Costs for the Federal Government for this project could easily eclipse $1 billion, and that is a financial risk we are not prepared to take at this time.”

Mandel was understandably upset. You might say he went ballistic.

Surely if the Vancouver Olympics were as successful as the spin doctors want us to believe, then why wouldn’t Edmonton’s Expo be a wise investment? (Say this with your tongue planted in your cheek, if you know what I mean).

Moore’s ministry led the $1.25 billion federal commitment to the 2010 Winter Games. That was the total pre-Games price tag for federal taxpayers. Moore’s ministry will eventually have to deliver the bad news to Canadians.

The recession-rocked Vancouver 2010 Games were the 21st century’s answer to Montreal 1976. Hope you enjoyed the party. You paid dearly for it.

If you have any doubt about the federal government's reluctance to talk about how much it spent on the 2010 Winter Olympics, read the following.

It's why I award the federal Conservatives a gold medal in the uniquely Canadian sport of freestyle, long-track evasiveness. Spokesthingys for both Heritage Minister Moore and Junior Sport Minister Gary Lunn were equally unhelpful in fulfilling my most recent request.

Enjoy this email string.

From: "Bob Mackin" []
Sent: 11/17/2010 10:37 AM EST
To: Vanessa Schneider
Subject: media request


Is Minister Lunn  available today for a short phone interview to talk about the delay in publication of the post-Games financial report by VANOC and to discuss when the post-Games report on federal investments in the Olympics and Paralympics will be published?


Bob Mackin

Subject: Re: media request
Date: November 17, 2010 7:47:26 AM PST
To: Bob Mackin

Hi Bob,

I understand that you have also contacted the department in this regard. They will provide the answers to your questions.



Vanessa Schneider 

Directrice des communications/Director of Communications

Cabinet de l'Honorable Gary Lunn/Office of the Honourable Gary Lunn

From: "Bob Mackin"
Date: November 17, 2010 7:48:19 AM PST
Subject: RE: media request

Minister Lunn is the elected official who provides oversight. I am only interested in speaking with him, unless a deputy minister or David Robinson is available for an interview.

From: "Bob Mackin"
Date: November 17, 2010 7:36:18 AM PST
Subject: media request

Is Minister Moore available today for a short phone interview to talk about the delay in publication of the post-Games financial report by VANOC and to discuss when the post-Games report on federal investments in the Olympics and Paralympics will be published?

Bob Mackin

Subject: Re: media request
Date: November 17, 2010 7:45:05 AM PST
To: Bob Mackin

Hi Bob,

I understand that you have also contacted the department in this regard.
 They will provide the answers to your questions.


Codie Taylor

Press Secretary / Attachée de presse

Office of the Hon. James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official
Languages /
Cabinet de l’hon. James Moore, Ministre du Patrimoine canadien et des
Langues officielles
Ministère du Patrimoine canadien | Department of Canadian Heritage
Gatineau, Canada K1A 0M5
Téléphone | Telephone 819-997-7788
Télécopieur | Facsimile 819-994-1267

Gouvernement du Canada | Government of Canada

From: "Bob Mackin"
Date: November 17, 2010 7:49:15 AM PST
Subject: RE: media request

Minister Moore is the elected official who provides oversight. I am only interested in speaking with him, unless a deputy minister or David Robinson is available for an interview.

What prompted my recent attempts to interview Ministers Moore and Lunn? The woefully inadequate response from their Ministry's communications office.

From: on behalf of
Sent: Fri 22-Oct-10 3:06 PM
To: Bob Mackin
Subject: Media call regarding final report on Olympic and Paralympic

Good afternoon,

The answer to your inquiry is attached below. Please confirm receipt of this email.

Thank you
Geneviève Myre

The Federal Secretariat's Final Report will be an overall synopsis of the Government of Canada's involvement in the Games.
The report is in its final stages of development and will be posted to the Canadian Heritage website in due time.
The attached Fact Sheet lists the Government of Canada's financial contributions to the 2010 Winter Games.

Service des relations avec les médias | Media Relations Service
Direction générale des communications | Communications Branch
Ministère du Patrimoine canadien | Department of Canadian Heritage
Gatineau, Québec CANADA K1A 0M5
Téléphone | Telephone 819 994-9101
Sans frais | Toll-Free 1 866 569-6155 (au Canada seulement | In Canada Only)
Télécopieur | Facsimile 819 994-1444
Téléimprimeur (sans frais) 1 888 997-3123 | Teletypewriter (toll-free) 1 888 997-3123
Gouvernement du Canada | Government of Canada

From Bob Mackin on behalf of Bob Mackin
Date 22/10/2010 10:09 PM
Subject RE: Media call regarding final report on Olympic and Paralympic

Could you please define "due time?"

Does "due time" mean next week, next month, next year? If you can only give me a ballpark estimate (for example: end of October, mid-November or first week of December), then that would be reasonable.

I would prefer if you could attach an estimate to "due time." Otherwise, the reader/taxpayer does not know what "due time" means.

Date: October 26, 2010 12:26:16 PM PDT
To: "Bob Mackin"
Subject: RE: Media call regarding final report on Olympic and Paralympic

Good afternoon,

The answer to your inquiry is attached below. Please confirm receipt of this email.

Thank you
Geneviève Myre

The Final Report is a compilation of material from over 30 federal departments and agencies and is a large undertaking.
The Government of Canada wants to ensure the report is accurate and complete before posting it. Therefore, no specific deadline has been set. We will contact you when the report is available.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

With Glowing Hearts, they'll take out the trash

VANOC directors and executives meet behind closed doors in a boardroom at BC Hydro in downtown Vancouver Nov. 17. The 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics organization has delayed its post-Games report to Friday, Dec. 17, 2010. The last time it disclosed financial information was Dec. 21, 2009.

In the news business, we call Friday "Take Out the Trash Day".

Governments have a nasty habit of releasing information that's destined to be unpopular or controversial on a Friday.

Government propaganda departments think that a Friday news release or news conference means unflattering information has little time to be digested and debated before the diversion of the weekend when news demand goes down.

Dubious and dastardly? Absolutely.

It's a common tactic that was explored by National Public Radio in 2005. It's employed by the British Columbia government under Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell.

B.C. Place Stadium's $365 million renovations were announced Jan. 9, 2009 in a news release. That was a Friday. So was Oct. 23, 2009 when the price was hiked to $458 million.

March 26, 2010 was when the government announced the province's biggest casino would be built west of B.C. Place Stadium. If you guessed that was a Friday, then jackpot!

Premier Gordon Campbell and finance minister Colin Hansen announced the Harmonized Sales Tax on Friday, July 23, 2009. The public uproar over the lack of public consultation was slow to begin, but did it ever snowball!

In Ottawa on Friday, Nov. 5, 2010, the federal Conservative minority government unleashed hundreds of documents showing the $860 million cost of the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario.

The latest to employ the "Take Out the Trash" strategy is VANOC.

The Vancouver Olympic committee held a post-board meeting media teleconference Nov. 17, 2010 (which was a Wednesday). Chairman Rusty Goepel, CEO John Furlong and CFO John McLaughlin (see above photo) refused to answer any substantial questions about dollars or numbers. That's because they delayed the release of the post-Games financial report yet again. Remember, this is an agent of the government whose fiscal year ended July 31.

So mark Dec. 17 on your calendar. Guess which day of the week that is?

Yep, it's a Friday.

VANOC was battered by a recession after pretending a recession of any magnitude would not happen. Now it's going way beyond overtime to clean up the books and trying to claim that they're just double-checking numbers and letting auditors audit. Truth be told, it's a bigger job than they anticipated and the costs much greater. By comparison, Salt Lake 2002 issued a financial report in June 2002.

Not only is Dec. 17 a Friday, but it's the last important business Friday of 2010.

They could have decided to "Take Out the Trash" on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, but that would have entailed one of the few remaining VANOC staffers to actual work.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nov. 14: Expensive Stadium Day in Canada

Inside B.C. Place Stadium during a Nov. 5, 2010 tour. On Nov. 14, 1982, the stadium's original roof was inflated. Nov. 14 is also a significant date in the history of Montreal's Olympic Stadium and Toronto's SkyDome, now known as Rogers Centre.

What do B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, Rogers Centre in Toronto and the Olympic Stadium in Montreal have in common?

They are all expensive, taxpayer-funded stadiums that have hosted Grey Cups and Nov. 14 is a key date in their histories.

By the time its public debt was retired in 2006, Montreal's "Big Owe" cost $1.47 billion. The French-designed retractable roof never worked. The tower that was key to the design wasn't finished when the Summer Olympics opened July 17, 1976. The Quebec government finally gave up in 1987 and shut the lid. The Montreal Expos moved after the 2004 season to Washington, D.C. The Montreal Alouettes only venture indoors for playoff games and it's closed during winters for fear of the roof collapsing under snow.

On Nov. 14, 1975, the Quebec government seized control of the financing and construction of the Olympic Stadium and created the Regie des installations Olympique. Montreal's Olympics became synonymous with corruption and cost overruns. It's a big reason why the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics had lukewarm support from British Columbians (until Canada started winning gold medals in February 2010).

Because of the grand faux pas in Montreal, Vancouver's B.C. Place Stadium became Canada's first successful indoor stadium. It employed an air-supported fabric roof design. On Nov. 14, 1982, the fans were turned on as Premier Bill Bennett witnessed his "bubble" come to life. On March 8, 1983, Queen Elizabeth II invited the world to visit for Expo 86, but the $126 million building's official opening was June 19, 1983.

The roof was deflated on May 4, 2010 and a $458 million retractable system is under construction. A fall 2011 reopening is anticipated. The first and only event confirmed under "Campbell's Crown" is the Nov. 27, 2011 Grey Cup.

Toronto's SkyDome one-upped Vancouver with its $580 million, white, egg-shaped retractable roof beneath the landmark CN Tower that opened June 3, 1989. In 1985, Ontario Premier Bill Davis projected a $130 million cost.

On Nov. 14, 1991, Ontario's NDP government privatized the stadium in a deal with eight companies for $110 million cash and $270 million in debentures. Rogers Communications eventually paid the bargain basement price of $25 million in 2004 for the home of the Toronto Blue Jays.

The 1976 Olympics opened and closed at Olympic Stadium. B.C. Place was the Olympic stadium for the 2010 Games. Rogers Centre is where the 2015 Pan American Games will begin and end.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

They can run, but they can't hide!

The Landing at 375 Water St., in Vancouver's Gastown district. What's left of VANOC is now headquartered on the fourth floor within the office of Twentyten Group.

Or, more correctly, VANOC can move out of its City of Vancouver-owned headquarters at 3585 Graveley St., reappear 8.1 kilometres west in a downtown Vancouver heritage building, refuse to tell an inquisitive reporter the address while said reporter successfully learns the address.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games has moved to 450-375 Water Street. Chief financial officer John McLaughlin and one other full-time employee, thought to be finance manager Gemma Bayley, are working in The Landing offices of Twentyten Group. It's a marketing agency opened last spring by Andrea Shaw, the ex-vice-president of marketing for VANOC.

Funny that VANOC's final act will take place in The Landing; Premier Gordon Campbell always said the Olympics would be a launch not a landing.

How long the "McLaughlin Group" will be in Gastown is undetermined.

"We will have people doing VANOC work for as long as it takes to complete everything and wind the corporation up," McLaughlin said via email. "That time frame cannot be specifically estimated as it depends as much on others as it does on us."

VANOC is expected to hold its last, major board meeting this month and publish a post-Games financial report sometime before the end of the year. It hasn't published any financial report since last December, despite requirements under the Multiparty Agreement of 2002 and a May 2007 pledge by VANOC to be transparent and accountable. Mediated talks with charter bus contractor Gameday Management Group are Nov. 8-10 over what Gameday says is a $10 million dispute.

For those keeping score at home, the Twentyten Group offices are one floor down from where the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation was headquartered in 2003 when the International Olympic Committee voted Vancouver to host the 2010 Games. The bid corporation became the organizing committee, which hosted the Feb. 12-28, 2010 Winter Olympics and March 12-21, 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler.

The Landing is owned by the McLean Group, headed by well-known BC Liberal backer and CN Rail chairman David McLean. Among the tenants at The Landing are aforementioned Canadian National and McLean Group, Intrawest Leisure and Travel Group and Intrawest Resort Club Group, Hyphen Communications and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

VANOC was at its old headquarters on borrowed time. The lease was to expire May 31, but last January VANOC cleverly negotiated a five-month extension to Oct. 31. It agreed to sell used furniture and IT equipment originally worth $9.1 million to the City of Vancouver, its landlord, for $2.32 million. The $310,000 portion of IT equipment was a line item in a June 22 capital report to council, but the remaining $2 million-plus and $50,000 free rent was kept secret until I broke the story on Oct. 29. You can read the Freedom of Information documents I received here.

What did Mayor Gregor Robertson have to say?

"My understanding is it's a staff level decision, that procurement especially was within the jurisdiction of our staff, it wasn't a council decision," Robertson said Nov. 1. "It looked like a good deal on the face of it, keeping furniture in use. We didn't handle the details of that, we delegate issues like that to staff for decision. It looks like a good one in terms of the savings."

Rewind to Dec. 8, 2008 when Robertson took the oath of office and delivered a swearing-in speech that included this promise:

"As your city government we will lead with a bold vision. We will set clear targets, measure success, and be accountable for our actions.

"That accountability must extend to every aspect of City Hall. When the city uses your money, you have a right to know where it’s being spent, and what it’s being used for. When leaders fall short of that standard, public confidence is shaken.

"Over the next three years, we will rebuild that confidence, and ensure transparency, accountability and public debate at City Hall.

"Politicians do not always live up to that responsibility, I know. But I also know that there were literally thousands of people voting last November for the very first time.

"My commitment to them, on behalf of every member of my team, is that I will not let you down on making City Hall more open and accountable."

Robertson's first full day in office was Dec. 9, 2008, when he was a guest at the last VANOC board meeting of 2008. I can't tell you what went on behind those closed doors. VANOC board meetings have always been closed to the public and no minutes are published. I can only presume that Robertson drank the VANOC Powerade (that Coca-Cola product) and came under the five-ring spell.

Y'know, the one where public money is spent and the public is the last to know about it?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Five-ring disappearing act continues


There are even more signs of Vancouver's fading Olympic glow after the mid-October removal of the Omega Countdown Clock from the Vancouver Art Gallery's north plaza.

VANOC, or what's left of it, is packing up and moving out of Campus 2010 (above). Graham Construction is already on-site to convert the two civic-owned office buildings into the new home of the Vancouver Police Department. The city paid $24 million in 2005 to buy the complex after VANOC begged city hall for help.

VANOC, I was surprised to learn, got a five-month rent holiday. It secretly sold the City of Vancouver its head office furniture and various pieces of IT equipment for $2.3 million in a Jan. 31, 2010 contract that came after a Jan. 8, 2010 in-camera report to city council.

The whole package, VANOC claimed, was originally worth $9 million. Not a bad deal to get such a discount, but what about announcing the transaction to the taxpayers? I scoured council agendas and minutes and saw no reference to what's essentially another bailout for cash-strapped VANOC. City manager Penny Ballem (who doubles as a VANOC director) didn't respond with any comment.

The future consideration in this trade was a five-month lease extension for free. VANOC was originally supposed to hit the road May 31, but instead doesn't have to disappear until Hallow'een.

Abracadabra, VANOC will magically reappear somewhere in downtown Vancouver on Nov. 1. The notoriously secretive organization won't tell me where it's going.

"In fact, there are very few people now communicating with VANOC as almost all of the accounts have been closed," said vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade. "John (McLaughlin, chief financial officer) and his team are ensuring that those who need to know how to reach VANOC are aware."

My guess? Somewhere paid for with your tax dollars. I'll report it when I know it because you have a right to know.

Meanwhile on Cypress Mountain. Yes, the troublesome snowboarding and freestyle skiing venue thanks to El Nino.

The snow cannons are poised for freezing temperatures to make snow and get the 2010-2011 season underway. But it'll be without a snowboarding halfpipe. The site of American Shaun White's gold medal performance for the ages is gone. So is the daredevil jump at the climax of the snowboardcross and skicross course. That's where North Shore boarder Maelle Ricker was the first Canadian woman to win gold on home snow. She did so in the shadow of a set of green Olympic rings perched on Black Mountain.

Guess what? They're not there anymore. But you won't have to look far. They're now across from the Cypress lodge's front door, closer to Mount Strachan where no Olympic events took place (below). Sure, it'll be more accessible for tourists with cameras, but the rings would have been better left on the former field of play.

In case you're wondering, the piles of straw are not left over from the Olympics. They are part of a Hollywood North film shoot called Final Destination 5. There are, however, small quantities of straw still visible around Cypress that are remnants of the 1,000 bales imported from Oregon and Washington before the Games. Before the Games, VANOC staff at Cypress witnessed mice scurry out of the delivery trucks!


Monday, August 9, 2010

Don't mess with Texas

Cowtown Charters of Fort Worth, Texas is one of the "myriad" companies owed money for providing people and vehicles to Vancouver's Olympic Bus Network. President Bill Pippin says his company is owed $135,000, but can't be paid until VANOC pays its bus systems contractor Gameday Management. That doesn't look like it'll happen any time soon, because the sides are at an impasse in talks to reconcile accounts.

First, the Aug. 6, 2010, Statement from Terry Wright, Executive Vice President, Services and Operations, VANOC re: payment for 2010 Games Bus Services

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) provides the following information in response to assertions and allegations that have been made through correspondence and to the media relating to bus services at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Until now, we have trusted that our contractor, Gameday Management Group Canada Inc. would resolve claims with its contracted companies for the provision of buses and drivers. However, it seems apparent that the bus industry believes that unpaid invoices are VANOC’s responsibility, therefore we must respond.

In summary, we regret that bus suppliers have encountered financial hardship however their disappointment, frustration and payment demand should not be directed to VANOC.

We trust the following outlines and clarifies our position and we would respectfully request all those with outstanding bus services claims’ cooperation in directing their further communications to Gameday.

**VANOC declines comment on the quality of Games time bus service except to note that the suggestion that the transportation system was an unqualified success is a superficial analysis without knowledge of all of the facts.

Pre-Games Background:

VANOC engaged Gameday to procure and manage the 2010 Games bus system. Gameday’s responsibility was to assist with system design, to contract with bus companies for buses and drivers, allocate buses to Games transportation systems and manage the commissioning of the buses, the dispatch of buses to allocated routes, the scheduling of drivers and the decommissioning of the buses following the service period. Gameday was not acting on VANOC’s behalf but rather assumed the full outsourcing of these Games operations. In return, VANOC committed to paying Gameday a significant management fee. When Gameday entered into a contract with a third party bus provider, it was obligated to advise VANOC of the total cost associated with the services procured, and VANOC approved installment payments to Gameday that would keep Gameday whole for the costs of approved third party services.

During the period prior to the Games, Gameday informed VANOC of the costs associated with all of their contracted services. VANOC’s contractual entitlement to Gameday was established by the provision of this information by Gameday and its approval for payment by VANOC.

Post Games Background:

Following the Games, the process commenced of reconciling VANOC’s final payment obligations to Gameday with Gameday’s final payment obligations to their bus suppliers. Gameday’s claimed costs in relation to their bus provider contracts far exceeded what had been approved by VANOC, and VANOC determined that most of the increased costs were due to billing errors, unapproved and/or un-communicated charges and charges that VANOC had specifically disapproved. VANOC communicated to Gameday that Gameday would be responsible (out of their considerable management fee) for satisfying committed payments to bus providers that had not been approved by and/or communicated to VANOC.

VANOC Paid All Undisputed/Approved Claims to Canadian and US Bus Companies:

VANOC was not and is not a party to the individual bus provider contracts and accepts no responsibility for Gameday’s supplier arrangements to the extent they were not approved by VANOC as part of its contractual arrangement with Gameday. Nonetheless, VANOC has worked tirelessly with Gameday over the past several months to resolve as many billing discrepancies as possible. In addition to the absence of change orders or approval documentation, a lack of detailed Gameday records (or any records in some instances) have made this a very complicated and frustrating process, but VANOC has considered all Gameday claims in good faith. In many cases, VANOC has paid amounts to Gameday or directly to bus providers (as directed by Gameday) despite the absence of any change order or other evidence that payment for the applicable services were approved by VANOC or that such services were even delivered by Gameday.
VANOC has paid ALL undisputed amounts relating to the provision of services by Canadian and US bus companies to Gameday.

The suggestion that VANOC continues to hold back funds in relation to undisputed accounts is simply false. VANOC had also paid 87.5% of the value of each approved contract sum by January 2010. Importantly, to our knowledge, Gameday only paid 75% of the contract sums to the bus suppliers prior to the Games meaning that 50% of the amount of the bus supplier holdback was in Gameday’s possession prior to the Games. A considerable amount of the US supplier money is also being held by Canada
Revenue Agency in respect of non-resident witholding taxes. VANOC doesn’t know if Gameday has forwarded to the bus suppliers the 12.5% payment that it has been holding since January, nor whether they have forwarded to the bus suppliers the more recent payment by VANOC of the undisputed balance for the bus supplier services. If Gameday has continued to hold these funds pending resolution of its dispute with VANOC, the delay and prejudice and considerable inconvenience
that bus suppliers have been experiencing is clearly attributable to Gameday.

All Outstanding Bus Service Claims Are With Gameday, Not VANOC:

Throughout the period of Gameday’s services, VANOC was advised that only three US-based bus suppliers had been engaged. We have since learned that large portions of the fleets delivered by the three identified carriers were sourced from myriad subcontractors. To the extent any such subcontractor has not been paid, it should look to the company that engaged it for payment, and that entity should in turn look to Gameday to satisfy its claim. VANOC accepts no responsibility to engage in payment discussions with companies with which it has no contractual relationship (and which in many cases were not even known to VANOC until a claim for payment was raised).

Finally, Gameday is capable of satisfying all supplier claims from the management fee committed by VANOC, the majority of which has been paid. Again, we regret that bus suppliers have encountered financial hardship however their disappointment, frustration and payment demand should be directed to Gameday.

Below is Pippin's reaction to a statement issued Aug. 6 by VANOC executive vice-president Terry Wright:

It seems VANOC wants to pretend that the Games did not exist. I was there and personally witnessed the mistreatment and poor management of VANOC. VANOC seems to believe their performance was un-blemished. This is quite wrong.

All the stories are about the money and ignore the other blatant failings of VANOC which caused the need for more transportation. It seems now they are pretending this did not happen. I provided one of those last minute bus additions. I saw the untrained short time college students they hired who had no knowledge of transportation they put in charge at all levels of supervision. These people were ignorant of transportation and basically just stood around. This one critical mistake caused the bus service to under perform.

They would not allow Gameday to bring in seasoned bus people. Oh, that’s right keep the money in Canada. International Trailways put an all call out for help (unpaid) from their organization for volunteers to help fix the problems caused by these untrained workers.

Bus owners and dispatchers rushed to Canada to save the event. Save the event they did despite the incompetence of VANOC (Gameday runs these events all the time).
It seems if they are boxing up or throwing away evidence of their poor performance.

The phone system provided to the drivers did not allow calls outside of network and the cell phone rates made it prohibitive for them to use their own phones effectively making them prisoners. I provided cell phones to my supervisors that allowed me to communicate with them. I spoke with them many times after 7 pm PST to hear of their plight. They always were waiting for VANOC to provide their bus needs for the next day which caused the dispatchers to be late providing schedule times for the drivers. Many had to stay awake waiting for a call that came as little as 30 minutes before their shift transportation. Some had to stand to board a bus 2 hours before their shift and wait (standing) 2 hours after their shift to get back to their domicile. This was because VANOC did not care about safety instead cutting back on transportation to save money.

Canadian hours of service are basically a mirror to US standards with some minor variations. RCMP obviously was instructed to ignore the event and all the violations. Not one of my buses or drivers were stopped and inspected for violations throughout the events.

Shuttle service had to be increased because the drivers did not have enough hours of service to complete their runs (maybe this is some of the extra expense).

No food was provided for the early shift. If you came to work early you got a breakfast coupon and no where to spend it. By the time you got off duty it was almost dinner but not quite. Same situation in reverse at night. No one promised great food but sometimes there was no food. One bottle of water per shift was all VANOC would allow. My contract calls for my drivers to be fed and sheltered each day from the time they left their home base until the time they returned. No food was provided when they had a day off. Most were trapped in their hotel room without any means to find food. Later on some shuttles were provided to allow the drivers to buy food in bulk (maybe some more of the extra expense).

Some of the staging areas were better than others. I had to provide microwaves and refrigerators so my people could eat. International Trailways started providing extra food and water they paid for out of their own pockets. The drivers could not afford to buy food because the prices were boosted to gouge the foreigners. My drivers were told if they deviated from their appointed routes to find food or water or for any other reason they would be apprehended by the RCMP.

As they did throughout the games and are still doing now they are pretending their performance was flawless when in fact they caused all the problems that required extra equipment. They now seem to be saying there is no record of any extra buses ordered during this event.

My contract called for 90% of my funds to be held in escrow. The article you sent clearly admits to this not happening. I am told my contract is a mirror of all upstream of me. VANOC does not mention that the Paralympics bus contracts were not secured until after the Olympics were over.

Where is this money? Tony Vitrano at Gameday is now saying that VANOC wants to only pay for days the buses were in service. This is not what my contract stipulates. No bus owner in their right mind would send buses that far away without a secure revenue stream. There would not have been an Olympics if Bus owners had any inkling how irresponsible VANOC would be in their administration from before the event until this day.

Can anyone believe that a contract could be written that basically states that company “A” will provide uncertain and unlimited services for a fixed price? Of course not! VANOC had a budget for transportation and hired Gameday to provide a certain amount of equipment. Let’s see the contract between VANOC and Gameday. I am told the extra buses ordered have been reimbursed.

What specifically is VANOC talking about that would justify holding back 12.5%? Does Gameday allege they were asked to provide more services than VANOC will acknowledge?  The big mistake everyone made was trying to make up for all of VANOC’s shortcomings. We do this in the bus business. It is called customer service. Most times we do not even get a thank you. In this instance we are being told not only were the efforts not appreciated but actually in some ways did not happen. Basically a swift kick in the butt!

My company sent 13 coaches with 26 drivers 2,400 miles one way to help make the Olympics a success. Gameday has nothing to gain as this is what they do. If bus companies found out that Gameday was acting not in good faith Gameday would be out of business. VANOC is out of business. An easy conclusion can be drawn. Gameday has nothing to gain here except moving on to the next event. VANOC keeps all they steal from the bus companies and gets put back in the general treasury.

A bigger question would be why VANOC paid for the sorry quality of all the food they provided. Oh, sorry they were Canadian companies. VANOC is a public company. Let them prove what they say by showing payments made to Gameday. That would be a little too real wouldn’t it? Could it be possible that there was a 12.5% failure rate that caused money to be withheld to that extreme? Absurd also!  Let the public entity be specific publicly about what the short falls are.

And then there is the CRA. How can they justify keeping our money? Oh, that’s right it stays in the Canadian coffers. We were allowed to file a waiver for moneys paid after the waiver was accepted. Why was the waiver not extended to cover the entire event? Why did VANOC not counsel Gameday that this would be an issue? Oh, that’s right the money stays in Canada. My bus company brings about 2,000 tourists to Canada where they stay for at least a week. Do you know how many of these companies that are unpaid bring tourists to Canada each year? Maybe we should set up our tours to stay in the states?

We jumped through hoops day after day for 4 months prior to the games to send help to Canada to make these games in North America a success. From the beginning they were under staffed, disorganized and under planned making it up as the went.

There were lots of people involved that tried to help but they were ignored. They tried to tell them the problems they would encounter but were ignored. They continued to help up to the point many organizations are in jeopardy including International Trailways, Gameday and many small to medium size bus companies. I guess they think those $500,000 buses don’t have to be paid for. Oh, let’s just keep the money in Canada and scr’ the yanks.

Were you an Olympic Bus Network driver, mechanic or dispatcher? Did you work in depot catering? Tell me your story. Email

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