Friday, February 4, 2011

Vancouver Mayor not favoured in Furlong book

In happier times when the Vancouver Olympic Village reopened in May 2010 as Millennium Water, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson (left) and VANOC CEO John Furlong (Bob Mackin photo).

VANOC CEO John Furlong, in his memoir Patriot Hearts, takes shots at anyone who he thinks got in the way of VANOC and the 2010 Winter Olympics. Such as ex-NDP leader Carole James and ex-Olympics critic Harry Bains.

He also criticized the mayor of the host city, Gregor Robertson. Robertson came to power in fall 2008 and exploited the Olympic Village financing scandal that was exposed by Furlong's co-writer, Gary Mason.

On page 118:

"The new mayor didn't help by trying to play politics with the situation he inherited, making the NPA look as bad as possible in the process. He suggested that taxpayers had been left with a $1-billion nightmare. I thought it was a lot of overhyped rhetoric that wasn't particularly helpful or especially fair. In fact it would come back to haunt him a bit. By the fall of 2010, the Athletes Village was back in the news for all the wrong reasons."

Furlong doesn't mention it, but Vancouver city hall pushed developer Millennium into receivership over a $740 million debt on Nov. 17 2010, just a year before the next election.

Furlong also writes that politicians agreed to be spread out for the beginning of the torch relay hoopla in October 2009. B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell would be in Ancient Olympia, Greece for the lighting of the flame in the noonday sun. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson would be in Athens to witness the handover from the Greeks to the Canadians. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be in Victoria for the arrival in the host country.

On page 156-157, Furlong says:

“Initially everyone seemed good with this arrangement but one day I got a call from the mayor, who was freaking out about not being part of the ceremony in Olympia. He told me that Greek friends had informed him that part of the ceremony involved the passing of something or other from a representative from Olympia to the mayor of the host city. All news to me. Gregor said it was now vital he be there. He insisted on it. I was taken aback, as this change would mean more surgery to the protocol plan. 'Gregor,' I said, 'I think I would know if that was supposed to happen.' He persisted and I gave in. (The information Gregor received never was validated in Olympia.).”

Furlong thanks various politicians on page 328, but not Robertson or any other mayor.

Did you know: the Olympic torch relay was actually a five-country affair?

The flight from Athens, Greece stopped in Prestwick, Scotland because of “a problem with the plane,” Furlong wrote. It stopped in Reykjavik, Iceland for a crew change before the Oct. 30, 2009 Victoria, B.C. arrival. It even dipped into the United States when it crossed through the Peace Arch between Surrey, B.C. and Blaine, Wash. on Feb. 9, 2010.

Reality check: don't blame CTV, blame me

Premier Gordon Campbell did a lousy job of keeping secret the Olympic cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza when asked after the Feb. 8, 2010 unveiling of a wall in tribute to Poole at the Aboriginal Pavilion

From the “To err is human, to forgive is divine” department.

First the error.

VANOC CEO John Furlong’s book Patriot Hearts was written with Gary Mason, the Globe and Mail columnist who broke one of the biggest stories on the road to 2010: the Olympic Village financing scandal.

In a nutshell, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan and the NPA-majority city council decided behind closed doors -- in a meeting format officially called “in camera” -- to bail out struggling developer Millennium when Olympic Village financier Fortress Credit Corporation stopped funding the project in September 2008.

Page 117 of Patriot Hearts says:

"It really had no choice since our deal to provide the village was with the city, not Millennium... But the decision to provide the financing was made on camera and leaked to Gary Mason." 

In camera means “in chamber” in Latin, but the meeting was not on camera.

Two vowels. Side-by-side on the keyboard. Oh lord. I. O. See?

Now for the forgiveness.

Furlong wags his finger at CTV (he does a lot of finger-wagging in the book) for putting its Chopper 9 in the sky above the Vancouver Convention Centre to get aerial footage of the mysterious structure inside a big, white box. The official Canadian broadcaster of the Games showed that a cauldron was constructed on Jack Poole Plaza!

Furlong recounts the incident on page 188

“...the local CTV affiliate had somehow discovered what was inside the big wooden box. They rented a helicopter, got a shot of it while it was briefly exposed, and put it on the air. I was livid. I couldn’t figure out why our Olympic partner would want to ruin this surprise for millions of Canadians.”

Mr. Furlong, don't be so hard on CTV. The real villain was me!

I had already been tipped by a source that the B.C. Place Stadium cauldron would be used at the opening and closing ceremonies only. There would be an outdoor burner, somewhere in the city. I saw the "white box" and the very telling camera on a pole on Jack Poole Plaza. During a tour the previous week, Olympic Broadcasting Services Vancouver chief operating officer Nancy Lee feigned ignorance when I asked her about the structure. Lee is normally a font of information and a frank-talker.

On Feb. 8, I cornered Premier Gordon Campbell at the opening of the Aboriginal Pavilion where he unveiled a wall display in tribute to Poole, the founding chairman of VANOC who died of pancreatic cancer.

Here's my story that broke the secret and gave CTV's flyboys a reason to go for a spin. This is what CTV came up with.

So Furlong wags his finger at the wrong media outlet.

I’ll forgive him, even if he begins wagging his finger at me for revealing one of the Games’ biggest secrets.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

True patriot's love

Was the fancy hat part of the secret deal Vancouver cut with the Russians to win the 2010 Winter Olympics? Vancouver 2010 chief John Furlong tours Sochi World, Russky Dom

Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics that Changed a Country is in stores now. The autobiography of VANOC CEO John Furlongwas written with Gary Mason.

Sadly, it's hardcover only. Furlong and publisher Douglas and McIntyre have missed a golden opportunity by neglecting to produce an e-book. The iPad and Kindle are changing the face of the publishing industry and VANOC claimed to be sustainable. But Furlong's memoir is constructed with dead trees, albeit Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper.

Few gold medal revelations are contained in the book. A secret deal with the Russians helped Vancouver win the 2010 Games. Late luger Nodar Kumaritashvili's family was to receive $150,000 in insurance payments. Furlong is no fan of the NDP's Carole James or Harry Bains.

But there are nuggets in every chapter.

Here are things that you probably never knew about Furlong.

Chariots of Fire is his favourite film. He’s seen it 20 times. He hasn't watched the Vancouver 2010 highlights video, which includes his speeches.

He suffers from migraine headaches. "Most days it's tolerable, some days it's terrible. But it is always there, a constant reminder of a heady time in my life when it all started" (during the 1978 Northern B.C. Winter Games).

Was Canada’s national squash champion on May 2, 1986 -- the day Expo 86 opened. Expo 86 closed Oct. 13, 1986, the day after his 36th birthday. He was born Oct. 12, 1950 in Clonmel, Ireland.

Mentor and VANOC chairman Jack Poole hosted FIFA president Sepp Blatter in 2002 at his Mission ranch. Blatter came by helicopter for a steak BBQ. "We didn't ask for Sepp's vote, but we were all smiles when he told us we could count on him."

Furlong was named VANOC employee number one and paid $300,000 a year.

Cirque du Soleil was in the running to produce the opening and closing ceremonies. Founder Guy Laliberte wanted the opening ceremony’s theme to be about water and the world water crisis. Cirque eventually withdrew its bid. "We were looking for a partner, not just a contractor."

If Furlong had his way, slam poet Shane Koyczan would not have performed “We Are More” at the opening ceremony. Why? No humility and no French.

Furlong wanted Wayne Gretzky to be transported from B.C. Place Stadium to Jack Poole Plaza for the outdoor cauldron lighting in the basket on a helicopter. Security officials were not amused. Gretzky went by pickup truck.

He was raised on prison grounds: His father John was chief of the Irish jail system. Mother was Maureen. Brothers Jim, Eamonn, Brian and Terry and younger sister Rosemary, who was his closest sibling. Cousin Siobhan Roice died in an Ulster Volunteer Force Protestant terrorist bombing that Furlong wrote was on May 14, 1974 in Dublin (but the correct date of the Black Friday bombing was May 17, 1974).

His kids are Maria, John, Damien, Emma and Molly, who danced in the closing ceremony.

Patriot Hearts, however, is dedicated “To Catherine and the Canadian spirit.”

Catherine is not mentioned again until the final page of the acknowledgements.

That’s where the twice-married Furlong thanks "my dearest friend Catherine Bachand" for the "support, encouragement, compassion, love, deep loyalty and inspiration."

"Hers is a patriot heart. Thank you so much."

Bachand (below) was a VANOC employee. Furlong's executive assistant who became the head of the VANOC/Canadian Olympic Committee transition team.


Furlong appears Feb. 12 (9:30 a.m.) at the breakfast at the Vancouver Convention Centre, Chapters bookstore at Granville and Broadway (3 p.m.), Feb. 13 at the Whistler Public Library (3:30 p.m.) and Feb. 14 at Richmond Public Library's Brighouse branch (7:30 p.m.)

Putting two and two together

Last week, this blogger broke stories on how the Vancouver Olympic committee cancelled its final instalment of bonuses for certain workers and that the Department of Canadian Heritage found discrepancies in the use of federal taxpayers' funds by VANOC.

Canadian Heritage was the ministry that oversaw federal involvement with and funding of the Olympics. The October 2010-dated audit document was itself dated Dec. 8, 2010. It appeared on the Canadian Heritage website's audits and evaluation section very quietly, after Christmas... after the Dec. 17, 2010 VANOC post-Games financial report and after the Dec. 23, 2010 Government-wide Canada's Games report. The latter report did not answer a key question: how much did the feds spend?

Canadian Heritage didn't find any improprieties and made no recommendations to VANOC. But the auditors who went over VANOC books last May and June and found $10 million in accounting discrepancies that needed adjusting. They were unable to look at how ceremonies producer David Atkins used almost $500,000 because the files were in Australia.

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore was "not available" according to his press secretary. VANOC chief financial officer John McLaughlin did not respond directly to my queries about the cancelled bonuses or the Canadian Heritage audit. But if VANOC had to rejig its books after the audit, it may be reasonable that the first place it turned was the trust fund that contained those bonuses.

A trust fund that was reported quarterly in 2008 and 2009, but mysteriously not in the only report issued in 2010.

Here is the Canadian Heritage audit.

Canadian Heritage VANOC audit, October 2010

VANOC communication breakdown

The response from ex-VANOC employees that I have been in touch with has been common.

None expressed bitterness about the cancellation of the final instalment of the promised bonuses for fulfilling all work requirements. (Read more here about the surprise memo and the unanswered questions about the multi-million-dollar VANOC trust fund).

All, however, are a tad miffed that they didn't get the Jan. 6, 2011 bad news memo. They reasonably believe that what remains of VANOC is in possession of their current email address. For example, they received information about CEO John Furlong's upcoming memoir, Patriot Hearts.

This is what Renee Smith-Valade, who was the vice-president of communications, said in response to my question about the process of disseminating that Jan. 6, 2011 memo:

"As many employees as possible were informed of the change to the retention plan. The vast majority were aware well before the Games ended and John's memo served as confirmation. As you might imagine, not everyone left forwarding contact information so it may be that they did not get John's e-mail.

"There was a request in the memo to forward it on to colleagues as much as possible and to encourage those who wanted to leave accurate forwarding addresses to contact VANOC at a specified e-mail address."

You're welcome to comment below or email me directly

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Workplace safety and the Vancouver Olympics

Whenever it trotted out one of its Sustainability Reports (produced in-house, not independently), Vancouver's Olympic organizing committee boasted about its commitment to worker safety.

Its record was far from spotless. One cannot expect such a big event as an Olympic Games to be built, staged and dismantled without incident. It's just that VANOC always did a lousy job of owning up to mistakes when challenged by reporters. To err is human. To deny, delay, defer and distract is VANOC.

I learned that on Sept. 20, 2010, WorkSafeBC levied a $75,000 fine for putting workers in danger on March 24, 2010 at the Cypress Mountain temporary snowboard stadium. Workers dismantling the structure had no suitable ladders, so they had to scale poles and use the rosette connector rings as footholds. No injuries were reported, but it was enough for an inspector to recommend a category A fine. See the report below.

VANOC fined $75,000 by WorkSafeBC

VANOC distanced itself from any incidents involving other parties on projects it was not directly controlling. One of those was the Feb. 15, 2010 barrier collapse at City of Vancouver's LiveCity Yaletown in David Lam Park moments after Alexisonfire arrived on stage. One person was seriously injured.

Another happened in 2006 when a B.C. Place Stadium janitor with contractor Modern Cleaners collapsed on the job in the future Olympic stadium. She was taken to hospital where she later died. B.C. Place management did not do their duty to inform WorkSafeBC.

At least two notable deaths occurred in the lead-up to the Games on two important construction projects that were necessary to host the world.

WorkSafeBC fined Murrin Construction $216,000 after 45-year-old blaster Gary Michael Greer died during the construction of the Callaghan Valley road on June 12, 2006. Greer may have been impaired when he used improvised equipment.

Andy Slobodian, a 22-year-old apprentice, died when the overloaded mobile crane he operated toppled on the Canada Line's bridge over the Fraser River on Jan. 21, 2008. Slobodian had only 20 to 90 minutes of training. SNC-Lavalin Constructors (Pacific) and Rizzani de Eccher -- the partners in RSL Joint Venture -- were fined $233,535.58. SNC got an additional $81,808.13 fine.

Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died Feb. 12, 2010 at the Whistler Sliding Centre on a training run, but he was an athlete, not a worker.

Were you a VANOC employee or contractor who suffered a job-related injury or illness? Did you witness an incident? Contact

Monday, January 31, 2011

"Someone has to do it"

And the gold medal for Awkward Silence goes to...
That headline is the last line in this blog post and may have been the motto of one Robert Fawcett. A dog musher in Whistler, B.C. gone horribly wrong. He is now living a nightmare.

Many readers will say the nightmare is deserved because there are 100 dogs who suffered a horrible, bloody death by bullets and knives instead of humane adoption or euthanasia. Why would someone ever think of exacting such pain on another creature?

Nearly a year after the horrific death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on the opening day of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the world was horrified on Jan. 31 to learn of the slaughter in April 2010. The Olympic tourists had all gone home and the lucrative winter tourism season was over.

We now know that Canmore, Alta.-based Howling Dog Sled Tours sold 50 percent of a Whistler company with the same name to Fawcett in 2004. According to an online forum for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers, Fawcett is 38.
Outdoor Adventures Whistler had a financial stake in the company, but claims it did not order the dogs killed.

A WorkSafeBC compensation claim was filed by a PTSD sufferer. The company claims the employee and employer report was filed by the same person and that it continues to support the person.

On Dec. 27, 2010 -- two days after Christmas -- Fawcett posted these messages:

"I too feel worthless and like a piece of shit. i push away my family, friends, everyone.... you are not alone."

"I am pretty hooped in the head, don't think I will ever be the same. I'm actually just hoping I can learn a little and help motivate others who can make it!

"I'm glad to hear it. I spend a lot of time alone and being bummed. Well not bummed maybe, just wondering why I bother. I have 2 kids, great wife, and all I want to do is be alone. Friends who are trying to help, I just can't do it, can't even tell anyone why I am the way I am. Lots of people know, but things went so wrong. I honestly have to pound myself senseless to have any feelings. Alcohol doesn't even do it so much anymore...."

Fawcett was listed as a vice-president of the Kenai, Alaska-based organization Providing Responsible Information on a Dog's Environment. In the spring 2009 Mushing with PRIDE newsletter, he wrote the following.

So, You Want to Start a Tour Business?
“Whistler Bob” Fawcett, Experienced Tour Operator, Whistler Dogsledding

“Hey, Honey. I got a great idea. Let’s start a touring business with the dogs. I never thought I’d get laid off, time to put the dogs to work I guess.” Are you finding that you are saying such things? Better think long and hard about getting into the touring business before you sink too much more money into your hobby to make it a profession! For some people the transition to tour works. You can make a few bucks taking out the local 4H club or a school party. Or even head to the local ski hill a few times a year for a weekend of tours. For those of us that make a living doing tours full time, it is a tough, relentless way to pay the bills. OK, you’re not scared yet.

Here are some tips and thoughts for you to ponder.

You got into dogs to be with animals. They are the best co-workers on the planet, right? Low wages, always happy, always glad to see you. The recreational side of mushing and racing is a super way to spend time with loved ones and your troop of canine friends. You go out, do a run, have some fun. If you race, you train hard, do some races, maybe win a little money or a door prize. All in all it is a lot of fun.
Touring can also be fun, but it’s a lot different.

Tourists have expectations and they don’t know what they are most of the time. This is the hard part. You have to guess what they want, you have to guess how to make them happy. Generally, our guests are some of the most interesting and fun-loving folks you’ll find. They ask crazy questions, over and over and over and over, oh sorry. They fall off the sleds. They are Iditarod champs after 4 miles, and they are cloud nine at the end of the run having been able to put themselves in your shoes for 2 whole hours.

The tough part of touring is that you never really get to do what you want to do. You can’t train that new leader because what if he turns around and tangles up the team? You can’t go more than 8-10 miles/hour, because the sled is heavy. You have to watch your best leader dip for snow every 30 feet cause he knows your not going to do anything about it in front of the guests. You are up at the crack of dawn, plowing the road to get to the tours, grooming the trail so it is easy for the guests, “If I have to run behind the sled any more I’m not paying......” You get to feed the dogs, clean up, hope like hell your staff show up.... Sober...... You stress when the economy goes down, you stress when the snow comes late, you stress when your staff fill up your diesel with unleaded.

The Guests arrive. They are horrified at how small and skinny the dogs are. Easy enough, I go over with my Carharts and explain to them the make up of the breed. They are now horrified with me and my smell. OK, Gore-tex and a shower. You explain to them the ancient way of driving a dog team. They yell at your leaders (encouragement, but the whole tour????) the whole way and the tour slows to a crawl. You want to put the one guy in wheel, he looks like a good wheeler. And you notice that lady has open toed shoes...... How did the reservations people let that slip by? They lose their teams, they pass when you tell them not to, and they absolutely love it. Now, don’t get me wrong. After over 40,000 guests have gone out on a sled with us, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. But, there is still something to be said about mixing business with pleasure.

I got into touring as a way to spend a winter away from flying. I gained a hobby I will enjoy for my life. Many say, “ but you get to be paid to do your passion” You do get paid - when the stars line up and there is enough snow, and enough people at your resort, and the staff show up. You get paid to fix all the chewed harnesses, pay the bills, plow the road, fix the dog box (again), pay the insurance, photocopy more waivers, pay the ad bills, hire more staff, fire more staff, drive a shuttle, and maybe mush a sled now and then. There are few that can make the necessary brain switch to be able to separate the work and pleasure. And that is the hard part. Giving up what you want to do and doing what you have to do. Once you can find that fine line, you will truly have it made. But mind me, it’s a tough find.

So before you cash in the severance check, or max out the line of credit, think long and hard. Would you want to share your family with strangers day in and day out? Do you want to open yourself up for everyone to see? Do you keep your little pleasure to yourself, your one escape, the one place where no one but you judges you and your performance? OR, can you make it all work and have a little of everything like my family has found? It’s a tough road, but as they say. “SOMEONE HAS TO DO IT!”

The last word goes to the WorkSafeBC claim review. A warning: this describes the slaughter in graphic detail. It indicates that the worker had previously suffered PTSD for euthanizing dogs. One can only wonder why he did it again, in even greater numbers.

WorkSafeBC claim review, Jan. 25, 2011

Olympic legacy+$60M=Liberal propaganda

My Jan. 7 blog post was about how the B.C. Liberal government was exploiting the upcoming first anniversary of the 2010 Winter Olympics for political gain. The ruling party is claiming the Games were the most successful in history.

Maybe they were for Team Canada, but definitely not for Canadian taxpayers who still don't know the total bill.

Read it here.

I now have further proof. A smoking gun, you might say. Read about it here.

After the Community, Sport and Cultural Development Ministry denied access to all documents -- cabinet confidentiality, they claimed -- documents from a simultaneous request to the Office of the Premier were released.

Strange that one ministry would say records cannot be released and another one says they can be (albeit in censored form). But, such is life in a government in turmoil led by one Gordon Campbell who declared in 1998 that "government information belongs to the people, not to government"but has instead gone to great lengths to hide information.

Communications plans show that bureaucrats were worried the public would question spending taxpayers' money on more Olympic hoopla, one year after the party that I estimated was worth at least $6.5 billion (or $190.86 from every Canadian).

Spirit Festivals -- to celebrate Olympic anniversaries -- are a key component of the $60 million, three-year 2010 Sports and Arts Legacy. Pages 19 and 20 show that the events are intended to "provide Ministers/MLAs with media/photo opportunities and speaking roles" and to "minimize the volume of dissent over use of these funds in this manner".

What the 2010 Sports and Arts Legacy is really about

This isn't the first time that "Red Mittens" Campbell has sought to bask in Olympic glory. The You Gotta Be Here Olympic tourism campaign also had political overtones: "voting age" British Columbians were among the targets and the campaign included "special Premier focused promotions".

Campbell will no longer be Premier on Feb. 26. That's when his party will vote on a replacement. Two days before the first anniversary of the epic gold medal hockey final on the last day of the Games.

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