Saturday, July 21, 2012

#LiquorLeaks has more questions than answers

There is no longer a six-pack of companies seeking to privatize liquor warehousing and distribution in British Columbia.

Four bidders were shortlisted July 20: Exel, ContainerWorld, Kuehne+Nagel and Metro Supply Chain Group. It was supposed to be a list of three, but there apparently was a third-place tie in the merit points rankings. The rankings were not released. 

Schenker and Hillebrand Westlink didn't make the cut.

Read my story in Business in Vancouver here. I asked a Schenker executive if he felt the process was fair. He said it was "very straightforward," but refused to say whether it was fair.

Listen to Minister Margaret MacDiarmid's teleconference above. She was peddling the usual government line about the importance of the role of the fairness monitor, George Macauley. NDP critic Shane Simpson found in June that Macauley is really powerless. He is not a referee, but an observer. Big difference.

You'll hear me questioning MacDiarmid about whether Exel and ContainerWorld are really bidding independently and whether the government is doing anything to ensure that is so. I tried to get her "off-message," to get a real answer. Not political spin. It was obvious that she came better-prepared to handle an agitator after being embarrassed July 12 by Vaughn Palmer's grilling, which you can hear here.

I still have so many questions for Minister MacDiarmid, such as: 

Why is the government delaying my Freedom of Information request on the list of times and dates that the six bidders submitted their formal proposals? Your ministry is stewarding the Distribution of Liquor Project bid process, but the disclosure has been delayed until Sept. 27 so that Energy and Mines can be consulted. You're also the minister of open government. Is your ministry really in charge of this process, or are you part of an elaborate communications strategy to deflect attention from liquor minister Rich Coleman, who has never been made available for me to interview? In Exel's own words, it pondered using its relationship with Mr. Coleman to influence the writing of the request for proposals.

Why did Mr. Coleman tell CKNW's Simi Sara in a Tweet on July 19 that bids closed June 30? The request for proposals states very clearly that the deadline was June 29 at 4 p.m. Did Mr. Coleman mis-speak or were the rules bent for any applicants? Kindly provide me the list of date(s) and time(s) that the formal bids were received (see above). 

Your ministry has released the transcript of the May 10 bidders' meeting. It has not released a transcript of the May 9 industry information meeting. Why? Is it because several industry stakeholders asked questions and were of the opinion that LDB privatization would harm the industry and raise costs? I was there and I posted a recording of the question and answer session. Listen here.

Again, I ask, what assurances does your ministry have that no bidders are working in collusion? I have evidence in Exel's own words, in its Oct. 6, 2009 "Project Last Spike" internal memo that says an alliance with or an acquisition of ContainerWorld was among Exel's strategies to become the warehouser and distributor. Exel's sister company Giorgio Gori has a longstanding business relationship with ContainerWorld and an option to buy the Richmond warehouse. ContainerWorld owner Dennis Chrismas met with Mr. Coleman on March 2. Has anyone from ContainerWorld met with anyone involved with Exel, directly or indirectly, since the RFP was published? 

Mr. Chrismas has not responded to my phone calls or emails. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

#LiquorLeaks wonders: is B.C.'s open government a sham?

I have used this space before to comment on Premier Christy Clark's open government sham, er plan. Excuse me.

I didn't think the Distribution of Liquor Project could get more suspicious, but the BC Liberals must not have been paying attention to public and media discourse. I made a very simple Freedom of Information request to find out exactly when the six bidders on the long list submitted their bids.

It's not the first I've made. Here is a previous post about how I found out LDB and the government are hiding cost/benefit analyses and business case reports regarding privatization. I have since appealed to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

On this latest request, the government initially told me I'd get a response by Aug. 15. Now it has notified me that it is delaying disclosure until as late as Sept. 27 because it feels like consulting with another public body. It has the power to invoke further delays. Sometimes the information is so sensitive, that the government can make a valid case to delay disclosure. Most of the time the government is motivated to withhold records, either temporarily or permanently, for fear of embarrassment.

Minister Margaret MacDiarmid -- whose portfolio includes Open Government -- told me on July 9 that it was her ministry that was managing the privatization bidding process. Citizens' Services is in charge of government buying and contracting and Citizens' Services was in charge of receiving the formal bids by the 4 p.m., June 29 deadline.

MacDiarmid's staff now tell me they want to consult with the Liquor Distribution Branch and Energy and Mines. LDB answers directly to Energy and Mines and its minister, Rich Coleman. See the letter below.

The shortlist, which could be as little as one bidder or as many as three, is supposed to be announced July 20. (We know a lot about Exel, but how much do you know about ContainerWorld, the only B.C. bidder which has an interesting relationship with an Exel sister company? And what about Schenker and Kuehne + Nagel and their previous relationship with Exel in the European Union?)

Why does the government want to hide the time(s) and date(s) that the bidders submitted their documents?

If all six bidders did respond on-time, as per the rules, shouldn't the proof be made public now?

Laughable Delay & Bother

Monday, July 16, 2012

#LiquorLeaks wonders why Christy met Rich on a Saturday?

Below is Premier Christy Clark's agenda for December 2011.

There is only one entry on Dec. 3 for an hour-long Saturday meeting with Rich Coleman.

There is no clue about the reason for the meeting. The location was censored. We don't know if anyone else attended.

Politicians often appear at weekend community festivals and parades and fundraising banquets. But I have read enough agendas of politicians over the years to know that a weekend meeting among senior members of a provincial cabinet is out of the ordinary. Frankly, it is unusual. Especially for Clark, who has a hockey-playing son that deserves her attention on weekends.

Why is Dec. 3, 2011 an interesting date? A Cabinet Concept Paper dated Dec. 1 is about "Liquor Retail and Distribution Model Options." Then-liquor minister Shirley Bond signed the report on Dec. 5. Bond had met on Aug. 25, 2011 with Exel vice-president Scott Lyons and lobbyists, including Mark Jiles and Rob Madore, after previously telling Exel the government wasn't interested in privatization. 

The liquor portfolio has never really strayed far from Coleman, who enjoys his whiskey. It keeps finding its way back to his desk. Coleman regained the responsibility on Feb. 8, 2012. 

Then, 13 days later, the liquor logistics privatization was announced in the Feb. 21, 2012 budget. 

Almost three months after he met with Clark on the first Saturday in December, Coleman met with Dennis Chrismas of ContainerWorld and his lobbyist, Mike Bailey on the first Friday of March. ContainerWorld is the only B.C.-headquartered and owned company among the six seeking the LDB monopoly, yet it has an interesting association with Exel.

Learn more about Exel's Long March to Control B.C.'s Liquor Distribution here, from The Tyee.

Premier Christy Clark's Agenda Dec. 2011

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