Saturday, December 8, 2012

Are fences the first sign of casino move?

D is for December and dormant. B.C. Place Stadium is dormant most of December. The only two events scheduled inside are the B.C. High School Football Subway Bowl that kicked off the month and the Contact Winter Music Festival rave on Boxing Day.

But there is activity of another sort outside the stadium, beneath the westside video billboard that faces the Cambie Bridge. 

Crews have erected wooden fences around the trees on the grassy knoll, a telltale sign of impending site preparation for excavation or even construction. 

The west side of the stadium is earmarked to become the new home of Edgewater Casino. Parent Paragon Gaming extended the lease at the Plaza of Nations until 2015 after its expansion bid was shot down in April 2011 by widespread public opposition. But Vancouver city council gave Paragon the okay to move the existing licence across the street. 

B.C. Pavilion Corporation, B.C. Lottery Corporation and Paragon executives huddled through the summer of 2012 about the development plan, as I revealed in this Vancouver Courier story. PavCo, BCLC and Paragon have been hush-hush, knowing that even a relocation of Edgewater will spark some public opposition. 

Last spring, stadium management was getting ready for something to happen on the site. 

According to the May minutes of the stadium's Facility Management committee: 
"The Cambie Street Video Board at the West end may need to come down if development goes ahead; working through the details of this. 
"Ongoing discussions with Paragon continue to take place for West End development and an announcement date is getting near, followed by the development permit application. If it all goes ahead, ground breaking is anticipated in the fall. This will impact the west entry for BC Place. GR (Graham Ramsay) said we would need to start coming up with alternate plans now.  Some relocation of services to the other side of Smyth (sic) St. will also be required. KD (Kathy deLisser) advised that a construction schedule is needed."
What are the odds that the wooden fences and orange nets around the trees are related to the new Edgewater? 

UPDATE (Dec. 12): PavCo interim CEO Dana Hayden did not respond to my query, but B.C. Place manager of marketing and communications Duncan Blomfield did. 
"Concord Pacific is preparing to redevelop their site located to the west of B.C. Place stadium.  The redevelopment of Concord’s site requires the removal of a pedestrian overpass stretches over the Concord site, connecting the Cambie St. Bridge to the stadium. The temporary fencing around trees on the BC Place site is to protect the trees from being damaged by demolition activity in the area. There are currently no plans to remove the board." 
He is referring to 68 Smithe Street, the former Terry Fox Way. The plans show an "entertainment destination complex" on the stadium side of the street. Notice how it didn't say "proposed" and the naughty word "casino" is also missing? 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Butler did it.

The Butler did it. Again. 

Richard Butler, a high-ranking lawyer from the Legal Services Branch, swore his fifth affidavit on Nov. 16. The 12-page statement was the first surprise of the day Dec. 3 at B.C. Supreme Court when the Office of the Auditor General's bid to see the $6 million deal with Dave Basi and Bob Virk resumed. 

A quick refresher: The two BC Liberal government aides copped a plea bargain on Oct. 18, 2010 after steadfastly maintaining their innocence over the 2003 BC Rail scandal. They both got house arrest for two years for taking bribes from lobbyists for Omnitrax. Their legal bills were paid by taxpayers, which is contrary to government policy. Auditor-General Doyle is suing the government to examine the legal indemnity. The government claims it is covered by solicitor/client privilege. Listen to The Investigators from CKNW AM 980 for all the history of this scandal.

Photo of MLA John van Dongen
van Dongen
Abbotsford-South independent MLA John van Dongen successfully applied for intervenor status and has spent $100,000 of his own money so far in his quest to get the truth on the billion-dollar sale of the people's railway. The case was held over four days in September and scheduled for another two in December. It wrapped up in less than a full-day on Dec. 3. That was the second surprise.

In this 11th hour affidavit, Butler made the startling revelation that he did not look at billing certificates when they were submitted and blamed "failure of memory" for making misstatements a year earlier. Read the affidavit at the bottom of this post.

Chief Justice Robert Bauman granted a sealing order for certain documents mentioned in the Butler affidavit. Still, one only needs to read the affidavit to realize how odd it is for such a highly educated and qualified legal mind to bungle the file.

"Here we are right near the end of a case, we've had five days of hearings, virtually finished argument, just getting into reply, the final stage of the case," van Dongen told me outside the Law Courts. "The senior lawyer in government involved in all the indemnity files tables an affidavit saying 'I made a mistake in the previous affidavit,' and points out he was relying on his memory, didn't check the documents before they went out and realized there was obviously a significant misstatement in the earlier affidavit.

"Every step of the way there's a surprise," van Dongen said. "The advice I've been given is it's very unusual for parties to be filing things this close to the end of the case. Yet it happens in this case."

Meanwhile, van Dongen's conflict of interest complaint against Premier Christy Clark is in the hands of Northwest Territories conflict of interest commissioner Gerald Gerrand after B.C.'s Paul Fraser was compelled to hand it over on Nov. 13. Van Dongen found out that Fraser's son, John Paul, is a Government Communications and Public Engagement assistant deputy minister appointed by Clark. Clark and John Paul Fraser are longtime friends.

New information shows that Clark met with the elder Fraser on Oct. 4. The Premier's agenda (obtained by me via Freedom of Information), does not indicate the reason for the meeting. It was, coincidentally, almost two weeks after van Dongen hand-delivered his "grounds for belief and nature of alleged contraventions" about Clark to the commissioner on Sept. 21.

In the absence of a public inquiry about the corrupt sale of BC Rail, British Columbians who care deeply about democracy and integrity of their government are waiting patiently for Bauman's verdict and Gerrand's report. 

Butler Affidavit

Monday, December 3, 2012

Air Christy update: $201,000 and counting

On The Investigators on CKNW AM 980, I have twice explored Premier Christy Clark's frequent flying on the taxpayers' dime via Blackcomb Aviation, the airline owned by BC Liberal bagman and CN Rail chairman David McLean. Here is the Oct. 22 edition and the Nov. 13 sequel.

Government rules state ministers and their staff on government business can charter aircraft only when there is no scheduled service that can meet a minister’s schedule, or the cost is “economical” compared to scheduled service. But how many of Clark's trips were for governing purposes versus political photo ops? How many could have been replaced by two-way videoconferencing? 

Here are details on three of the Premier's latest Blackcomb Aviation trips, released to me via Freedom of Information.

Clark took assistant Gabe Garfinkel, issues management director Shane Mills, Advanced Education Minister John Yap and his assistant Rishi Sharma to Prince George on Sept. 18 to announce $17 million for skills training equipment at B.C. public colleges and universities. The flight from Vancouver departed 9:50 a.m. and returned at 1:55 p.m. Clark's agenda shows she was at the College of New Caledonia from 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Not even an hour. 

Event coordinator Kathryn Bergen joined the party on the return leg. Cost to taxpayers: $6,035.01.
Clark travelled with Garfinkel, now-ex communications director Sara MacIntyre to Kelowna and the secret agent man (a name that is consistently censored from passenger lists for security reasons) for a day on Sept. 20 to open the new Reichwald Health Sciences Centre at UBC Okanagan. The flight departed Vancouver at 8 a.m. The appearance at UBCO was from 8:50 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Not even three-quarters of an hour. There is no other entry on the agenda until the 7 p.m. flight was wheels down at YVR at 7:40 p.m. Cost to taxpayers: $4,062.64.

On Oct. 5, Clark took a one-day trip to Prince George for a chamber of commerce luncheon with Garfinkel, press secretary Mike Morton. "visual communications officer" Justin Schneider, and the secret agent man. The flight departed Vancouver at 10:30 a.m. for the 11:55 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. speaking engagement at the Ramada Hotel. On the return leg, which took-off at 2 p.m., they were joined by events coordinator Tara Zwaan. The charter was back at YVR at 3 p.m. Cost to taxpayers: $6,007.86.

On that trip, she had Schneider shoot this video where she again floated the fabled 57,000 jobs created statistic, which Sun Media's David Akin so deftly deconstructed and deflated in his well-read post, "Do Christy Clark's boasts on job creation hold up? Nope. Nada. Not even close."

Gotta love how The Prince George Citizen's editorial started: "Premier Christy Clark brings her bogus five conditions that must be met for her support of Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline to a Prince George Chamber of Commerce lunch today."

For those keeping score at home, Clark has traveled 17,222 nautical miles around B.C. on 28 Blackcomb Aviation round-trips since becoming Premier in March 2011. That's the equivalent of 31,895.1 kilometres. By comparison, the equator is 40,075. 

The total cost to taxpayers so far: $201,133.37. 

But there is more... much more than that. On Oct. 1, Clark, Garfinkel, deputy minister Neil Sweeney, Morton and the secret agent man jetted to Calgary aboard a London Air Services charter for what turned out to the Short and Frosty Summit with Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Clark and co. returned to YVR the next day. The cost of that charter trip has yet to be disclosed. 

Coincidentally, Clark hired a new communications director on Dec. 3. He is former TV news anchor and current Justin Trudeau supporter, Ben Chin. His last job? As a vice-president with the Air Miles frequent flyer consumer loyalty program. Response - LetterAirChristy

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