Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Exclusive: storm makes B.C. Place a danger zone

Red "danger" tape surrounded B.C. Place Dec. 19.
So-called "ice bombs" from the cables of the new Port Mann toll bridge damaged dozens of vehicles on a stormy Dec. 19 -- just 18 days after its official ribbon-cutting by Premier Christy Clark.

Problems were apparent in the early afternoon when callers to the Simi Sara Show on CKNW AM 980 reported gridlock and being inside vehicles that had broken windshields or dented hoods and roofs. 

The Transportation Investment Corporation, the Crown corporation that oversees the $3.3 billion Port Mann Highway 1 Improvement Project, wasn't prepared for the storm and ought to have known the risk. The cable-stayed bridge wasn't built with mitigating measures, such as heaters to prevent icing. Falling ice is a problem at other, similar bridges, from Tacoma, Wash., to Toledo, Ohio. There is even a Danish academic study on the specific problem. 

But the Kiewit-Flatiron-built Port Mann Bridge wasn't the only cable-supported structure where chunks of ice were crashing to the ground. 

Workers at B.C. Place Stadium in downtown Vancouver were ordered to surround the building with red tape emblazoned with "Danger" in black, capital letters to keep pedestrians from walking under the towers to which the cables are connected after mini-avalanches of snow and ice crashed to the plaza below. 

Terry Fox Plaza was closed because of falling ice.
One of the Terry Fox statues at the foot of Robson Street was behind the tape and a stanchion. Outside the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, the red tape was awkwardly tied around the right foot of the Percy Williams statue. The stadium was surrounded by a half-inch layer of slush and ice. 

According to a source, while daytime temperatures fluctuated, drainage pipes on the roof overflowed, causing flooding inside the stadium. 

This happened, coincidentally, the same day that lawyers for steel contractor Canam and cable installer Freyssinet were in B.C. Supreme Court for a judicial management conference. Canam claimed Freyssinet caused a $26 million cost overrun. Freyssinet is suing for $6 million. General contractor PCL and Crown corporation B.C. Pavilion Corporation are listed as defendants. The blockbuster trial is scheduled to begin in October 2013 and last 17 weeks.
Percy Williams statue outside B.C. Sports Hall of Fame

Heavy, wet snow was allowed to pile up on the roof of the stadium on Jan. 5, 2007 and management neglected to order the roof heaters be activated. A sudden spike in air pressure forced an avalanche that ripped open part of the former air-supported roof. That incident led to the $514 million, post-Olympic renovation that includes a retractable roof. Crews continued through the summer of 2012 to patch holes and replace panels stained by grease leaking from the cables. 

UPDATE (Dec. 20): PavCo interim CEO Dana Hayden did not respond to my query, but the stadium's marketing manager Duncan Blomfield claimed the closure was simply a temporary precautionary measure in "anticipation of falling wet snow." He denied there was any flooding in the stadium, but admitted that a "downpipe became temporarily disconnected and water spilled onto the field area. Buckets were used to catch the water until the pipe was reconnected in short time. The field area is self-draining, so there was never any issue with flooding."

Air Christy update

Updated May 14, 2013
In a Dec. 3 post, I updated the cost of Premier Christy Clark's charter flights on Blackcomb Aviation during her less-than-two year Premiership to $201,133.37.

If you're a B.C. taxpayer worried about where the government's finances are heading, I have bad news.

The latest records I received via Freedom of Information (below) were for flights on carriers other than CN Rail boss David McLean's Blackcomb.

During the first nine months of her Premiership, Clark flew in style and comfort on an additional eight trips worth $43,384.43. That included a $20,313.79, two-day charter for a group of 10 on London Aviation Services from Vancouver to Prince Rupert and Terrace and back on Sept. 18-19, 2011. During that jaunt up north, Clark took a side trip worth $2,330.40 to Kitimat.

In Prince Rupert she announced port funding, while in Kitimat, Premier Photo Op hyped her ambitious liquefied natural gas plan (that may never come to fruition).

That brings Clark's disclosed total to date to $244,517.80 for 36 trips.

(I am in the progress of tallying the cost of Gordon Campbell's trips for his last two years in the Premiership, but I do know that he flew exclusively on LAS for 18 trips in 2009 and 2010 all within B.C. Clark has chartered Blackcomb Aviation for flights to Yellowknife, Edmonton, Regina, Seattle and Boise.)

Government travel regulations allow ministers to book charters if there are no conveniently scheduled, commercial flights available.

UPDATE: May 14, 2013If Christy Clark’s two-year tenure as Premier of British Columbia is not extended by voters today, it will be wheels-down for good for “Air Christy.” 

On Jan. 18, 2013, I reported that her spending had exceeded $250,000 through Oct. 5, 2012. 

In the period from her March 14, 2011 swearing-in through March 22, 2013, the Office of the Premier billed taxpayers $285,422.70 for charter jet flights that traveled a combined distance of 22,407 nautical miles. By comparison, the equator is 21,638.8 nautical miles.

In 2011, there were 15 trips, with the most expensive being $20,313.79 on Sept. 18 of that year to Prince Rupert and Terrace for the unveiling of Canada Starts Here: The BC Jobs Plan. 

That trip included her aide Gabe Garfinkel, press secretary Chris Olsen, Transport Minister Blair Lekstrom, ProShow audio/video technician Ben Laurence and photographer Jeff Vinnick. 
Minister Pat Bell and aides Stacie Dley and Jessica Hodge were on the return flight to Vancouver on London Aviation Services. 

In 2012, the most-expensive trip was $15,470.07 for a one-day trip to Regina and Edmonton aboard Blackcomb Aviation with Garfinkel, assistant deputy minister Neil Sweeney and her security guard aboard a Cessna 550. She met Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Alison Redford privately in advance of the national premiers’ summit. 

Clark also spent $9,781.88 for a two-day Calgary visit that included a BC Liberal fundraiser on Oct. 1, 2012 after the famous “short and frosty” summit with Redford. Garfinkel, press secretary Mike Morton and Sweeney were along for that trip. Sweeney traded his seat on the return flight to Katherine Bergen, Clark’s event and project coordinator. 

Only one trip in 2013 was disclosed: a Feb. 15 Penticton appearance for $3,414.15 to tour the city’s hospital. 

Prince George was the most-popular destination, visited nine times by Clark and her entourage: three times in 2011 and six in 2012. 

The latest on Air Christy

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

“She’s got her mug on TV out there, selling her propaganda campaign”

“Half of all advertising is a waste of money; we just don’t know which half.”
Henry Ford 

On April 1, 1999, the opposition BC Liberals attacked the governing NDP on spending taxpayers’ money foolishly on government advertising. 

Liberal leader and Premier-in-waiting Gordon Campbell rightly called it “propaganda.” NDP Finance Minister Joy MacPhail displayed the arrogance of someone who had been on the government side of the Legislature aisle too long. 
Campbell: "How many heart surgeries have you cancelled for $600,000 of NDP propaganda? 
MacPhail: "Actually, I'd like to correct the Liberal Leader of the Opposition. We're actually spending closer to $700,000 on our advertising campaign. People want to know how they're going to access the programs that have been funded in this budget..."
Campbell’s tag-team partner in holding the NDP feet to the fire was none other than his future successor, Christy Clark.

“People don't want the government to spend 700 grand of their money so they can find out how to access services; people want this government to spend their money so that those services are there for them to access. That's what British Columbians want," said Clark, who became the Liberal leader and Premier in 2011. 
"So I'll ask the minister this. We were up all night debating this budget because they can't introduce it until the very last minute and before we're even finished our debate on second reading, she's got her mug on TV out there, selling her propaganda campaign. Can the minister tell us this: how many hospital beds, how many firefighters, how many police officers will not be on the street because she's spending $600,000 on her advertising campaign?”
Gretchen Brewin, the Speaker of the House, ordered Clark to withdraw the “mug on TV” comment. Clark complied, but the quotes remain on the public record in Hansard. Clark resumed her hard questioning.
“The minister says that the public just doesn't understand the NDP. It's not that the NDP have done anything wrong; it's not that they've taxed people out of the province; it's not that they've driven up waiting lists to amongst the highest in the country; it's not that parents are having to buy textbooks for their children's basic curriculum in schools. The problem is that the NDP are just misunderstood, so they've got to spend $700,000 of taxpayers' money to make sure that the public is just smart enough to try and understand the well-meaning government. Well, anybody who's seen their grandchildren move to Alberta or their grandfather not get his heart bypass or their kid not get a course in university understands NDP budgeting.”
Fast forward to 2012 and it’s the Liberals who are clinging to power, believing they’re so misunderstood that need to spend your money on advertising. 

New records released via Freedom of Information include briefing notes containing scripts of answers to anticipated questions from reporters about government advertising spending.

One briefing note contains a chart that compares expenditures under the NDP from 1993-94 to 2000-01 to those during the Liberal era.

The NDP budgeted a combined $154.761 million, but wound up spending $160.462 million. 

The Liberals have outspent the NDP at $166.958 million since 2001-02, but wisely budgeted $211.532 million to make it appear they're responsible with the public purse. 

But the statistics demand a closer look and you'll find that the Liberals are no better than the NDP in election years. 

In 1995-96, the NDP budgeted $20.73 million but spent $22.468 million. Glen Clark led his party to victory and the NDP spent $13.496 million of the budgeted $22.439 million in 1996-97. 

Five years later, Ujjal Dosanjh was the Premier and the NDP budgeted $20.435 million, but spent $21.381 million. It didn't help the NDP because the Liberals under Campbell came to power in a landslide. Campbell kept his promise to slash spending. In 2001-02, the Liberals began their “new era” by spending only $5.276 million of a $22.853 million advertising budget. 

That prudence did not carry on. In 2004-05, the Campbell Liberals budgeted $12.108 million, but spent a whopping $21.617 million. Their second term began with a return to modest spending, only $8.365 million doled out of the $13.967 million budgeted. 

Campbell and the Liberals got their hat-trick in 2009. They budgeted $29.502 million for government advertising, but came in at $28.311 million. The recessionary, post-election budget for 2009-10 was $6.95 million, but only $3.587 million was spent. 

In 2011-12, $36.065 million was approved and $34.56 million was spent. The spending trend is heading to $64 million over her less-than-two-year Premiership. Her BC Jobs Plan is the biggest expenditure and she told CKNW the goal is to drive consumer confidence. Evidence presented by Sun Media's David Akin shows that the BC Jobs Plan is not really working. 

Meanwhile, the B.C. deficit has risen to $1.47 billion and the debt is $51 billion. Auditor-General John Doyle said the government understated the 2011-12 deficit of $1.84 billion by $520 million. And Moody's has downgraded the B.C. government's debt rating to negative.

Clark is spending a lot of your money to buy your votes. She could instead be spending on hospital beds, firefighters and police officers.

If the NDP under Adrian Dix win the May 14, 2013 election, will they enact new laws and policies to end the wasteful ad spending habits of power-hungry governing parties in B.C.? 

Advice to ministers on B.C. government advertising.

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