Saturday, February 9, 2013

Taxpayers footing bill after Cap-in-hand strategy works

The Vancouver Whitecaps will finally make their debut at the National Soccer Development Centre at the University of British Columbia on Feb. 26 -- the day before they unveil their 2013 uniform.

Will Premier Christy Clark show up for a photo op? The training centre is in her Vancouver-Point Grey riding. The Whitecaps' general partner, Greg Kerfoot, is a personal friend of hers and a BC Liberal Party donor of almost $37,000 since 2005 through a personal donation, his company Inspirit Group and the Whitecaps. Media-shy Kerfoot, who has never sat down for an interview since buying the Whitecaps in 2002, is a 1983 UBC computer science graduate.

Clark wasn't there when the training centre was announced on Sept. 6, 2012. B.C. taxpayers are subsidizing the facility through a $14.5 million grant. UBC is providing the land. The Whitecaps are supposedly paying the remaining $15 million.

The whole shebang was originally a $17.5 million gift of taxpayers' money to the Whitecaps from Premier Gordon Campbell on May 2, 2009 -- 10 days before that provincial election -- as a desperate ploy to get parachute candidate Wally Oppal elected for the Liberals. Vicki Huntington eked out a victory as an independent. Delta council eventually nixed the Whitecaps' application. Sites in Surrey and Burnaby were considered, but the Whitecaps' brass evidently grew impatient with the bureaucracies in those municipalities. Sources tell me the feeling was mutual. The Whitecaps already benefitted heavily from taxpayer subsidies as the primary tenant of B.C. Place Stadium, which was renovated for $514 million despite Kerfoot having the financing and desire to build his own stadium. 

On Jan. 30, the Whitecaps issued this progress report.

Via Freedom of Information, I tried to get the Whitecaps' application for funding, the government's business case and evaluation, and approval letter. There is supposedly a 59-page business case for taxpayers subsidizing the privately owned Whitecaps, but the government refused to disclose it to me based on "cabinet confidences."

The heavily censored documents they did send me (see below) include Treasury Board requests, Whitecaps' internal correspondence and correspondence with Liberal politicians. (The Sept. 8, 2010 Treasury Board funding request letter from then Finance Minister Colin Hansen to Sport Minister Ida Chong was, coincidentally, on the same day as the 31st anniversary of the North American Soccer League Whitecaps' winning Soccer Bowl.)

Evidently, the government wasn't going to write a cheque without a promise that amateur soccer would benefit. A July 31, 2012 letter by Whitecaps' COO Rachel Lewis to Chong said UBC would get 65% of time on the fields. On the same day, B.C. Soccer Association executive director Bjorn Osieck wrote to the government in support of the Whitecaps, pointing out the 120,000 registered players in B.C. -- making it the province's biggest team sport.

Whitecaps' chairman John Furlong wrote to Chong's deputy minister, Don Fast, on Aug. 2, 2012 to reiterate the playing time commitment. He said the artificial turf field and two new grass fields would be available for 3,920 hours of playing time each year. 

Of that, an estimated 2,019 hours of field access time has been committed for community playing time for BCSA Premier League, Vancouver United Soccer Club, school physical education or soccer teams, community clinics and tournaments, youth sports camps and a partnership with the University Neighbourhood Association. A lofty promise, but let's hope Furlong, Lewis and the Whitecaps stay true to their word. (Oddly enough, the records released don't include any endorsement from the Canadian Soccer Association, despite the complex being labelled the "National Soccer Development Centre.")

The most interesting document? The Feb. 14, 2012 letter to Lewis from Kerfoot. While it was heavily censored by the government, it does contain Mr. Kerfoot's signature. For someone who has taken overwhelming efforts to keep himself shielded from the public eye, it is rather odd that the Whitecaps didn't oppose the publication of his signature. 

(Note: the Whitecaps' unveiling of their 2013 uniform is an invite-only affair at the Rocky Mountaineer Station on Feb. 27. Furlong is chairman of both companies. Furlong was subject to new allegations in a Jan. 21 B.C. Supreme Court defence filing by journalist Laura Robinson. None of the allegations has been tested or proven in court and no trial date has been set. Furlong's official court response in the defamation lawsuit that he launched last November is overdue. A media statement attributed to his family was published Jan. 23, claiming he is innocent of the many abuse allegations that were published by the Georgia Straight on Sept. 27, 2012. "These shocking allegations are without merit and portray a character whom none of us recognizes," said the statement.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Last year's MILF is this year's "Premier Snake"

Clark wants Chinese voters to think she's a smart snake
Premier Christy Clark was out wooing the Chinese vote Feb. 7 in Chinatown at a dinner in the Floata restaurant to celebrate the Feb. 10 dawning of the Year of the Snake and promote her Chinese name, Jian Hui Zhi (jan-WHAY-juh).

I am told that Jian is a common Chinese family name. Hui sometimes means "smart." Zhi is also a common name in China, but it can also sometimes be a short version of ganoderma... aka mushroom.

Joining Clark on stage were fellow Liberal MLAs Rob Howard, Blair Lekstrom, Colin Hansen, Dave Hayer, Jane Thornthwaite, Richard Lee, John Yap, Ida Chong and Ralph Sultan, along with wannabe Teresa Wat.

Wat, the president of AM1320 radio, is the Richmond Centre candidate installed by BC Liberal Party brass in January. Yes, installed. No contest, despite at least two other people wanting to carry the Liberal banner on May 14.

Richmond RCMP Const. Gary Law said he was the target of threats and filed a complaint with the Mounties. Law has announced he will run as an independent. 

Richmond School Trustee Grace Tsang was first to declare her desire, but she was convinced to give up and become co-chair of the Premier's Chinese advisory committee. 

Odd that the Liberals purposely avoided an attention-getting, membership-generating and donation-attracting three-way race in such a dynamic riding. Very odd. Maybe the party was simply giddy at the prospect of all the free media attention they could get from AM 1320.

It turns out that Clark's 1965 birthday coincided with a previous Year of the Snake. Last year she was proud to be called a MILF during an FM rock radio station interview. This year, she's hoping to "ride the serpent" to election glory. But it won't be easy. Years of the Snake are never easy for the world.

The Great Depression (1929), Attack on Pearl Harbor (1941), Tiananmen Square Massacre and fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the dot-com bust and 9/11 (2001) were all in Years of the Snake. 

The year 2001 was also British Columbia's most-recent "throw the bums out" election, when the electorate was tired of the NDP's decade-long rule in B.C. Gordon Campbell's Liberals won 77 of the 79 seats in the Legislature, albeit with almost 58% of the popular vote.

Snake babies can be egotistic and greedy, and prone to spending money quickly, according to this website. "They are usually very attractive on the outside and inwardly, that, taking into consideration their frivolity, can lead to some family problems."

While Clark will be playing-up her snake sign on the campaign trail this spring, the NDP's Adrian Dix is hoping to climb the ladder into the Legislature in May. He was born in 1964, a Year of the Dragon. 

In her Chinese new year greeting video, Clark offers only the traditional Cantonese "Gong Hei Fat Choy" greeting, neglecting the province's growing Mandarin-speaking population, which prefers the greeting: "Gong Xi Fa Cai." Will she learn the Mandarin greeting before she most likely returnts to Chinatown for the Feb. 17 annual Chinese new year parade

(While you're here, you might as well enjoy the sounds of my favourite Chinese acts, the 12 Girls Band and Car Sick Cars.)

UPDATE (Feb. 9): The NDP Caucus bought ad time on Omni TV to offer its Year of the Snake wishes. 
Adrian Dix and B.C.'s future cabinet? 

Peanuts, popcorn, briefing notes... briefing notes

Pat Bell handed the reins of B.C. Pavilion Corporation to Rich Coleman in the Sept. 5 cabinet shuffle.

Bell added the labour ministry portfolio to his Jobs, Tourism and Innovation post. Deputy Premier Coleman already had energy, mines, natural gas, housing, gambling and liquor. 

Now he's also the boss of B.C. Place Stadium and the majordomo of the Vancouver Convention Centre. 

As ministers, they rely on briefing notes crafted by their staff, so they can stay in-the-know about the issues, programs and policies in their ministry and its agencies. See PavCo briefing notes from the summer and fall. 

Bell continued to have a small hand in the oversight of PavCo through fall, as he met frequently with interim CEO Dana Hayden to discuss the resurrection of the Telus Park naming rights for B.C. Place Stadium, which were flubbed in February 2012 over the aftermath of the billion-dollar, government service deal gone wrong.

So what were the spin doctors telling Bell and later Coleman to say?

Aug. 10: B.C. Place Technology Supply Agreement 
Here 'tis, confirmation that "PavCo has purchased the technology infrastructure installed in B.C. Place from Telus." (I've reported on this since November.) But, sadly, they won't tell us how much of our money was paid to Telus. "The total value of the agreement to purchase technology infrastructure installed by Telus is (censored)." Maybe Auditor-General John Doyle can extract that information in his fact-finding mission about the mysterious business plan and the escalating budget? 

Sept. 13: Coal Harbour Residents Opposed to the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre Terminal
Speaks for itself.

Oct. 2: $514M Renovation vs. B.C. Place Economic Activity 
PavCo tries to paint the lipstick on the stadium pig, claiming it came $49 million under the $563 million budget and downplaying the Jan. 9, 2009-announced $365 million all-in budget. Your humble servant is named in this one.

Oct. 4: PavCo Chair Recognition Ceremony
PavCo spent "less than" $4,000 on chairman David Podmore's farewell attended by 35 guests including Pat Bell and downtown MLA Mary McNeill. "Donations were received from Centerplate and Pace Group." That's the BC Liberal-attached public relations company that has multiple government contracts and was deeply involved in the civic NPA campaign in 2011. That's the same Podmore who refused my interview requests during his last week on the job in the end of September.

Oct. 11: Possible Roof Leaks at B.C. Place
They weren't just possible, they actually were happening and continue to happen! Much of this briefing note is censored for "policy advice or recommendations." Isn't that odd? Briefing notes, by their very nature, contain policy advice and recommendations. When it comes to B.C. Place roof leaks and all things PavCo, it's nothing to see here, move along. (Pssst., put Oct. 21 on your calendar, for the beginning of the 100-day B.C. Supreme Court trial between the stadium's steel and cable contractors. PavCo is a defendant. Getcha popcorn!)

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