Friday, September 20, 2013

Sportsweekend: A peek at ViaSport, a scion of 2010 Legacies Now

A weekend special for those of any age who play, coach, referee, support, sponsor or watch amateur sports in British Columbia. 

A look at how ViaSport, the B.C. Sport Agency Society, is funded by taxpayers. 

What is today ViaSport was hived-off from 2010 Legacies Now, the mysterious quasi-non-governmental organization born during the bid phase for Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics but continued through the Games as a funnel for community grants. 

2010 Legacies Now burned through a quarter-billion of your dollars over a decade without publishing a detailed list of who got how much. Its chair emeritus, Judy Rogers, is in no hurry to explain. (She hasn’t responded to my queries, but I would be glad to hear from her.) 2010 Legacies Now's central operations morphed into what is called Lift Philanthropy Partners, a nebulous "venture philanthropy" outfit.  

After the Games, Legacies Now spun-off its sport division to the newly created B.C. Sport Agency Society which was branded ViaSport and absorbed many of the functions of Sport BC, the umbrella for the province’s amateur sport system. 

HomeVANOC executive vice-president of sport Cathy Priestner Allinger organized ViaSport, whose first full-time chair was Moray Keith and CEO Scott Ackles. Keith resigned in late 2012 and Priestner Allinger became interim chair. With a change of government anticipated, Ackles’s job was terminated in March 2013. Priestner Allinger said she was not interested in the CEO job, but that was before she was passed over for the athletic director position at the University of B.C. (Scottish Swimming boss Ashley Howard got the gig in May.) Lo and behold, Priestner Allinger was appointed CEO by the ViaSport board that she helped choose; Caley Denton, the VANOC ticketing executive, was installed as the chair. 

Below is a May 31, 2012-dated Transfer Under Agreement between the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development and ViaSport to provide financial assistance for ViaSport to implement the Province's Five-Year Sport Strategy. Included is a financial report. You will not find any information like this on the ViaSport website. 

Schedule A, running from May 28, 2012 to March 31, 2013, states the government’s priorities for the funding are to foster participatory programs, high performance programs for "training to train" through "training to win" stages; and event hosting that supports sport, economic and community development.

Goals include increasing overall sport participation by 20% by 2015-2016 (above the 2008-2009 baseline data), increase active coaches and officials within each funded sport, enhance services through the Integrated Performance System and lead the sport sector by aligning with the spirit of health and education initiatives. 

ViaSport received four payments under the TUA: $885,000 (June 7, 2012); $7,905,360 (Sept. 19, 2012); $100,000 (Jan. 24, 2013); and $820,000 (March 6, 2013).

For 2012-2013, its net budget was $21,239,000 plus $1,292,000 spent by the Ministry’s Sport Branch. 

The biggest chunk of funding, $4,891,168, was earmarked to Provincial Sport Organizations, as part of the $10,090,050 participation envelope. High performance was budgeted $7,867,950.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Exclusive: EasyPark sues to recover missing $200,000

While it awaits the result of a criminal investigation, city-owned parking lot management company EasyPark is suing a Vancouver couple to recover more than $200,000 that it alleges was stolen by an ex-employee.

EasyPark’s Sept. 17 British Columbia Supreme Court notice of claim says Dan Chiu Keung Wong’s job was to empty ticket machine cash boxes into secure cash boxes, deliver the portable cash boxes to EasyPark’s secure treasury and report and account for all the cash boxes delivered.

But EasyPark claims that Wong stole funds from the cash boxes between 2008 and August 2012 and “altered or otherwise doctored the records of EasyPark to conceal his mishandling of the cash boxes, the portable cash boxes and his theft of the misappropriated funds.” 

“Dan was not authorized to and, as part of his employment with EasyPark, did not have the ability to open any of the cash boxes or the portable cash boxes,” said the lawsuit, filed by lawyer Peter Roberts of Lawson Lundell. 

EasyPark sued Dan Wong and his wife Angela Miu Kam Wong on Sept. 4, 2012 to seek return of the misappropriated funds plus interest. EasyPark received judgment on Sept. 16, 2013 against the couple for $203,037.95 plus $2,189.64 interest. The 1948-founded EasyPark, a non-profit public authority legally known as the Parking Corporation of Vancouver, manages 41 facilities with 10,836 parking spaces.

The claim says the Wongs bought a house on Jan. 4, 1993 on 3568 Tanner Street in Vancouver and jointly owned the property until June 22, 2005 when Dan Wong transferred his half interest to Angela Wong for a nominal $1 “and natural love and affection.” Since June 23, 2005, Angela Wong has been the only owner of the property, which has an assessed value of $787,200. 

The claim says the Wongs intentionally transferred the property to “defeat, delay, hinder and defraud” both Dan Wong’s existing and future creditors.

EasyPark chair Ransford
EasyPark claims Dan Wong “had accrued significant debts to creditors, including the Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank of Canada” and filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 30, 2006. He was discharged on Oct. 3, 2007. 

EasyPark wants the court to treat Dan Wong “as if he were still the legal and beneficial owner of the property” and grant an order for a certificate of pending litigation on the title of the property. 

The Wongs have not responded in court to the latest filing and the allegations have not been proven in court. A telephone message for the Wongs was not immediately returned.

In Dan Wong's Nov. 26, 2012 response to the Sept. 4, 2012 EasyPark lawsuit, he admitted he was employed by the company from January 2006 to Aug. 17, 2012, but denied misappropriating or converting the alleged misappropriated funds for his own use. That filing also said he was separated from Angela Wong.

EasyPark's Aug. 26, 2013 application for judgment against Dan Wong said the company retained KPMG Forensic to audit EasyPark records and determined there were $203,037.95 in "non-routine variances" between Jan. 1, 2010 and Aug. 18, 2012. "These non-routine variances in cash were 'most likely collected by Mr. Wong'," said the application.

The Aug. 26, 2013 EasyPark application said that "during the course of Dan's examination for discovery on June 27, 2013, an objection was raised to several relevant questions asked of him." 

One of the 10 objections raised was to this line of questioning by EasyPark's lawyer: "Mr. Wong gave evidence of a gambling problem. He was asked whether he ever borrowed money from friends, relatives or third parties for the purpose of gambling." 

EasyPark’s board chair told me in an interview that a criminal complaint was filed with the Vancouver Police Department. “Hopefully the police will deal with it to the full extent of the criminal law, but it’s in their hands,” said Bob Ransford.

VPD social media/media relations officer Sandra Glendinning said: "We will not speak to incidents that are currently under investigation, and we will not identify people who have not been formally charged."

Ransford said “procedures have been improved and tightened up” for employee background checks and money-handling at EasyPark. 

“This is an isolated case as far as we can tell,” Ransford said. “You want to know if there was any collusion or potential conspirators or other instances where this happened. There was a fair bit of audit work to rule that out.”

“Technology is moving us further and further away from the use of cash, and I think that’s a good thing, both from an efficiency point of view and controls." 

Note to readers: Do you have proof of significant fraud or theft in public-owned companies or government offices at any level? Only credible tips are welcome. Please contact me here. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vision Vancouver: openness promise made, promise broken

George Affleck to the rescue.

The former CBC reporter and producer, who runs a public relations agency called Curve Communications, was elected as an NPA city councillor in the 2011 election. Almost two years on, he has seen from the inside what those of us in the media have experienced on the outside.

Vancouver city hall, under the Vision Vancouver majority and leadership of Mayor Gregor Robertson, has become a closed shop. It has adopted the same corporate communications system for dealing with the media that exists under the proroguing Conservatives in Ottawa and the no-fall-Legislature-sitting BC Liberals in Victoria. This ranges from late replies to calls or emails from reporters seeking basic facts to the now-glacial Freedom of Information process that defaults to secrecy. No longer are we allowed to call a senior bureaucrat for an interview or even basic information. All requests must go through a central channel. Rarely are senior managers made available for interviews anymore. Instead, we get a crafted-by-committee paragraph or less statement that, sometimes, doesn't come close to being relevant.

Former city councillor and mayoral candidate Peter Ladner summed it up in this Business in Vancouver column. So did Stanley Tromp in The Tyee, who took a critical look at the ludicrous theatre that surrounds the open data movement, of which City of Vancouver claims to be a champion. As I like to say, it's nice to know where all the fire hydrants are, but how much did they cost taxpayers, who supplied them and how did they get the contract?

Affleck: motion for openness
What is the reason why those in power feel the need to keep citizens in the dark and feed them excrement? The phenomenon of the permanent campaign. It's all about controlling the message and manufacturing consent. Those in power want to keep power. They use every available communications tool to control the message and prevent the slightest of embarrassment, every single day. And they do it on your dime. Their ultimate goal is to convince just enough of you to vote for them on election day, so that they can continue the cycle and satisfy those interest groups that donated to their cause.

Don't believe me? Denise Rudnicki is Canada's expert on the permanent campaign and how it is ultimately a detriment to democracy. Here's one of her shorter pieces: Inside the Government's Message-Making Machine.

Spending on communications has tripled at Vancouver city hall over the last seven years. The stakes are high. Vision Vancouver genuinely wants to see the Greenest City 2020 strategy that it imposed come to fruition in 2020. That means it wants another two election victories in 2014 and 2017, to go along with the 2008 and 2011 majorities.

Mayor Gregor Robertson
Robertson: promised transparency
Vision Vancouver might just succeed. It has created a formidable machine that appeals to those on the left, centre and right. It is where political donations from big unions and big business go. Without an effective opposition (NPA and COPE are still licking their wounds from 2011) the ruling party needs only to stay afloat in the daily news cycle until voting day, Nov. 15, 2014. Lo and behold, folks in neighbourhoods throughout the city are pushing back at Vision's habit of rubber-stamping rezoning and development of condos and bike lanes. A citywide protest march on city hall, called #OurVancouver, is planned for Sept. 24.

When he was sworn-in on Dec. 8, 2008, Mayor Gregor Robertson promised to "ensure transparency, accountability and public debate at city hall."

"I will not let you down on making city hall more open and accountable," Robertson said in his speech, which you can read here.

It is now 2013. Robertson has not delivered openness. He has let Vancouverites down.

Here is Affleck's motion. Watch out for the Vision Vancouver spin.

Media Access to City of Vancouver Staff 
Whereas the City of Vancouver values openness and transparency; 
Whereas media has an important role in communicating the actions of the City of Vancouver, and are crucial to ensuring informed, engaged citizens; 
Whereas the budget allocated to the Communications Department has increased from $1.25 million to $1.94 million, and staffing has increased from 9 to 20 positions over the past four years; 
Whereas local media have raised concerns regarding open access to officials, timely interviews with officials, and the ability to receive information on city policies; 
Whereas city departmental staff are professional, have good judgement and are generally very knowledgeable in their fields of expertise; 
Whereas past policy permitted city hall staff to communicate directly with members of the media at the discretion of their direct managers with no noticeable negative effects; 
Therefore be it resolved that provide a report to Council within three months which will explain:
  • 1)   Current policy relating to media access to Department Heads in the context of current global best practices;
  • 2)    Clear and concise policy around timely access to information by media; and
  • 3)    How the commensurate workload of the Communications Department could be monitored with the view of cutting costs in that department as part of continued efforts of the Shared Services Review. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Russian LNG behemoth coming to B.C. in 2015

Gazprom is coming to British Columbia. 

Not to buy liquefied natural gas -- Premier Christy Clark’s much-ballyhooed elixir for the future of the debt-laden province -- but instead to sponsor the biggest sport final in Canada since the 2010 Winter Olympics' men's hockey gold medal match.

GazpromOn Sept. 14 in the Winter Olympic city of Sochi, as Russian president Vladimir Putin looked-on, the world’s biggest LNG company inked a deal to become the official oil, gas and fuel sponsor of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body. 

The agreement runs 2015 to 2018 and is connected to Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup
The 2015 Women’s World Cup, FIFA’s second-biggest tournament, is coming to Canada June 6 to July 5, 2015. The championship final will be played at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver

That means Gazprom’s logo will be seen on the pitch-level advertising boards and executives of Russia’s largest corporation will have the opportunity to enjoy a level 3 hospitality suite. The 2015 Women’s World Cup will be the biggest yet, with 24 nations represented, and matches in six Canadian cities. 

Tournament logoGazprom claims 18% of the world's natural gas reserves and to be the producer of 14% of the world’s LNG. Gazprom was once poised to export Russian LNG to the U.S., but the advent of fracking meant the U.S. didn’t need it. The Kremlin-backed company has staked its future on a pipeline to China. Gazprom signed an agreement to supply China National Petroleum Corporation on Sept. 5 at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg. Witnesses included Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping. Gazprom is also in talks to export Russian LNG to South Korea and Japan.

Clark will lead another trade junket to China, Japan and South Korea to flog B.C. LNG from Nov. 21-Dec. 3. (Academic research shows trade missions don't actually increase trade, but that's another story for another day.)

What happens to the investment of both private and public money in B.C. to develop an LNG industry if Gazprom meets China’s needs and if the Chinese find ample reserves of their own? What happens if Gazprom also finds buyers in South Korea and Japan? 

The word "shutout" comes to mind.

Blog Archive