Sunday, May 1, 2011

Will the ex-VP become an MP?

This time last year, there was a lot of buzz around VANOC CEO John Furlong and whether he would stay in the public eye and run for public office. It was one-way hype.

Furlong always issued an abrupt denial when asked. What's more, his leadership of the Vancouver Olympic committee was a tiring, nearly decade-long campaign fraught with politics and economics. He once said he would have done his job with a paper bag on his head if he could have. Despite his rousing speeches and sometimes feisty answers to relentless journalists, Furlong always seemed a tad reluctant to be in the public eye.

Different story for Taleeb Noormohamed. Noormohamed, 34, is a former VANOC vice-president of strategy and partnerships who worked closely with Furlong. That's Noormohamed with Furlong pictured above at the United Nations in October 2009. The charismatic, intelligent North Shore-raised Noormohamed was born in 1976 (after the Montreal Olympics) in Ottawa and he wants to go back to the nation's capital. This time as the Member of Parliament for North Vancouver.

Noormohamed is running for the Liberal Party in the May 2 election against incumbent Conservative Andrew Saxton. It was at a Noormohamed-hosted rally for Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff that the legendary Nardwuar the Human Serviette convinced Ignatieff to do the Hip Flip. One of the best moments of the campaign, I say.

I caught up with Noormohamed on election eve.

Q: Talk about the experience of running for office in this election.

"It's been a really good opportunity to hear the issues and talk to as many people as you can. I've knocked on thousands of doors, I would hazard to guess, I would say over 4,000 doors.

Q: What have you learned about yourself and the process?

Taleeb: "It's a process that requires you to really trust in people and you have to be willing to work extremely hard. I've been knocking on doors quite literally eight hours a day. This is a team sport and so many people are doing this with you and around you.

"It's a very humbling experience, you have to really be aware of how important elections are to people and how seriously people take them. I've heard people share some amazing and very sad challenges they're facing. It really does inspire you to do this and do better for people.

"If I win, I carry this responsibility that I do keep that dialogue going not just when it's election time."

Q: What are your thoughts on the Jack Layton surge and how the campaign has evolved?

Taleeb: "It's very easy to make whatever promise you want when there is almost no chance you're going to form government.

"Mr. Ignatieff has quite literally years of the Conservatives putting out negative media, negative press, leaving Jack fairly untouched. Part of the fundamental image of Ignatieff that was created was created by the very offensive, negative media work done by the Conservatives. At some point, what Mr. Ignatieff had to say got lost in the hype around Jack…

"Mr. Ignatieff got a much rougher ride than the others did. I was surprised that the media let Harper get away with the kind of campaign that he ran, where questions didn't get answered or Conservatives didn't show up for all-candidates meetings. People didn't scrutinize as closely just the fundamental disrespect Harper had for the media in this campaign."

Meanwhile, though Furlong did not become a candidate, he did endorse Gary Lunn, the Conservative running for re-election in Saanich and the Gulf Islands. See the photo below. Lunn was the junior sport minister before and during the Vancouver Olympics. Furlong appeared at the opening of Lunn's campaign office on April 3.

VANOC needed more taxpayers' money -- including at least $74.4 million directly from the federal government -- because of the Great Recession. The Conservatives have still not disclosed the final bill to taxpayers for the Vancouver Olympics, yet Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been campaigning across the country while wearing his Team Canada jacket. At least one political blog has noticed and it even posted a gallery of Harper modelling the jacket. The Canadian Olympic Committee did not respond to my query about whether Harper signed a commercial rights agreement to use the jacket in such a way.

On May 2, voters get to decide which party forms government and, ultimately, which leader can attach himself to the Olympic rings.

Twenty-Five Years Ago: Something Happened Here

Twenty-five years ago on May 2, 1986, Expo 86 opened in Vancouver on the shores of False Creek and Burrard Inlet.

The world exposition on transportation and communication's official opening ceremony at B.C. Place Stadium featured Prince Charles and Princess Diana. So began the 165-day fair, which ended Oct. 13, 1986. it was the biggest event until Feb. 12, 2010, when Vancouver's Winter Olympics opened at B.C. Place.

If you weren't there or want a refresher, see this three-part documentary here, here and here.

And, while you're at it, sing along to the theme "Something's Happening Here".

Expo was conceived in February 1978 by architect Randle Iredale and British Columbia Recreation and Conservation Minister Sam Bawlf. Iredale suggested Marathon Realty's industrial and rail lands on the shores of False Creek be transformed into a public area with a multi-use stadium, trade and convention centre and a museum in the old Canadian Pacific Railway Roundhouse. Bawlf proposed "an international exposition to complement Vancouver's 1986 centenary".

In June of that year, Tourism Minister Grace McCarthy dined with Canadian diplomate and Bureau of International Expositions executive Patrick Reid at the Cavalry and Guards Club in London, England. McCarthy suggested a neat gimmick for B.C. tourism: rent the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Reid said the French would never let the famous painting Leonardo da Vinci painting out of their grasp. Reid suggested a world's fair would be a better, more attainable goal.

McCarthy said: "I asked him why Vancouver had never been chosen as a site for a world exposition. He said, 'because it never asked.' Well, we're asking for one now."

Vancouver submitted its bid June 20, 1979 for "Transpo 86" with the BIE in Paris. It was approved Nov. 26, 1980. A September 1980 study estimated it would lose $12 million on a budget of almost $150 million to build and operate. A March 31, 1985 forecast, however, said the $802 million fair would lose $311 million.

The 170-acre site featured a 61 metre hockey stick that rested on the world's biggest flagpole near where Rogers Arena was built in 1995. The biggest crowd of 341,806 came on Oct. 12, 1986. The final tally of visits (not visitors) for the entire fair was 22,111,578.

Expo 86 was my home-away-from-home for the spring, summer and fall of 1986. It was my first reporting gig. The Creek community newspaper, edited and published monthly by Beryl Wilson, graciously gave me space for a column I called "Expo-pourri". One day I visited with my friend Andrew Porter. Lo and behold, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was also visiting with his family. So we followed them. Well, actually we wanted to get a closer look at his attractive daughter Caroline. (Hey, we were teenagers with raging hormones.) It was quite the surprise when we found ourselves in a photograph published in The Expo Celebration: The Official Retrospective Book (Whitecap, 1986) coffee table book. That's my right eye and full head of hair near the middle of the photo. Yes, I once had plenty of hair. The other photos on this page are from the same book.

Back then, the Internet was for scientists and the military. But we got a sneak peek into the future with the ultra-cool Telidon at Expo 86.

Without Expo, there would likely not have been a 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The inukshuk from the Northwest Territories Pavilion was moved from the False Creek site to English Bay where it caught the eye of graphic designer Elena Rivera MacGregor. The Inuit stone sculpture became the VANOC logo.

The Expo 86 logo was designed by Frank Mayrs. The three circles represent air, sea and land while the diagonal line symbolized progress. Expo Ernie was the loveable robot mascot, bought for $53,000 by chairman Jim Pattison at the post-event auction. Science World, the Roundhouse Community Centre, Enterprise Hall (occupied by Edgewater Casino) and Canada Place are the only buildings remaining from Expo 86. Many of the temporary modules found new homes elsewhere in B.C. There are clusters in New Westminster and Delta industrial parks.

The party wasn't for everyone. Hundreds of people were evicted from Downtown Eastside welfare hotels, which were renovated and rented to tourists. Expo brought more tourists, but also residents. The price of land increased. Rental vacancies decreased. It's a more crowded and expensive city.

"Expo is already the number one topic of hatred down here -- if you were living in a 10-by-10 room and looked out to see a big pleasure palace you couldn't afford, you'd feel the same," said Downtown Eastside Residents Association's Jim Green at the time.

Sadly, there were at least two preventable deaths that we must not forget.

Alberta glazier Don Heald, 27, died in a Sept. 9, 1985 fall from the Plaza of Nations' roof when he was not wearing a safety belt. Karen Ford, a nine-year-old girl from Nanaimo, was crushed to death May 9, 1986 at the Canada Pavilion in Canada Place in front of her horrified parents, between a moving wall and a low ceiling beam on a turntable theatre. Canada Place officials admitted to a coroner's jury that they didn't want to spend extra on safety measures.

What are your memories of Expo 86? Good, bad or indifferent?

Are you going to the Expo 86 Lookback Party on May 6 at Science World?

Did anyone get their passport stamped at Garbos' Garbage Pavilion?

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