Saturday, March 10, 2012

It should have been Bob Ackles Field

If B.C. Pavilion Corporation and the B.C. government took my free advice, they could have saved a $40 million deal and prevented themselves a ton of embarrassment.

How, you say?

Back in 2008, just days after B.C. Lions' president Bob Ackles died, I proposed that the field at B.C. Place Stadium be renamed in his honour. See my column from the Vancouver Courier below.

Had my advice been heeded, there would never have been a Bell Pitch. The Vancouver Whitecaps and B.C. Lions would both be playing on a field named for one of the most important people in B.C. sport history. Telus could very well have its name on B.C. Place by now and one of the promises to taxpayers (revenue from the sale of naming rights) would have been fulfilled.

As it stands, Telus has its hand out to government, expecting to be paid for services rendered and equipment installed. The only way to soften the blow would be for PavCo to complete the exclusive supplier contract that is being negotiated.

The taxpayers wait to learn the final cost of the budgeted $563 million renovation and they also wonder whether the business-friendly B.C. Liberal Party is able to govern anymore.

Remembering Bob Ackles

BY Bob Mackin, July 11, 2008

Bob Ackles is gone. Why is he missed so much? He represented the everyman. He demonstrated that you can start at the bottom and make it to the top through honest, hard work. He wasn't a scholar and he wasn't the scion of a tycoon. Ackles was a six-decade-long, rags-to-riches story that began in 1953 when he approached B.C. Lions' original head coach Annis Stukus on the West Side's Heather Park field. He got hired on the spot as the team's first waterboy.

Ackles' vocation was Canadian football, a sport that unites big cities and small towns, anglophones, francophones and immigrants. His job wasn't just helping put the best players in orange jerseys or putting bums in seats at B.C. Place Stadium. It was to foster the sport of Canadian football for all ages and abilities in B.C., and to ensure the Canadian Football League remained affordable family entertainment in a city hell-bent on world class status.

After 32 years with the Lions, Ackles stepped away in 1986 at the team's peak to find new career challenges in the National Football League. The ship was sailing just fine, thank-you, three years after opening B.C. Place, a year after winning a second Grey Cup. While he was gone, two of the team's owners nearly sunk the franchise. Hamilton auto parts magnate David Braley finally came along in 1997 and brought Ackles home in 2002 to save the team. That he did. The Lions are a proud symbol of B.C. again. Just look at how many people wear orange at home games. Not long ago, blue--the colour of empty B.C. Place seats--was the dominant colour under the dome.

Some have suggested that B.C. Place Stadium be renamed for Ackles. That's not going to happen. Ackles was a humble fella and wouldn't have wanted his name on the marquee. What's more, it should have been called Terry Fox Stadium from day one. B.C. Pavilion Corporation announced in February that the stadium's name would be sold to a corporate sponsor.

PavCo, a provincial Crown corporation, should look south to the example set in San Francisco. When Bill Walsh died last summer, the architect of the San Francisco 49ers' Super Bowl dynasty was commemorated with Bill Walsh Field at Monster Park, which has since reverted to the original Candlestick Park monicker.

The same gesture should happen here. I urge Premier Gordon Campbell and PavCo chairman David Podmore to dedicate the playing surface at B.C. Place to Ackles. Whenever someone steps onto the FieldTurf for any sport, they should be on Bob Ackles Field at B.C. Place Stadium.

Ackles never played a down for the Lions, but he was as important to the game as all the players who did. There are sometimes hundreds of little people behind the scenes at sporting events who get little recognition. Some are volunteers, who gain nothing but the sense of satisfaction.

Let's hear it for the waterboys--and the watergirls. Let's have Bob Ackles Field at B.C. Place Stadium.

Exclusive: inside the B.C. government name game

Some observers of the government's snub of Telus over the B.C. Place Stadium naming sponsorship wonder why the government didn't just let Budweiser buy the name and be done with it.

Telus installed $10 million to $15 million worth of wi-fi and mobile phone systems and video screens as part of the deal it reached with B.C. Pavilion Corporation in March 2011. That $35 million to $40 million you've heard about is not all cash on the table. It relied heavily on the provision of goods and services. Now PavCo has to buy its way out with your money and mine. The only way it can soften the blow now is to designate Telus as an exclusive or official supplier.

But the bigger reason is that no provincial government building in B.C. can be named after Budweiser. Or Molson Canadian. Or Guinness. Or even the Sorrento, B.C.-made Crannog Back Hand of God Stout or Gael's Blood Potato Ale.

The province's Naming Rights Policy says government will not approve an opportunity for naming recognition:

"that involves an individual, business or organization whose main business is derived from the sale of alcohol, other than a provincial or national industry association that focuses on harm reduction regarding the responsible use of alcohol."

Yes, the province has a naming rights policy and applications are overseen by a little-known committee of bureaucrats (chaired by Executive Lead of Strategic Vendor Management Richard Poutney) under the Intellectual Property Program within the Ministry of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government. You can read it here. However, the policy contains a loophole that opens the decision to political interference.

Section 4.5 of the policy says cabinet will decide on naming opportunities if:

(a) the size or visibility of the asset is of particular significance;
(b) the value of the contribution is greater than five million dollars;
(c) the asset is or will likely be the object of media attention, or is otherwise in the public eye;

All three apply in the context of the B.C. Place naming rights opportunity. The minutes for the committee's only meeting in 2011 (below) show that the Telus proposal to rename B.C. Place Stadium as "Telus Park" was not submitted to the committee. This was handled (or, perhaps, mishandled) solely by cabinet and, therefore, we may not know the details until 2026 or 2027 when the particular cabinet documents would become public.

What do you think? Should the naming of any and all provincial buildings in B.C. be vetted first by a committee that reports publicly (and doesn't wait for reporters to file a Freedom of Information request)? Should cabinet have a role, particularly when the bidder is a major donor to the ruling party or a major government contractor? (Telus donated more than $350,000 since 2005 to the B.C. Liberals and was given a $1 billion, 10-year government service contract in 2011.) And what happens if the chairman of the public body with the name up for sale has close ties with the corporation that wants to buy the name of the public building? (David Podmore's Concert Properties board includes two senior Telus executives and two senior officials from the Telecommunications Workers Union.)

It is, after all, taxpayers' money and taxpayers' own the buildings...

Province of British Columbia Naming Committee

Does Brown-out signal lights out for Premier Photo Op?

The shocking resignation of Peter Brown from the board of the B.C. Pavilion Corporation could be the beginning of the end for Premier Christy Clark's nearly year-old reign as Premier of British Columbia.

Brown was in New York March 9, while Clark was in Ottawa. Brown's name and profile disappeared from the B.C. Pavilion Corporation website at the end of the same week when Clark and Minister responsible Pat Bell publicly confirmed that the B.C. Place Stadium naming rights deal with Telus was cancelled. Telus had installed $10 million to $15 million of wi-fi stations, mobile phone antennas and video screens in the stadium as part of the deal that PavCo recommended to cabinet.

Through his Vancouver investment house, Canaccord, Brown has donated $312,230 to the B.C. Liberals since 2005 and backed George Abbott for the leadership of the party in the 2011 race. Brown was one of the biggest boosters of Gordon Campbell, who left the premiership after almost a decade and is now Canada's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Clark was sworn-in on March 14, 2011.

Brown has resigned before from a similar organization because of political interference.

Brown was vice-chairman of the Expo 86 Corporation and chairman of the B.C. Place Corporation, a PavCo predecessor which merged with the B.C. Development Corporation to form the B.C. Enterprise Corporation.

Brown resigned in April 1988 after he was accused by Premier Bill Vander Zalm's secretary David Poole of wining and dining Li Ka-Shing, the eventual winning bidder for the Expo lands. Brown admitted hosting Li's son Victor for dinner at his Point Grey home, but denied any wrongdoing. He offered a stinging rebuke of Poole, the most powerful unelected official in the Vander Zalm government.

"The dinner in my house was part of a purely proper program to encourage any bidder that we could to participate in the B.C. Enterprise bid process," Brown was quoted in the Vancouver Sun. "Any attempt to cast aspersions on that function by anyone is a bitter and petty act by someone who's proved before he's not sure what the rules are."

Brown was on the board of directors for the original North American Soccer League Vancouver Whitecaps. He is also a collector of Group of Seven masterpieces.

It could be theorized that Brown's resignation in 1988 was part of the slow process that led to the eventual fall of Vander Zalm, who was finally forced out in 1991 by the Fantasy Gardens conflict of interest scandal.

Could the fumbling of the renaming of B.C. Place be the undoing for Clark?

UPDATE: On March 12, I received the following email from Peter Brown, who declined my March 10 request for an interview ("At 70 years of age I am trying to get my privacy back which is more difficult than it should be," Brown wrote, via his iPad.)

"It would be nice to be in a profession like yours where rampant poetic license was practiced. Here are some facts that you neglected in your blog:

"I did not back George Abbott for leadership of the Liberal Party as I believed he never had a chance.

"I entertained every bidder for BC Enterprise in my home and Grace McCarthy, the Minister responsible, was always present.

"That newspaper reference was caused by David Poole's attempt to improperly influence the privatization of the assets of BC Enterprise. This was a failed attempt by him. I had always agreed to serve as Chairman of BC Enterprise until the principle assets were privatized which was concluded with the sale of the Expo Lands. The government of the day had nothing to do with my decision.

"My current resignation is as I publicly stated. I agreed to go on the board of PAVCO to oversee the complex construction of two major Vancouver icons. That job is complete and I believe that board representation should now come from people in Tourism and Marketing - neither of which are my expertise. The decision was compounded by the fact that I have taken on too many boards and committees and need to cut back on boards like this where my contribution going forward is less relevant.

"As to my politics, I think it should be obvious to everyone that I am a supporter of governments who believe in free trade and free markets and believe the best results for all citizens will be generated by free enterprise alternatives. In this case, even you should be able to ascertain my political choice as the only one possible which makes the inferences in your article ridiculous. All the more so when one considers choices in the upcoming election and the critical impact the wrong decision could have on our economic well being."

Peter Brown

I followed up and asked Brown about how Canaccord Capital donated $11,500 to Abbott's campaign on March 28, 2011. No donations to any other contestant are listed on the Elections B.C. database. Canaccord donated $25,000 to Vision Vancouver in 2009. The Non-Partisan Association is the civic free enterprise party in Vancouver. I asked for, and Brown declined to supply me, the date on which he tendered his PavCo resignation and the contents of the resignation letter. This is how he responded:

"Abbott's donation was nothing to do with me. I was quite active with another candidate. Canaccord and my personal donations are very separate as I stepped down as CEO five years ago. I am only responsible for donations in my name and the name of the Peter and Joanne Brown Foundation.

"If I had known the renewal for Directors was May 27, I probably would have waited until then as there was no sense of urgency. I had already said publicly that I am on too many Boards and had just agreed to Chair another so I was looking to cut back. As to sharing my letter of resignation with a reporter that I don't know -- I am sure even you know that would be extremely inappropriate. The letter was addressed to PAVCO and it is there prerogative to release it of not

"It was always the government's prerogative to approve or disprove the TELUS contract that was being negotiated under the Letter of Intent so, once again you are on the wrong wicket

"I hope this ends your unwanted entry into my personal affairs."

My questions pertained only to Brown's activities as a director of taxpayer-owned bodies and his publicly disclosed donations to political parties. As I reporter, it is vital that I ask such questions of someone who is appointed to be part of a group managing public assets and funds.

UPDATE: March 14.

PavCo spokesman Duncan Blomfield confirmed that Peter Brown's resignation letter was dated Feb. 13, but he declined to discuss the contents.

Vaughn Palmer, the dean of political reporters in B.C., has confirmed that Peter Brown resigned from the PavCo board, "in protest" over the cancelled Telus naming rights deal. Read his column here.

Funny how Brown's story changes, depending on the media outlet he's in contact with. Readers are smarter than he thinks.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Exclusive: RF Place Stadium

During the first full week of March 2012, we finally learned that B.C. Place Stadium's $40 million Telus naming rights deal was bungled and that grease is leaking from cables onto the roof, causing as much as $10 million of damage.

Both stories offer further proof that the government should get out of the stadium business and focus on what it should be doing: education, healthcare, law and order.

What is harder to prove is that the 800 wi-fi and 100 mobile phone transmitters installed in B.C. Place by Telus and Cisco are hazardous to public health.

The safety of wi-fi networks has been questioned by groups like the Safe School Committee, which opposes wireless Internet in schools and claims it its harmful to children's health. The moms and dads may have a point.

In a monumental move, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer issued this news release on May 31, 2011 calling radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields (EMF) "possibly carcinogenic to humans." Click here to listen to the news conference from that day. The key, universal theme is that more research is needed.

Five months after the stadium reopened from the budgeted $563 million renovation, WorkSafeBC finally took notice. It issued the inspection report below in reaction to concerns expressed by the stadium's Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

In a nutshell, B.C. Place equipment must be "installed, operated and maintained” within Safety Code 6, the Health Canada regulation of human exposure to RF EMF fields from 3 kHz to 300 GHz. That includes radiation notice or warning signs, depending on the intensity of the signal emitted.

Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said the signal strength in B.C. Place is similar to a home wi-fi system or AM/FM radio signals in the airwaves.

“When the committee asked us the question we re-verified our wi-fi and cellular signals in B.C. Place fall within the levels set out by Canada's Safety Code 6, so they are safe,” Hall said. “We are now preparing a detailed response with more detail.”

What does Health Canada say in general about the safety of wi-fi and mobile phone signals?

"Based on scientific evidence, Health Canada has determined that low-level exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy from Wi-Fi equipment is not dangerous to the public. This conclusion is consistent with the findings of other international bodies and regulators."

"At present, the evidence of a possible link between RF energy exposure and cancer risk is far from conclusive and more research is needed to clarify this "possible" link. Health Canada is in agreement with both the World Health Organization and IARC that additional research in this area is warranted."

For more from Health Canada, click the link here. Or download the PDF here. Industry Canada also has published guidelines for the protection of the general public in this PDF.

I will keep an eye on the minutes of B.C. Place's monthly health and safety committee meetings. If there are any proven cases of radiation-related illness, you'll read about it here.

For now, strained eyes and sprained thumbs from Tweeting on a smart phone at a Whitecaps or Lions game are the most-certain risks from the free Telus wi-fi in B.C. Place.

B.C. Place communications radiation situation

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Grease is the word at B.C. Place Stadium

Yet more troubles with the new roof at B.C. Place Stadium, where taxpayers are on the hook for the renovation budgeted at $563 million.

You probably know that the naming rights deal with Telus, worth $40 million in goods, services and cash, was cancelled. The announcement came March 7, but it actually got kiboshed last month. B.C. Place workers were finally issued uniforms with the B.C. Place logo after being given generic shirts and jackets before the Sept. 30, 2011 reopening.

The Telus installation of video screens, wifi and mobile phone antennas, and its Optik TV was supposed to be free and counted toward the $40 million total. Telus is negotiating an official supplier agreement, but you can bet the company is asking for the government to buck up for the $10 million to $15 million of goods and services provided. Telus was snubbed. Taxpayers lose.

What you may not know is the story that the B.C. government and B.C. Pavilion Corporation don't want you to know. The elephant in the room, so to speak. There are more troubles with the roof.

Grease has leaked from the roof support cables and damaged the fabric roof. The cost to fix it could be up to $10 million, a B.C. Supreme Court judge heard on March 6. I broke the story March 6 in Business in Vancouver. Read it here.

The problem was identified before the roof fabric was installed. The documents below are proof. Will it be covered under warranty? If roof panels need to be replaced this summer (the driest part of the year, how will that affect the Vancouver Whitecaps and B.C. Lions?

Neither PavCo chairman David Podmore nor CEO Warren Buckley made themselves available for an interview. Buckley, I am told, was traveling. My request to inspect the damage was not fulfilled.

PavCo's Duncan Blomfield downplayed the problem. PavCo has consistently downplayed problems with the stadium since it called the snow-caused roof rip and collapse of Jan. 5, 2007 a "controlled deflation."That incident was the catalyst for the most-expensive, non-essential public building renovation in the province's history that was never debated or put to a vote in the Legislature.

Blomfield claimed damage is covered by the contractor's warranty, will cost less than $1 million to repair and won't compromise events. I'm not sold on that. If there are not direct costs, there will be indirect costs. What happens if roof fabric has to be replaced this summer or next, during the busy sports events season?

We may have to wait for the court case in October 2013 between steel contractor Canam and cable installer Freyssinet to find out the truth. (Read all about the multimillion-dollar legal battle, in which PavCo is listed as a defendant, here.) Unless Auditor General John Doyle wants to probe the expensive project first.

The stadium has three types of roof material: Tenara is the retractable portion in the centre; Sheerfill and Fabrasorb are the fixed portions that comprise the majority of the surface. They are also the most susceptible to grease damage, according to the revealing report below. PCL Constructors Westcoast, the general contractor, knew about the leaks in November 2010, many months before the fabric was finally applied. Shade Worldwide, the supplier of Sheerfill and Fabrasorb, warned that grease would permanently stain the roof.

Click here to watch the March 7 Global TV News story by Marisa Thomas and read the documents below. B.C. Place has a bigger problem far bigger than the lack of a corporate name on its shingle.

FOI 200 Shade World - REDACTED-Mackin

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Revealed: why B.C. booze cops got body armour

An odd request for proposals was published in late 2011 by the British Columbia Liquor Control and Licensing Branch. The government agency sought 40 sets of concealable soft body armour for its inspectors. The reason why was not disclosed. Until now.

I broke the story on March 2 for Business in Vancouver. In a nutshell, the boss of B.C. booze enforcement, Karen Ayers, and three of her staff members were given a rude welcome at a Richmond establishment in June 2006. Two of them were roughed up. Their injuries were censored. Ayers responded swiftly by ordering a review of safety and security. Body armour, to protect against slashing and stabbing, was ordered.

Unfortunately, Ayers either did not want to do an interview or was gagged by someone in government. I figured it would have added to the story to have her voice. Maybe the outcome would have been greater public respect and support for liquor inspectors.

The source documents are below.

Why B.C. booze inspectors got body armour

Monday, March 5, 2012

Open letter to Premier Christy Clark

Dear Ms. Clark,

Do you remember saying these things during your short tenure as Premier of British Columbia?

"Open government is about sharing information and giving British Columbians more opportunities to participate in decisions that make a difference in their lives.”

“Open Government is about giving people a sense of confidence that government is working for them, not trying to do something to them.”

And, finally, in July 2011, you announced an open data and information initiative, in which you stated at the 2:49 mark of this video the following:

"After all, it's taxpayers' money and it's taxpayers' information."

On Feb. 10, 2012, you met in Olympia, Wash. with Gov. Christine Gregoire and missed a golden opportunity. You could have asked Ms. Gregoire about her state's Freedom of Information Act. It is a model that should be adopted here. I'm a British Columbian and I can get information faster from Washington's government than I can from the one in my home province.

I don't believe you really are devoted to openness and transparency. Your words are those of a charlatan. You like government to be open only on your terms, not the terms of the people. Look at the response I received below when I asked a simple question to the Jobs, Tourism and Innovation ministry about the budget and plan for your B.C. Jobs Plan and Canada Starts Here advertising campaign. I got a denial letter, claiming all the information is secret. Hidden in cabinet. I thought it's taxpayers' money and taxpayers' information. Or were those only the words that the spin doctor prescribed?

So I'm challenging you to prove me wrong. Make the following four changes to show that you really do believe in openness and transparency:

1) Issue a directive to all ministries and agencies, ordering them to favour openness and disclose records requested within a maximum 30 calendar days (not business days).

2) Follow the State of Washington example and appoint an Open Government Ombudsman. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is burdened by a lack of resources, a caseload backlog and it only accepts complaints by mail or fax. (Isn't this the 21st century?)

3) Order all Crown corporations to publish agendas no later than 72 hours before and minutes no later than 72 hours after every board meeting and hold an open, public board meeting at least once each fiscal year.

4) Adapt the following State of Washington openness principles for use in British Columbia, as both the bedrock of FOI and the preamble of the Act.

The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them.
The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.
The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.

I know you're no fan of Gordon Campbell. Here's the opportunity to show you are better than the man you replaced.


Bob Mackin

P.S.: If you swiftly make the B.C. government genuinely open, I won't remind you so much about the need for a B.C. Rail inquiry.

Christy Clark: Secrecy Starts Here

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