Friday, October 5, 2012

#LiquorLeaks wonders: who really corked privatization?

The news broke on Sept. 28 at the Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention in Victoria.

Premier Christy Clark, addressing mayors and councillors from throughout the province, revealed that a settlement had been reached in negotiations for a new contract with the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union.

A one-liner in the news release said:
"As part of the agreement, the Negotiated Request for Proposal process for the privatization of liquor distribution was cancelled."
That's all. No further explanation. The LDB's warehousing and distribution arms would remain publicly owned. The broke BC Liberal government desperate to show a balanced budget in time for the 2013 election dropped the controversial privatization that it stubbornly defended since February.

A stunning turn of events. The bizarre procurement process that unfolded since the April 30 publication of the request for proposals drew comparisons to the bungled 2003 privatization of BC Rail. Three of the bidders' parent companies -- Deutsche Post DHL, Kuehne + Nagel and Schenker -- were caught price-fixing by the European Commission. Two of the bidders -- ContainerWorld and Exel -- had donated to the ruling BC Liberals. One of them -- Exel -- had been lobbying the Liberals for seven years and even contracted party insider Patrick Kinsella, who chaired Clark's 2011 leadership victory. (Kinsella de-registered on March 30, a month before bidding began.)

LDB made a $911.1 million profit on $2.89 billion sales in 2011-2012 and the government never showed any evidence to justify the planned privatization. People across the industry, from hard liquor to craft brewing, said higher costs would be the result of a private monopoly on booze hauling. The burden would be passed on to customers. Exel Logistics' "Project Last Spike" internal memo, dated Oct. 6, 2009, even said so.

Liquor minister Coleman
The very week that the BCGEU returned to talks, shortlisted bidders ContainerWorld, Exel, Kuehne + Nagel and Metro were meeting with the joint LDB/Citizens' Services evaluation committee. The bids were supposed to be refined, completed and considered by the committee. Treasury Board was supposed to approve the committee's recommendation and announce a preferred proponent on Oct. 16.

Walker was savouring the victory. The second time in less than a decade that the BCGEU had thwarted liquor privatization at the bargaining table. But was it so simple? Was the BCGEU solely responsible?

My request to interview Liquor Minister Rich Coleman was refused. Same went for my request to the office of Finance Minister Mike de Jong. His staff sent me this statement:
It became clear in the late stages of negotiation that this was an important element to close the deal. The NRFP remained a significant issue for the BCGEU. The fact that government reconsidered the NRFP shows our commitment reaching a settlement under the Cooperative Gains Mandate.
NDP liquor critic Maurine Karagianis doubts the official version.

NDP critic Karagianis
"They have heard very clearly that it was a bad deal for British Columbians, a bad deal for industry, a bad deal for consumers and they needed a way to get out of it," Karagianis told me, for my Business in Vancouver story on the day.

The day before privatization was kiboshed, the government was still communicating with the public about the merits of the process. A reader provided me a Sept. 27 letter he received via email, from Coleman and copied to Ben Stewart, the Citizens' Services minister. It contains nothing new. All the lines were culled from Coleman's script. Even this gem:
"In order to proceed, government must be satisfied that British Columbia taxpayers will benefit from having a private sector provider warehouse and distribute liquor in the province."
Why did the government send such a letter when it knew or ought to have known the privatization was over or on the death knell? Who put the cork in the privatization bottle? Why?

And why was a copy of the letter sent to Stewart? We were led to believe that Stewart was not going to be involved in this file because of the potential for the appearance of a conflict of interest. He has a blind trust ownership of Kelowna's Quail's Gate Estate Winery, which is a supplier to Alberta's Exel-owned monopoly Connect Logistics and to the B.C. LDB. The 2011-2012 LDB statement of financial information shows LDB paid Quail's Gate $2,273,529.

The privatization is over. For now. The questions? I won't stop asking them.

More #LiquorLeaks to come.

Rich Coleman, Sept. 27, 2012 letter

Showing the oaths

When she announced her open government policy in July 2011, Premier Christy Clark said she was encouraging public bodies to issue information on a proactive basis.

Is it working? I'd say it isn't. Here's one test. The oaths sworn by members of cabinet and their appointment certificates should be posted publicly the day they are signed. Instead, they are still subject to a Freedom of Information request. Below are the swearing-in certificates I obtained for all members of the B.C. cabinet, including the Premier. 

The appointments were formally made and oaths sworn before Lt. Gov. Steven Point. Look closely at the certificates and you'll notice his first name is incorrectly spelled as "Stephen."

Lt. Gov. Point's first name is spelled Steven on the Office of the Lieutenant Governor website and in an Oct. 1 news release announcing the appointment of his successor, Judith Guichon.

B.C. Cabinet Swearing-In Certificates: Collect the Whole Set!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Exclusive: Stadium sinks staff sea cruise - mutiny to follow?

B.C. Place Stadium has a retractable roof. And an operations budget under apparent restraint. 
General Manager

Just three days after the first anniversary of its reopening from renovation and the day before a scheduled staff appreciation boat cruise, general manager Howard Crosley sank the scheduled excursion. Tickets for staff were $10 each and guests $35. 

On the morning of Oct. 3, staff received the following memo. While many of the workers had reason to talk like a pirate ("arrr"), others took a more humorous strategy. The theme songs to the Love Boat and Gilligan's Island were heard on the in-house walkie-talkie system during the Oct. 3 Vancouver Whitecaps 4-0 win over Chivas U.S.A. 

I'm still waiting for spokesman Duncan Blomfield to respond with comment. B.C. Pavilion Corporation is now under the presidency of Dana Hayden, the former Jobs, Tourism and Innovation deputy minister. Cabinet responsibility was recently shuffled to Rich Coleman, whose portfolio includes energy, mines, natural gas, gambling, liquor and housing. 

This could have been the first salvo fired in what could be a fall of labour strife. Stadium workers, represented by the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, are negotiating a new deal. In 2011, they reached an agreement with management and avoided a strike that could have jeopardized the Grey Cup.

Will it be smooth sailing in 2012 or is a course being charted for choppy waters?

To All Staff: 
I know many of you were looking forward to the Staff Appreciation Boat Cruise scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, October 4th. The response has been very positive; however, due to fiscal constraints and budgetary considerations, unfortunately, it is necessary to cancel the event. We will look at another staff appreciation function to be held at BC Place in the near future. 
We truly appreciate your dedication and apologize for the inconvenience. 
How do you get your ticket refund? 
  • Wed Oct 3, before 1600, Admin Office, see Irene. From 1600 to 1730, before your game shift, outside Level 1 Break Room.
  • Oct 4 and 5, 0900 to 1700, Admin Office, see Irene
  • Sat Oct 6, 1600 to 1730, before your game shift, outside Level 1 Break Room
  • Oct 9 onward, 0900 to 1700, Admin Office, see Irene 
Howard Crosley
General Manager

Blog Archive