Friday, April 5, 2013

The trials and tribulations of TOIFA

logoWhen it's all over, will the inaugural Times of India Film Awards in Vancouver be considered a quick win or a case of haste makes waste?

The British Columbia government gave an arm of the Times of India Group a $9.5 million, sole-source contract last December to manage, conceptualize, plan and produce the event. It budgeted another $1.5 million on a fashion show and business conference, among other things. The budget was $11 million. What will be the final tally?

The government doesn't want you or me to see the contract and business case before TOIFA. It could be released under Freedom of Information after mid-April. I'll keep you posted.

I reported on CKNW AM 980 on Jan. 25 that there had been a solid bid submitted for the International Indian Film Academy Awards, but talks broke-off between the government and promoter Wizcraft. Here is the bid book for the proposed June 21-23 IIFA festival, which would have been a regional celebration of Indian culture. It would have also been after the provincial election.
Shri Ashok Kumar Todi
Lux boss Ashok Todi

With only 10 weeks between the Jan. 22 announcement and the event itself, TOIFA failed to land a big-bucks Canadian title sponsor. Big, mainstream, national brands weren't willing to open their wallets for a first-time event at such short notice.

I revealed on the Simi Sara Show on CKNW AM 980 that TOIFA did find a title sponsor, Lux Cozi, which is well-known in India. And not just for the underwear it makes and markets. Listen to The Investigators podcast here.

In a nutshell: Chairman Ashok Todi was implicated in the death of a 30-year-old man who married his daughter, Priyanka, in 2007. Rizwanur Rahman's body was found beside train tracks in Kolkata. Murder charges didn't stick, but Todi and six others (including his brother and three cops) were accused of "abetting suicide."

Tourism Minister Pat Bell's office referred questions to TOIFA spokeswoman Laura Ballance about Lux and Todi. Ballance wouldn't comment because the matter is before the courts.

When I get the contract via FOI, I will be curious to find out if the government really signed it without including a clause requiring it be consulted on the types of sponsors, to ensure they are aligned with the values of B.C.

Bell already put his foot in his mouth when he proclaimed in the Legislature on March 5 that TOIFA was "sold out." That was not true. Thousands of seats remained empty for the Pacific Coliseum concert on April 4. Organizers admitted they sold 4,800 in the arena, which can hold 17,000 for a full concert. There were more than 500 entries on Craigslist from people hoping to unload their tickets to the April 6 awards ceremony at B.C. Place. TicketMaster still has a wide selection across several pricing categories. Various websites have popped up, offering discount tickets. One of them is TOIFA Events. It is unclear whether they are officially TOIFA-authorized.

Asia Delegation visits the Golden Temple
Clark on her 2011 India tour
TOIFA has claimed it changed the configuration to expand capacity at B.C. Place from 20,000 to 35,000. A 22-page sponsorship prospectus drafted in December shows that the April 6 event was always planned for "35,000 ticket holders and invitees."

One of those who will be there is Premier Christy Clark, in her $750, custom-made sari from Surrey.

Need more? Here is my latest from Business in Vancouver from April 5. And, in The Tyee, a look back at Music '91, a post-Expo 86 tourism promotion throughout B.C. in 1991 that was supposed to help the ruling Social Credit Party, but instead backfired.

Here's hoping the TOIFA awards show is a success, but I can't help but wonder: is history repeating?

Did you receive tickets to TOIFA from a source other than TicketMaster? Do you have questions about the legitimacy of your tickets? Please contact me. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Of Times of India and Taxpayers of British Columbia

A lot is at stake on the first weekend of April in Vancouver, and I'm not referring to Canada's Davis Cup quarterfinal tie with Italy at Thunderbird Arena.

Instead, this post is about the inaugural Times of India Film Awards, which feature a concert on April 4 at the Pacific Coliseum and the gala awards at B.C. Place Stadium on April 6. Thousands of tickets are available, even after Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Pat Bell said in Question Period on March 5, during an exchange with the NDP's Raj Chouhan, that it was "sold out."

The British Columbia government was bidding to bring the International Indian Film Academy awards to Vancouver in June 2013, but negotiations broke down with producer Wizcraft International of Mumbai in May 2012.

Elephant in the room: Clark clutching the TOIFA trophy.
So Premier Christy Clark created a pre-election Bollywood awards show under the guise of promoting B.C. as a tourist destination for Indians with a broadcast on Sony Television in India. It was announced Jan. 22 -- just 72 days before the event.

I took a critical look at the $11 million-plus, taxpayer-subsidized event on The Investigators on CKNW AM 980 on Jan. 25. Here is the podcast.

Depending on how you look at it, TOIFA is the scandal-plagued BC Liberals' last hurrah before an election they're expected to lose or a desperate, multicultural outreach ploy to gain votes from the 260,000-plus Indo-Canadians in B.C. Not surprisingly, no mainstream, Canadian brand has sponsored TOIFA; sophisticated companies tend not to invest in unproven properties, especially when faced with such little advance notice.

Only five companies well-known within the Indo-Canadian community have come forward. The values and structures of the deals have not been disclosed. Toronto's 2011 IIFA had 18 months lead-time and was able to compile an impressive sponsor roster, topped by CIBC, one of Canada's biggest banks.

As much as Bell and Clark try to downplay, distract or deny, they refuse to show British Columbians in a timely manner whether due diligence was applied to this venture before Treasury Board approved. I asked, via Freedom of Information, for the business case and contract. If it exists, the government won't give it to me before the awards. (See the bottom of this post.)

I did get confirmation, via a separate FOI request, that the government made a sole-source award of a $9.5 million contract to BCCL International Events Private Ltd., the Times of India Group's events arm. That contract was effective Dec. 12, 2012. (See below.)

What does this mean?

Quite simply, we may never know how our money was spent. Times of India Group is a private, foreign company. As such, it is outside the FOI law. The government's contractual sleight of hand is a likely legacy of the 2011 IIFA event in Toronto, where the CBC and other media outlets eventually got detailed spending reports via FOI.

The news only gets worse for TOIFA, after the Surrey Board of Trade issued a March 28 news release slamming the promoter for failing to schedule an event in Surrey, where 30% of residents are South Asian. The bid book for IIFA (which you can read here) included letters of support from Mayor Dianne Watts and Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman. Suggested events included a Bollywood film festival at Surrey's Strawberry Hill cinemas. I broke the news about the imminent Surrey snub on March 6 in Business in Vancouver.

Blaming the Times of India Group for the snub doesn't add up. The BC Liberals let the contract and hold the purse. As the saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Might Clark and co. have punished Surrey for turning down the Gateway Casino application to city council the weekend before the TOIFA news conference? According to Vancouver Desi, Surrey's Sikh community played a key role in the anti-casino lobby. A March 2 TOIFA fashion show was held at the River Rock Show Theatre in Richmond -- a casino in a municipality other than Surrey.

TOIFA has also stirred anger within the Indo-Canadian community. Vikram Bajwa, a disenchanted BC Liberal in Surrey, has announced plans for a protest outside TOIFA events to oppose the taxpayer-subsidy.

Much more to come on TOIFA...

Have you obtained TOIFA tickets from a source other than TicketMaster? How much did you pay? Did you get them for free? Please email me and tell me your story. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Pandas for the PM, elephant for the Premier

Prime Minister Stephen Harper received two giant pandas as a gift from the People's Republic of China on March 25 in Toronto. Female Er Shun and male Da Mao will make Canada their home for the next decade.

Meanwhile, Premier Christy Clark is expected to receive an Indian elephant on behalf of British Columbians as a gift for hosting the inaugural, April 4-6 Times of India Film Awards in Vancouver. 

Premier welcomes The Times of India Film Awards to B.C.
TOIFA trophy unveiling on Jan. 22 in Vancouver.
TOIFA has been dogged by controversy since the Jan. 22 announcement because of the $11 million taxpayer subsidy and the timing, just five weeks before the provincial election. Tickets are still available. Many tickets.

Tourism Vancouver is having fun with TOIFA.
The special mammal cargo from the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary was sent as a gift of the Government of India, aboard the freighter Prabhu Daya, with a veterinarian and a trainer. The Singapore-flagged bulk carrier arrived in Port Metro Vancouver last week from Mumbai and the pachyderm was delivered under cover of night to a secret barn at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove (Fort Langley-Aldergrove's MLA is Deputy Premier Rich Coleman).

The two-tonne female elephant named Murkha was chosen because it was born Feb. 26, 2011, the day Clark won her party's leadership contest. Murkha is expected to be featured in the "Jai Ho" grand finale number of the gala awards at B.C. Place Stadium; a loading bay at the stadium has been outfitted as Murkha's "dressing room." The Times of India Film Awards' trophy features a black elephant holding a film reel in its trunk. 

Spokeswoman Avril Tromper said a photo opportunity, featuring Clark and Coleman riding Murkha the Elephant, is expected to happen just before noon on April 1.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Obituary: Harmonized Sales Tax of British Columbia

HARMONIZED SALES TAX OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (born: July 1, 2010-died: March 31, 2013): The Harmonized Sales Tax died peacefully across the Province of British Columbia at the end of March 31, 2013.

HST, as it was better known, was a long-term resident of a public policy hospice since the loss of a province-wide, mail-in referendum on Aug. 26, 2011 left it immobilized. The events of Aug. 26, 2011 also bruised the collective ego of the ruling B.C. Liberal Party, which will be long remembered for helping prolong HST's life to the detriment of its popularity.  

The victim of death-by-democracy was originally announced July 23, 2009 by Premier Gordon Campbell and Finance Minister Colin Hansen, who jointly claimed the tax reform measure would boost investment and job creation. It would be the “single-biggest” thing to improve B.C.’s economy, they said -- but they said it just 10 weeks after winning a provincial election in which their campaign pledged not to harmonize.
The HST Stickman, in happier days.

The value-added tax was a multi-stage merger of the 1948-established, 7% Provincial Sales Tax (also known as the social services tax) and 5% federal Goods and Services Tax. 
Born July 1, 2010, HST was never widely welcomed nor respected by the majority of citizens. 

HST increased the prices of airline tickets within Canada, funeral services, real estate fees, health club memberships, dry cleaning, haircuts, tickets for movies, concerts and sporting events, plumbing repairs, and professional services. 

Besides the 2010 Winter Olympics, the revenue HST brought in helped pay for the $514 million renovation of B.C. Place Stadium, the $17 million B.C. Jobs Plan advertising campaign, the $11 million-plus Times of India Film Awards, the Premier's Office's $475,000 credit card bill, her $201,000-plus charter flights to news conferences and programs such as the B.C. Liberals' Multicultural Outreach Strategy and the Pacific Carbon Trust's purchase of carbon offsets -- which the Auditor General called a waste of taxpayers' money. 

The film industry and manufacturers loved it, because they said it simplified paperwork and reduced the cost of doing business. The Liberal-allied Smart Tax Alliance was its biggest booster. But real estate agents, restaurateurs and publicans (among many) hated it. The HST (coupled with a more powerful Canadian dollar) stimulated a newfound passion for cross-border shopping. It plunged Gordon Campbell’s approval rating fell to 9% and he resigned Nov. 3, 2010

HST was the product of the stubborn realization by Campbell that British Columbia’s deficit was understated during the 2009 provincial election and the financial risks of hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics were far greater than anticipated. While insisting the idea was hatched after the election, documents released via Freedom of Information proved B.C. officials were talking with federal counterparts early in 2009. Hansen was even briefed about the HST in March 2009.

The Fight HST campaign led by ex-Social Credit Premier Bill Vander Zalm and organized by NDP strategist Bill Tieleman successfully pointed out that the HST was a shift of the tax burden from business to individuals. Their pivotal Sept. 19, 2009 rally on the site of the future Olympic cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza led to a petition that met the threshold of 10% of registered voters across the province. The 700,000-plus signature petition was delivered to Elections B.C. in June 2010 and it withstood an August 2010 B.C. Supreme Court legal challenge in  brought by six Liberal-allied business groups

After Christy Clark won the B.C. Liberal leadership in February 2011 and came to power as Campbell’s successor, she dangled a carrot at voters, hoping they'd agree to vote to keep the HST in exchange for her pledge to cut the tax by 2% in 2014. The province’s $5 million stickman ad campaign that was supposed to be informative, not persuasive. Advertising, by its very nature, is persuasive. For the HST, however, not enough people were persuaded to support the HST. 

The referendum received 1,610,125 votes, of which 881,198 (54.73%) were against the HST. It was hailed as a triumph for democracy by the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, despite the confusing wording of the referendum question (yes meant no). The result forced Clark to cancel her planned early election call for fall 2011. At the time, Clark was more popular than her party and could have won an election. Now, polls say 62% of British Columbians want a new government.

On April 1, 2013, the HST was finally replaced by the resurrected PST -- which had been called “better-stupid” by ex-Finance Minister Kevin Falcon -- and the returned GST.

The HST is survived by Gordon Campbell, Colin Hansen, Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon and his successor Mike de Jong, along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper played a special role, by enticing B.C. to sign up for the HST with a $1.6 billion lump sum transition payment to help pay the cost of the Olympics. 

Campbell won three terms as B.C. Premier, but failed to finish his last one. He is now Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, thanks to an appointment from Harper. Hansen is a retiring Vancouver-Quilchena MLA who remains on Treasury Board and the Planning and Priorities Committee. 

No memorial service will be held, but the HST will no doubt be remembered when British Columbians vote in the May 14 provincial election. 

Donations and sympathy cards, in lieu of flowers, can be sent to the Christy Clark fund, ℅ Today's B.C. Liberals. 

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