Expect delays: Evergreen tunnel trouble and TransLink turmoil

Liberals tight-lipped about gas and gambling donations

That it was Friday the 13th didn’t stop the BC Liberals from renewing their Take Out the Trash Friday tradition. Who needs to be superstitious when you have spinning to do?

Clark: excited about boring
Clark: excited about boring

Some 90 minutes after stock markets closed, it announced the $1.43 billion SNC-Lavalin-led Evergreen Line SkyTrain project wouldn’t be ready for summer 2016. It has been delayed to fall 2016, because tunnel boring is taking longer than expected — sources say workers have been bored by the lack of boring in recent months. There goes the “on time” tag. On budget? Well, the government is still using that line, even if it omitted the actual budget figure from the news release. Also omitted? Any mention of the recent sinkholes.

Feb. 15 is the 50th anniversary of Canada’s maple leaf flag, which didn’t fly above the construction site on March 7, 2014 when Premier Christy Clark and Member of Parliament James Moore presided over the start of tunnel-boring. Check out this government video. Workers proud of both their jobs and country wanted to raise the flag, but, I am told, were denied by the construction site’s Italian managers from the SNC-Lavalin subcontractor SELI.

TransLink, the ultimate operator of the Evergreen Line, became the butt of more jokes on hump day when the board slapped a best-before date on CEO Ian Jarvis and replaced him with recycled ex-mandarin Doug Allen.

Allen was a deputy minister under the NDP in the 1990s who was put in charge of BC Ferries by the Liberals with orders to privatize it and sell the fleet of three fast ferries. The former Crown corporation’s biggest shareholder remains the people of the province. The $454 million fast ferries? Sold for a $20 million song to its builder, the Washington Marine Group, which flipped them to a group in the United Arab Emirates.

Jarvis remains an advisor to the board until mid-2016, so TransLink follows in the footsteps of the Vatican and Major League Baseball, who both kept their retired heads within the fold.

Since 2008, Allen was the boss at InTransitBC — the subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin that operates the Canada Line. SNC-Lavalin has its eyes on building the Broadway subway. Allen was co-founder of the Sage Group, a consultancy whose clients include (ta-da) SNC-Lavalin.

Taking a back seat to the switcheroo was the introduction of Bill 2 in the Legislature by Transportation Minister Todd Stone. The Feb. 11-introduced bill would consolidate the BC Transit-held Expo Line and West Coast Express with the Rapid Transit Project 2000 Ltd.-held Millennium Line under the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority, which will own the Evergreen Line. The chair and sole director of BCTFA is the Minister of Transportation.

On Feb. 12, Vision Vancouver bagman Joel Solomon and Shift trike delivery co-founder Graham Anderson hosted a fundraiser for the Yes campaign in the plebiscite for the 0.5% TransLink Sales Tax. NDP TransLink critic George Heyman, Coun. Geoff Meggs and Vision Vancouver strategist Mira Oreck were among the speakers. Vision Vancouver supporter and development lobbyist Bob Ransford joined Meggs on stage. Ransford’s Counterpoint Communications has a TransLink contract to promote the Yes campaign.

Since Mayor Gregor Robertson took over the Mayors’ Council on Jan. 15, the tide has shifted in the Yes campaign. Word is that the BC Liberal-allied Kirk and Co., which includes 2013 campaign manager Mike McDonald, is taking a backseat to the Vision crowd. It seems Vision’s polling firm Stratcom wants to run the show. Is this plebiscite an attempt to position Robertson for a surprise run for a federal Liberal seat in the Oct. 19 federal election? Or is the strategy to position Robertson as a potential successor to John Horgan as provincial NDP leader, should Horgan fail to knock-off Clark in 2017?

Liberal fundraising: crossing the line?

A hearty group of anti-LNG Howe Sounders braved a Pineapple Express rainstorm at the street entrance to Capilano Golf and Country Club on Feb. 5 to welcome BC Liberal supporters attending a fundraiser organized by MLA Jordan Sturdy’s West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky riding association.

Woodfibre LNG was the primary sponsor of the $300-a-plate bun-toss for 150 supporters. Organizer John Moonen, a West Vancouver-based lobbyist, wouldn’t answer any of my questions as he asked me to leave the clubhouse.

Finn at Cap
Finn at Cap

Sturdy didn’t return phone calls. Woodfibre LNG paid $5,000 and got a private audience before the event with guest speaker Mike de Jong, the finance minister, along with Attorney General Suzanne Anton, International Trade Minister Teresa Wat, West Vancouver MLA Ralph Sultan, North Vancouver MLA Jane Thornthwaite and White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg.

Woodfibre LNG wasn’t in a talkative mood, either. Its Hill and Knowlton-staffed media hotline issued a terse “no comment.” Vice-president of corporate affairs Byng Giraud did not return a phone call.

“We think that’s inequitable to allow a sponsored access to a finance minister two weeks from a budget that will impact the LNG industry in B.C.,” said protester Eoin Finn, clutching his No LNG sign in one hand and an umbrella in the other.

“We’ve tried many times to interest Mr. Sturdy in meeting with us, to express our complaints, and have had not much success,” Finn said. “We are his electorate, we have a voice and we have definite opinions about this Woodfibre LNG project.”

Woodfibre LNG wants to be up and running by 2017, in time for the next provincial election. The plant is within driving distance of more than half the province’s population, and would be a showcase for Premier Christy Clark’s plan to build an LNG industry.

The Environmental Assessment Office’s 180-day review of the Woodfibre LNG application began in mid-January, a week before Squamish city council voted against FortisBC’s test drilling for a proposed pipeline to feed the plant. Local residents fear air and water pollution. They also point out that Woodfibre LNG is ultimately controlled by Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto’s Royal Golden Eagle. RGE has been widely criticized for rainforest destruction and shoddy treatment of indigenous people in Indonesia.

Clark claimed during her 2013 campaign that LNG would help erase B.C.’s public debt and her campaign bus was emblazoned with the words “Debt Free B.C.”

Also attending the event were executives from Gateway Casinos. De Jong is also the minister responsible for gambling promotion and regulation. Just in time for Super Bowl, Gateway’s Starlight Casino in Queensborough became the site of B.C. Lottery Corporation’s first branded, Las Vegas-style sports book. B.C. and the rest of Canada still await Vegas-style sports betting. A proposal to amend the Criminal Code to allow single-event wagering is stalled in the Senate.

Two nights earlier, the Liberals held a similar fundraiser at the Ramada Inn in Abbotsford for Fraser Valley MLAs. That one included an appearance by Clark and had a similar $5,000 a head private reception. A similar event happened in October 2013 and drew the attention of IntegrityBC’s Dermod Travis.

According to its 2013 financial statement, the Liberals wound up their 2013 re-election year with a $2.18 million deficit on expenditures of $15.34 million.

Finn said there is a fine line between legitimate political fundraising and influence-peddling. “We’re coming very close tonight to that thin line,” he said, as another car passed and the rain kept falling.

A closer look at history

The Vancouver Sun’s Cam Cole marked the fifth anniversary of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics with a column based on an interview of VANOC CEO John Furlong. Cole, a veteran Olympic journalist and 2002 inductee to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, focused on the tragedy of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on the Games’ opening day. He wrote:

(Furlong) had awakened on the morning of Feb. 12, 2010 knowing he would be making the official host’s speech at the ceremony at BC Place.
“The flame was already on the streets of Vancouver. I had made an attempt to go out and watch the handover between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sebastian Coe — the English guys wanted me to come and be part of that, because they were having the next Games.
“But the streets were so full, there was just no going. So I went back in, and when the phone rang, (Vanoc deputy CEO) Dave Cobb said, ‘John, I have really bad news …’”
The horrific accident had left Nodar with little chance of survival.

Furlong told a slightly different story in his 2011-published memoir, Patriot Hearts, on pages 201-202:

On the morning of February 12, 2010, I arrived at the Bayshore early, feeling nervous but excited. My Canadian Armed Forces drive, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan had arrived at my door at about 5 am to transport me to the hotel, where I would stay for the duration of the Games… Dave Cobb and I met for breakfast at 6:30, as we would most days throughout the Games… After breakfast we met up with Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s director for the Games… when (the coordination commission meeting) got underway seconds after 8 am, spirits in the room were high…At Stanley Park, Sebastian Coe, the great British long-distance runner and Olympic gold medallist, was going to be accepting the torch from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger… (Seb) asked if I wouldn’t mind coming down to Stanley Park…
After the meeting with the coordination commission, which went smoothly, I grabbed my blue jacket and asked my driver to head in the direction of Stanley Park, which wasn’t that far away… it was complete gridlock… There was no way we were getting anywhere near so we turned back for the hotel. I ended up watching the handoff on CTV.
It was some time after 10 in the morning when my BlackBerry rang. It was Dave Cobb. I could tell instantly it was a serious matter by the sober tone of his voice… There had been a catastrophic accident during a training run on the luge course.

Here is the CBC report from the day of the event, which ran under the headline: “Olympic torch’s journey at an emotional end”:

Schwarzenegger began his leg with the flame at 7:03 am, just as the sun began to come up, surrounded by hundreds of screaming fans.
Security guards cleared the way for the former movie star and bodybuilder as he walked the flame to Brockton Point Lighthouse overlooking Vancouver and handed it off to former British Olympian Sebastian Coe, head of the London 2012 Organizing Committee, in an extended photo-op for journalists.
But the enthusiasm of the crowds turned out to be too much for the small security team and Schwarzenegger and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell were trapped by the mob before the team finally managed to clear a way out.

The fatal crash at the Whistler sliding centre was at 10:50 a.m. 

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