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NDP slams BC Liberals on BC Place in Question Period

On a day when the BC Liberal government wanted to talk about the tax regime for B.C.'s nascent liquefied natural gas industry, the opposition relied on an old Question Period standby: the controversial BC Place Stadium roof.

The NDP's B.C. Pavilion Corporation critic David Eby and caucus chair Shane Simpson sparred verbally with Rich Coleman, the Deputy Premier who was minister responsible for the Crown corporation until the 2013 election.

PavCo was ordered Sept. 18 by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to promptly release information about 2012 roof troubles under a section of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act covering health and safety risks to the public.

The records showed that for several months in 2012, PavCo refused to open or close the roof while people were on the field of play, for fear that circular clips and other debris would fall. An Oct. 25, 2012 engineering report cleared the roof for normal operations.

Eby, in Question Period on Oct. 21, pointed out how PavCo ignored its obligation to inform the public of safety risks from falling material. When he directed a question at Bill Bennett, the Minister Responsible for Core Review, Coleman answered.

"Last year alone PavCo lost over $10 million (at BC Place). When BC Place missed its original revenue and attendance targets by 18 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively, PavCo simply lowered the targets to make them match," Eby said.

"PavCo hid this embarrassing engineering report for two years, held public events at BC Place for months while pieces of the roof were falling onto the seats and the field, and despite all of this, the Minister of Education (Peter Fassbender) and the Minister of Justice's (Suzanne Anton) former colleagues on the PavCo board gave PavCo president, Ken Cretney, a $100,000 bonus for his work. Can the minister for Core Review explain exactly what Mr. Cretney did to deserve this economic stimulus?"

"First of all, as with any major project of any scale... Mind you, (NDP) wouldn't know about a big project of any scale, because their job plan is to take a big business, tax it to death and make it into a small business," Coleman said.

"But if you've ever built anything, which I suspect none of you have, you would find that any construction-related issues can always have some issues. On August 8 and 9 in 2012 there was an inspection done. The items have been remediated in a timely manner and reviewed by a qualified engineer in 2012. There was no additional cost to taxpayers for these repairs."

Cretney was the general manager of the Vancouver Convention Centre who added management of BC Place to his duties after Howard Crosley was fired the day after the B.C. Liberals won re-election in May 2013. Crosley received a $460,146 golden parachute. Cretney became interim CEO of PavCo when Dana Hayden quit at the end of January.

Coleman justified the $514 million project by claiming BC Place was "ranked in the top five stadiums in North America" and creates $100 million of economic activity a year.

Coleman was apparently referring to BC Place being the winner among five nominees for Project of the Year at the International Stadium Business Awards in May 2012. As for the economic spinoffs, there has been no independent study of BC Place's value to the economy.

One of North America's top sports economists said in a May 22 Atlanta Journal-Constitution story that the impacts of publicly subsidized stadiums are oversold by boosters.

"My research into the direct economic impact of franchises, stadiums and mega-events suggests that the economic impacts of these sports tend to be small, a fraction of what is typically claimed," said Victor Matheson, professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. "That being said, we do have some evidence that sports makes us happy."

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin, a regular contributor to The Tyee, has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since 1990. Find his Tyee articles here.

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