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‘I am prepared to lose this election to save this project’: Ladner

Toward the end of the strangest day yet in the most contested mayoral campaign in B.C. history, Non-Partisan Association candidate Peter Ladner angrily defended the city’s secrecy around a reported $100-million loan to the developer of the 2010 Olympic Village at Southeast False Creek.

“If necessary, I am prepared to lose this election to save this project and protect this city’s taxpayers. It is not appropriate to go public with this thing now,” Ladner told a gathering of press and supporters at his party’s headquarters.

Coun. Ladner, who chairs Vancouver’s finance committee, sought to shift attention away from the city’s ongoing effort to conceal a widely reported deal to bail out the developer of the $1.1 billion condo project, and toward opponent Gregor Robertson’s calls to disclose the deal.

“I have spent pretty well all of today doing damage control on this leak from a closed meeting that was revealed in some of the papers earlier this week. Every step I go, Vision Vancouver is piling on to this project and adding fuel to the flames,” Ladner said on Friday evening.

“Gregor, this has got to stop,” Lander continued.

“People who behave this way, Gregor, are not equipped to run our city. This is not the appropriate way to look after the taxpayers, and conduct high-level, high-pressure, high-stakes negotiations. We cannot succumb to politics on this one.”

‘I’m not saying what’s going on’

Ladner’s plea came in the wake of a day-long feeding frenzy among local news media. Every Vancouver newspaper published a front-page story, and each of the city’s talk radio and television news programs commented on the allegations throughout the day. The heavy coverage was particularly remarkable given that the alleged deal has yet to be confirmed by any named source or disclosed document.

Mayor Sam Sullivan declined to discuss either the alleged deal (an “in-camera matter”) or reports that the city’s top financial officer had resigned (a “personnel matter”) on Friday. Though the Olympic Village deal was renegotiated under his watch, the outgoing mayor had by Friday been relegated to the role of a by-stander. (When asked about his post-mayoral plans, Sullivan grinned and puckishly told The Tyee, “Well, as you know, I can’t talk about that. It’s a personnel matter.”)

Ladner, who all but abandoned the campaign trail after a report of the alleged deal surfaced on Thursday, resumed talking to reporters on Friday. At a noon scrum, he defended the city’s silence and denied allegations that finance director Estelle Lo had resigned.

“This is a very complicated deal, and is not something that should be discussed in public, or can be understood with one leaked piece of information,” Ladner said.

He replied testily to one reporter’s question about the public’s right to know of a $100-million dollar deal.

You’re talking about $100 million dollars,” Ladner said. “I’m not saying what’s going on.”

Ladner chose his words carefully in response to a question about Estelle Lo, the city’s longtime Chief Financial Officer.

“Estelle Lo is on the city payroll now,” he said. “Right now she is in Hong Kong on a two-week holiday... She is coming back to the city on November 16. After that, it’s a personnel matter. I’m not discussing personnel maters in public,” he said.

“She has never spoken to me, she has never spoken to anybody I know about this project or any concerns she has about this project,” Ladner added.

‘Taxpayers are entitled to be informed’

For the second day in a row, Vision mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson pressed Ladner to disclose information about the Olympic Villave deal.

“At this point, with the amount of information that has been made public, there is no good reason why Peter Ladner should refuse to answer,” Robertson told an afternoon press conference.

“Taxpayers are entitled to be informed, as they are the ones who are on the hook,” he said.

Robertson revealed that on Oct. 14 – the day of the in-camera meeting at which city council reportedly approved the alleged bail-out deal – the NPA rejected a motion by Vision council members to have all decisions on spending public money on the Olympic Village be made in public.

Vision also took its campaign to disclose the bail-out into Friday night’s council meeting, where Coun. Raymond Louie attempted to introduce a motion calling on council to reconsider the loan.

As Louie began speaking, Mayor Sullivan ruled the motion out of order. Sullivan then called on the city clerk to rule on his ruling. The clerk suggested that Louie be allowed to actually make his motion before she could rule on it. Louie made his motion. And then the clerk immediately upheld Sullivan’s decision to rule it out of order.

Robertson scrummed with reporters outside council chambers afterward.

"We have now heard reports that the city's Chief Financial Officer had concerns about the deal, which the four Vision councillors did not know on Oct 14,” Robertson said. "Their decision was made without all the information... we need to revisit that issue."

When asked about Ladner’s allegations that media reporting about of this deal has already harmed taxpayers’ interests, and disclosure would do further damage, Robertson replied:

“Surely, if the U.S. Congress can debate a $700 billion bailout of financial markets, we can bring this out in the open and discuss it in front of the citizens of Vancouver.”

Monte Paulsen reports on Vancouver politics for The Tyee.

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