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Our Olympics, Outsourced

It's a global gold rush, and VANOC doesn't give B.C. firms any advantage.

By Andrew MacLeod 19 Jun 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.

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2010 opportunities: Whose showcase?

Premier Gordon Campbell sold British Columbians on hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in part by promising they would bring enormous benefits to the province's businesses and economy.

Recent stories, however, have revealed some of his top political operatives have been busy helping companies in Washington State cash in on the games. And, as it turns out, they are just part of a larger rush of companies from around the world mining B.C. Olympic gold.

Back in October 2002, nine months before the International Olympic Committee awarded the games to Whistler and Vancouver, Campbell told a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon that the games would net the province at least $100 million.

"Businesses that get involved early do the best," the Vancouver Sun quoted him saying. Public-private partnerships would be "numerous," he said. And he asked the business crowd to support the games: "I need everyone in the private sector interested in the Olympics to remind people about the jobs that will be created and the opportunities it will create."

'Enormous benefits' for BC: Campbell

When the IOC awarded the games to Whistler and Vancouver, the government's July 2, 2003 press release had the premier bragging: "The 2010 Games will provide enormous benefits for our entire province."

Then when the government launched the 2010 Commerce Centre on May 3, 2004, the government's press release quoted Campbell saying it would give "one-stop access" to information about games business opportunities. "It will also be a portal for information to assist B.C. companies in developing Olympic-related business strategies and pursuing new partnerships leading up to, during and after the 2010 Games," he said.

Or as the premier's message on the Commerce Centre's website put it, "The Games offer tremendous potential for prosperity for every community in BC. I encourage you to plan for the possibilities."

The message was clear and it was repeated: The Olympic and Paralympic games will bring many opportunities to make mountains of money, and B.C. companies are at the front of the line.

Down Washington way

While the premier was telling one story at home, some of his top political aides were telling a different one south of the border.

Documents obtained by Sean Holman for 24 hours show that Mark Jiles and Patrick Kinsella were pitching Olympic opportunities to Washington State. Jiles managed Gordon Campbell's local campaign in Vancouver-Point Grey in 2005, while Kinsella chaired the B.C. Liberal's provincial campaigns in both 2001 and 2005.

In May 2006, they were hired to help the Washington State 2010 Task Force "identify and secure 2010 business opportunities for Washington companies," 24 hours reported. "Jiles also claimed Progressive advised the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver on Olympic-related business, sponsorship and investment opportunities for Americans," the paper said.

In a November 2006 proposal to the Washington Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, Jiles and Kinsella's company, the Progressive Group, trumpeted their connections with the provincial government and the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Jiles and Kinsella also have connections with federal Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson, Ottawa's point person on the Olympic file.

International favour

But the tale of Kinsella and Jiles is not the only story of Olympic work going abroad.

VANOC's list of companies that have won contracts already includes a mix of Canadian and international firms. Many of them are B.C. businesses, or the B.C. offices of global corporations, but many are not.

An Australian company, David Atkins Enterprises, will executive produce the opening and closing ceremonies. Track Corporation, from Michigan, is replacing the seats at the Hastings Park Coliseum. Alem International, out of Louisville, Colorado, consulted on the torch relay.

A company called Integrated Warehousing Solutions, with headquarters in Illinois, won a contract to provide a logistics management system. Several companies are providing public opinion research, including Synovate, a company that has no head office but has 6,000 staff working in 50 countries.

The Canadian wing of Contemporary International, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is providing "event services." A media planning and purchasing contract went to Cossette Media, a large communications firm with most key management based in London and Quebec.

The Japanese electronics giant Panasonic is providing a public address system. A Swiss company owned by Swatch, Swiss Timing Ltd., will work with a partner to provide a timing and scoring system for the Nordic centre.

And others are lined up hoping for future contracts or subcontracts. A search of the business network at the province's 2010 Commerce Centre website (which has the slogan "Bringing business opportunities to British Columbia, Canada"), shows some 65 companies from Washington State are in a database of potential Olympic suppliers.

So are 38 companies from Oregon, nine from California, and another 31 from the rest of the United States. It includes 19 companies from the United Kingdom, five from Australia, four from Germany, three from China and one from India.

For comparison, the database includes 2,426 B.C. companies, and 279 from the rest of Canada.

B.C. and Canadian firms get no preferential treatment when they bid on Olympic contracts, a government source speaking on background said.

Mascots made in China

A May 28, 2008 story said even something as sensitive as security work will likely go to foreign firms. An RCMP spokesperson, Gursharn Bernier, said law enforcement bodies wanted to deal with just one company providing security guards, and added, "This opens it up to firms from outside the country."

The story quoted Leo Knight from Paladin Security saying the province's 7,000 licensed security guards would not be enough to meet the demand during the Olympics, especially as other institutions and facilities increased security during the games.

The fact B.C. is now promoting Olympic opportunities to foreign firms is another broken promise, said NDP Olympic critic and Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains. B.C. businesses were supposed to get first preference on Olympic work, he said. "That's how it was sold to the B.C. taxpayers."

That it's not turning out that way is an insult to B.C. businesses, he said. "They're putting Washington State companies ahead of B.C. companies because they have the inside track," he said referring to Jiles' and Kinsella's work. "For Mr. Campbell to allow his insiders to put outside companies ahead of B.C. companies is unforgivable."

Bains said he is hearing stories from people in the lumber industry about American wood being used to build Olympic venues, despite the downturn in B.C.'s forest sector. "They're really concerned," he said, though he couldn't say who they were. "Would they come out in the open? I doubt it."

While venues have to be built in Canada and use labour in the country, there are many games-related things that come from outside. Some of those contracts are direct, and some are subcontracted through Canadian and British Columbian companies.

A VANOC official said 26 of 28 licensing agreements are with Canadian companies, but clearly many of those businesses turn around and order their merchandise from elsewhere.

Look at the Olympic pins and clothing that are for sale, Bains said. "Most of that is made in other countries, China and other countries. We have companies here that can make pins," he said. "I think Mr. Campbell has B.C. companies and taxpayers pretty low on his list when it comes to opportunities for the 2010 Olympics."

Even the cuddly mascots are made in China, he said. "I think what they are saying to the world is, 'We cannot do.'"

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