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Info Commissioner Orders Transparency in BC Lions' Lair

Public will soon learn what CFL team pays to play in public-owned stadium.

By Bob Mackin 11 Mar 2015 | TheTyee.ca

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.

Score that a touchdown for the public's right to know.

An adjudicator for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner ruled March 9 that B.C. Pavilion Corporation must release a full copy of the B.C. Lions' contract to play at B.C. Place Stadium by April 21. The dispute stems from a Freedom of Information request filed three-and-a-half years ago.

Unless the Lions appeal to B.C. Supreme Court, the public will finally get to see whether the Canadian Football League franchise pays fair market rent to be an anchor tenant at the publicly owned stadium. B.C. Place was renovated for $514 million in 2011, but lost nearly $19.5 million in 2013-2014.

Adjudicator Vaughan Barrett ruled in February 2014 that PavCo could not withhold records for fear of harm to the Crown corporation's finances. The Lions claimed they were not consulted and asked for the inquiry to be reopened, for fear that disclosure of the contract would harm their business interests.

In his latest decision, Barrett ordered the 53-page agreement released because it was negotiated between the parties, not supplied. The contract includes terms on rent; hospitality areas; tickets; media system and advertising; TV and radio broadcasts; and insurance.

"There is no evidence that the agreement contains information that the B.C. Lions supplied PavCo which might normally be considered immutable such as financial statements, confirmation of credit rating, copies of collective agreements to which they are bound or fixed costs they currently face," Barrett wrote. "I am not satisfied that the information withheld under the referred-to subject headings qualifies as proprietary or immutable information that the B.C. Lions 'supplied' to PavCo."

'In favour of disclosure'

Barrett quoted from an order by ex-info commissioner David Loukidelis that said the Freedom of Information law's "central goal" is to increase the accountability of public bodies by giving the public the right to access records, with limited exceptions.

"(The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) should be administered with a clear presumption in favour of disclosure," Loukidelis wrote in April 2009. "Businesses that contract with government must fully appreciate that the transparency of those dealings has no comparison in fully private transactions."

Leaked records show the Lions paid PavCo $160,084.93 to play nine regular season games in 2007 plus $147,238.63 to host the CFL West Final.

The B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association got no such break in November 2013 when it was charged $20,181.33 to play the single-day, Subway Bowl provincial championships at B.C. Place.

In addition to providing the Lions a place to play, PavCo paid the CFL $1.88 million for 2011 Grey Cup hosting rights and $2.7 million to host the 2014 championship. Between 2005 and 2013, the Lions donated $67,000 to the ruling BC Liberals.  [Tyee]

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