and Correction: I am informed that Ken Dobell left the
VCCEP Board over the summer and that his contract as special
advisor to the Premier was not renewed.
Centre Expansion Boondoggle
Minister Carole Taylor attempted to deflect criticism following
the release of Acting-Auditor
General Errol Price's report on the Vancouver Convention
Centre Expansion Project by saying "at least it
isn't wrapped in plastic." That's an oblique reference
to the fast-ferries, which for a time were shrink-wrapped.
Tourism Minister Stan Hagen used a similar defense when
he last danced around projected cost, saying they were in
the neighbourhood of $800 million. His line was "at
least the convention centre will be useful." Hagen
and Taylor should both recall the words of a hotel executive
that the convention centre expansion could be "the
biggest empty ballroom in town." The service plan for
the current convention centre projects an operating loss
of $3.34 million this fiscal year. The government's hope
is that a bigger convention centre won't produce bigger
loses, but everyone in the tourism industry isn't convinced.
Campbell government would like you to believe that much
of the cost overrun for the Vancouver Convention Centre
Expansion Project (VCCEP) is primarily due to rising construction
costs, but the Auditor observed: "The casual observer
could be forgiven in thinking that the original budget for
the convention centre was $495 million, since that is what
was initially announced when VCCEP was created in 2003.
However, that initial amount and a subsequently announced
increase to $535 million were not based on detailed designs
or a detailed costing. Rather, they were based on approved
funding levels from the provincial and federal governments
and Tourism Vancouver." In other words, they didn't
have a clue how much it would cost to build when they made
the commitment to start construction; work on the foundation
began before the design was substantially complete. The
Campbell government's handling of the project gives new
meaning to the phrase: "ready, fire, aim".
Podmore, Chair of the VCCEP Board since April 19, 2007,
authored a written response that is included in the Auditor's
Report. He objected to the Auditor's observation that: "Although
the latest approved budget is for $883.2 million, there
is no guarantee that this will be the final cost."
Podmore wrote: "The Auditor General's report does not,
however, make a clear distinction between the actions and
oversight of the previous Chair and Board (which commissioned
the OAG's review) and the new Chair and Board appointed
on April 19, 2007." He went on to list a number of
steps the new Board has taken to bring the project under
control and questioned whether the Auditor had taken those
measures into consideration when doubting the reliability
of the latest cost estimate. In the course of time we'll
see who is right on that score.
previous Chair of VCCEP was none other than the Premier's
right-hand-man, former Deputy Minister, now special advisor,
Ken Dobell. In question period on October 25th, NDP MLA
Leonard Krog noted that Dobell remains on the Board of VCCEP,
as well as in numerous other positions, and asked Carole
Taylor why Dobell hasn't been asked to "step aside".
Attorney General Wally Oppal assumed the role of "Minister
of Defense" and summarized the role of special prosecutors.
prosecutor has been appointed to review the matter of
Dobell not registering as a lobbyist, but that has nothing
to do with the question asked by Krog. Maurine Karagianis
again asked the question, which was again ignored. That's
why it's called question period, not answer period. NDP
Leader Carole James started question period with the simple
question that is on many minds: "When is this government
going to hold someone - anyone - accountable for this entire
mess?" The answer seems to be that as long as the Campbell
Liberals think they can cling to power, and they have a
10 point lead in the polls, they will consider re-election
to be approval of any and all misdeeds.