You’ll never guess who helped stickhandle a deal that will make a First Nation the first jackpot winner at the soon-to-open Parq Casino beside B.C. Place Stadium.
None other than Jessica McDonald, who was BC Hydro CEO from May 2014 until the first week of Premier John Horgan’s NDP government. She was replaced as president on July 21 by Deputy CEO Chris O’Riley, a professional engineer with an MBA who began his climb on the Crown corporation’s ladder in 1990.
According to a timeline of the B.C. Place casino development, obtained by theBreaker, McDonald was retained in late 2012 for $300 an hour by B.C. Pavilion Corporation for “strategic advice and leading negotiations and consultations” with Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, Sto:lo and Tsawwassen first nations. Talks were related to the pending Master Development Agreement between PavCo and Paragon Gaming Corporation. The BC Liberal government was in a rush to sign the deal before the 2013 election that they had expected to lose.
“PavCo previously commenced, but has not completed, consultation and potential accommodation discussions with affected First Nations and will need to re-engage this process on an urgent basis,” read McDonald’s proposal to PavCo CEO Dana Hayden.
From January 2010 to June 2013, McDonald was an executive vice-president at Heenan Blakie Management Ltd., an arm of the major national law firm that spectacularly collapsed in early 2014. In July 2013, her Jessica L. McDonald Inc. registered the SteelheadLNG.com website. She got deeper into the LNG industry with an advisory services and First Nations engagement contract on the Shell Canada/LNG Canada proposal. Financial statements for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 show Jessica L. McDonald Inc. was paid a combined $302,940 from BC Hydro, ICBC and the central government.
The former head of the B.C. Public Service during Gordon Campbell’s second term as premier was Clark’s choice to head Hydro in May 2014.
The timeline, which was part of former Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone’s briefing binder, details on-again, off-again negotiations between the Crown corporation and First Nations.
A November 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling said governments must consult and accommodate First Nations when decisions may affect them. That includes the lease or sale of Crown real estate, which may be subject to aboriginal land claims.
PavCo began consulting Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh about the Paragon Gaming casino project in April 2010. At the same time, it sent a notice letter to the Sto:lo. (In 2007, Musqueam became the landlord for River Rock Casino Resort after a court settlement.)
PavCo was transferred from the Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Ministry in Sept. 2012 to Energy, Gas and Mines, under Rich Coleman.
Over winter 2012, Musqueam contacted the provincial government to re-engage on accommodation. Hayden formally retained McDonald on Nov. 14, 2012. In January 2013, PavCo asked for and got an extension to its First Nations negotiation mandate.
Until just before the May 2013 election, McDonald billed for more than $20,000. She even dinged PavCo for leaving a voice mail message for Hayden.
In March 2013, Paragon and PavCo updated their 70-year lease agreement, halving payments to $3 million-a-year, down from the $6 million agreed in January 2010. Vancouver city hall had refused in April 2011 to allow the new casino to stock double the slot machines of Paragon’s Edgewater Casino.
In April 2013, right before the provincial election, Treasury Board approved PavCo’s request to proceed with an $8.5 million, three-year accommodation deal for Musqueam. At the end of June 2013, PavCo became part of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure under rookie Kamloops MLA Stone.
The Musqueam accommodation deal breaks down as $2.84 million in the first year and then $2.83 million in the second and third years.
Little was known publicly about this deal until the summer of 2015, when it was confirmed with Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow and I reported on it for The Tyee.
Some of the above information came via freedom of information from Stone’s budget estimates briefing book, which was requested on May 2, 2016, but not delivered until Jan. 6, 2017. What should have been disclosed in 30 business days or less took eight calendar months, and then some.
Stone was the minister who was at the centre of the Triple Delete scandal in 2015. He co-chaired, with ex-Deputy Premier Rich Coleman, the BC Liberal failed 2017 re-election committee. Coleman had boasted to party members in September 2016 that the BC Liberals never had so much money in the bank and would win 50 or more seats and have an even bigger majority after the 2017 election.
Instead, they fell from 49 to 43 seats and were defeated June 29 when the 44 NDP and Green MLAs combined to pass a no confidence vote. Premier Christy Clark resigned later that day.