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Bob Mackin 

Told ya so. 

For the last two years, TransLink’s board of directors, executives, Mayors Council and the provincial government (BC Liberal, then NDP) hid massive cost increases from the public for their next rapid transit megaprojects.

Instead of providing quarterly or annual updates on the task of refining the costs, the dollar figures for the Broadway Subway and Surrey LRT were steadfastly censored from every document released to me under freedom of information. Not to mention thousands of pages of reports by engineers and designers that were withheld in their entirety. Whenever I asked, anyone involved in the operation, whether elected or appointed, the weasel words began to flow. The cost estimates weren’t “finalized” or they hadn’t been “approved,” they said. But at no time did anyone say the numbers were what they used to be. 

Sany Zein (left) and Kevin Desmond (Mackin)

Chief financial officer Cathy McLay was first to blame high real estate costs and the low Canadian loonie, compared to the U.S. greenback, when I asked her at a March 2016 news conference. McLay, also the acting CEO, knew the numbers were climbing, and she knew by how much. Either she chose silence or was following orders. Just like her permanent replacement, Kevin Desmond. As recently as March 16, when asked about the costs by another reporter, Desmond replied: “Project business cases are still, um, at the province.” Yes, Desmond did say “um.” 

When the Mayors’ Council released its “Vision” in 2014, the Broadway Subway was estimated to cost $1.98 billion. Now it’s $2.83 billion. 

Likewise for the Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT. Was: $920 million. Now: $1.65 billion.

The difference is $1.58 billion. The way TransLink counts, under a “year of expenditure” cost formula, it’s $1.17 billion. 

Any way you count it, the costs skyrocketed so much, that there is no guarantee the 2014-estimated, $1.22 billion Surrey-Langley LRT line will be built.

All three rapid transit megaprojects were estimated at $4.12 billion in 2014. Mayors got closed door updates on costs from TransLink-contracted experts in 2016 and 2017, but the public had to wait until the last day of April in 2018 when it found out that two projects will cost almost $4.5 billion. 

With construction set to begin in 2020, higher costs are inevitable en route to scheduled completion in 2024 (Surrey) and 2025 (Broadway). 

Just in case you’re wondering, Desmond wouldn’t comment on the new estimate for the Surrey-Langley line, because it needs more studying, he said. Not to mention more taxpayer funding. 

All of this, after the Port Mann and Golden Ears toll-slaying NDP government stepped-in and took over the $1.3 billion Pattullo Bridge replacement in February. That project ballooned by almost $300 million since 2014. 

TransLink had been sitting on the rapid transit numbers for quite a while and had the good fortune of being overshadowed on April 30. The media briefing at TransLink’s New Westminster headquarters coincided with a bigger, flashier photo op in downtown Vancouver, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Seattle-based online retail juggernaut Amazon would open an office in the old Canada Post mail-sorting plant on Georgia Street.

TransLink said the federal government has committed $2.01 billion and the province $2.55 billion for its $7.3 billion, Phase Two plan. TransLink needs to raise $2.71 billion to pay for its share. So brace yourself for higher transit fares, higher property taxes and higher parking lot taxes. 

Fares will increase 10 to 15 cents per ticket in 2020 and 2021 and monthly passes will cost 50 cents to a dollar extra. Average households will be hit with another $5.50 in property taxes and the sales tax on parking will rise 3%. That would be 12 cents per hour at a parkade that charges $5 an hour. A regional development fee is also in the works, so new condominium buyers will feel the pain. 

Afforda-bull?

When it revealed the numbers April 30, TransLink also kicked-off a fast-track public consultation program. The agency will set-up “pop-up” displays at malls and farmers markets around the Lower Mainland until May 11. There will also be limited time for citizens to “pop-off” before the June 28 meeting to express their opinion. 

By comparison, in 2015, the public had two-and-a-half months to vote by mail in a plebiscite on a sales tax increase to fund TransLink expansion. Almost 62% of voters rejected the proposal. Opinion polls indicated the public lacked trust in TransLink. 

Mayors’ Council 2014 “Vision” and the original cost estimates.

So Desmond and company have their collective foot on the pedal, intent on leaving overtaxed citizens at the station. TransLink wants the early summer rubber stamp to avoid becoming an issue in the fall’s local government elections and next year’s federal election. All the price hikes don’t correspond with the NDP’s mantra of making life more affordable for British Columbians. Higher BC Hydro bills, higher ICBC rates, higher TransLink costs. There is only one place to go.

An April 2, 2017 email from Sany Zein, TransLink’s infrastructure management and engineering vice-president, to Desmond indicates that the cost will continue to be a moving target and likely to go higher. 

“The project inflation numbers are higher than recent GDP growth and higher than general recent inflationary growth; so some level of ‘hot market’ inflation is accounted for,” according to documents obtained under freedom of information. “The contingency percentages have been getting lower as the design definition improves. If interest during construction and internal labour charges are excluded from the gross total, the contingency value would represent a higher percentage.”

Megaproject cost underestimation is not unusual, according to a 2002 Journal of American Planning Association  article co-authored by Bent Flyvberg, an Oxford University business professor and megaproject analyst. 

“Based on the available evidence, we conclude that rail promoters appear to be particularly prone to cost underestimation, followed by promoters of fixed links… The average difference between actual and estimated costs for rail projects is substantially and significantly higher than that for roads… The average inaccuracy for rail projects is more than twice that for roads, resulting in average cost escalations for rail more than double that for roads.”

Flyvberg’s research indicates megaprojects are prone to cost overruns, time delays and benefit shortfalls. “Overruns up to 50% in real terms are common, and over 50% overruns are not uncommon.” In fact, nine out of 10 have cost overruns. 

“Political, technological, economical and aesthetic drivers seduce decision makers to underestimate hidden risks, and to overestimate benefits.”

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Bob Mackin  Told ya so.  For the last two

The directors of the Victoria company linked to the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal finally broke their silence on April 24.

But Zackary Massingham and Jeff Silvester of AggregateIQ probably wish they stayed home, after the rough ride they endured on Parliament Hill.

One-by-one, members of the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics questioned Massingham and Silvester’s credibility and ethics. Members from the Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP suggested Massingham and Silvester were being dishonest.

“Something doesn’t smell right, here,” said Conserative chair Bob Zimmer, who represents Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies.

Listen to highlights of the two-hour hearing on theBreaker.news Podcast.

Plus the regular scan of headlines around the Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest, and commentary on the Toronto van rampage and Interkorean summit.

Listen by clicking below or go to iTunes and subscribe.

Have you missed an edition of theBreaker.news Podcast? Go to the archive.

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Something doesn't smell right about AggregateIQ
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The directors of the Victoria company linked

Bob Mackin

An online petition opposing the NDP government’s speculation tax was tabled in the B.C. Legislature on April 25, but rejected by the Office of the Clerk, theBreaker has learned. 

Kelowna West BC Liberal MLA Ben Stewart submitted the petition, which he called “Scrap the Speculation Tax.” He told the Legislature that it had “acquired and assembled over 17,000 signatures on it.” 

“My constituents and everyone who has signed this petition are urging the government to rethink their controversial speculation tax,” Stewart told fellow lawmakers. 

BC Liberal MLA Ben Stewart (Hansard TV)

The measure was announced in Finance Minister Carole James’s February budget to target foreign speculators in Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Capital Region, Nanaimo and Central Okanagan with taxes up to 2% of the value of vacant or underused houses. The NDP bowed to public pressure in late March and excluded several vacation spots, such as the Gulf Islands, Juan de Fuca and Bowen Island.

But BC Liberal strongholds Kelowna and West Kelowna remain in the taxable zone. 

Stewart confirmed, by email, that the petition was actually the Change.org petition called Stop BC’s Speculation Tax. theBreaker had asked Stewart for the name of the organizer, but Stewart did not provide it. He instead said that he would “pass on” theBreaker’s request to the organizer, who he said lives in West Kelowna. 

theBreaker also asked the Office of the Clerk for the name of the originating petitioner, but was surprised to learn the petition had been rejected. 

“The petition tabled by Mr. Stewart did not conform to the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly and will not form part of the official records of the House, therefore, we cannot make public any details of the petition,” said Rebecca Staffanson, the house documents manager. “The petition will be returned to Mr. Stewart.”

Staffanson did not elaborate. 

The only relevant clauses in the Standing Orders state that a petition “must contain a clear, concise, accurate and temperate statement of the facts for which the intervention of the House is requested and the signature of all the petitioners. Members presenting petitions shall be answerable that they do not contain impertinent or improper matter.” 

Colleen Hardwick, CEO of Vancouver citizen engagement company PlaceSpeak, told theBreaker that the Clerk was correct in turning down the Change.org petition.  

“While it’s interesting, it won’t stand up to scrutiny because of the lack of authentication of the process,” Hardwick said.

Colleen Hardwick (PlaceSpeak)

Online petition websites like Change.org do not confirm the true identity of participants. “As a result, the integrity of the data will not stand up to scrutiny.”

“You have no idea they’re real people,” she said, adding that the “signatories” may have no connection to the affected jurisdiction or the issue. They may also be bots. 

“These petition sites, even though they appear to be free, they aren’t. They have revenue streams that they’ve developed by making their lists available to clients.”

British Columbia’s Legislature does not yet have a recognized electronic petition system, as exists in the House of Commons. Federal e-petitions identify the citizen that initiated the petition and the Member of Parliament who must act as sponsor. Approved petitions are published online for 120 days and must receive at least 500 signatories from residents or citizens of Canada in order to be tabled in the House of Commons and wait for an official response from the government. 

For instance, the web page for Petition E-1527, which wants the government to denounce, study and eliminate birth tourism in Canada, shows that it was initiated by Richmond citizen Kerry Starchuk and sponsored by Richmond-Steveston East Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido.  

Each supporter of an official e-petition to the House of Commons is required to provide his or her name, country, province or territory and postal code (if within Canada), telephone number and email address for confirmation. 

Lobbyist Anne McMullin (UDI)

In 2014, while in opposition, the NDP’s Jane Shin proposed the Electronic Petitions Act to allow a similar electronic petition regime in the B.C. Legislature. Being a private member’s bill, it died on the order paper. 

The originator of the anti-speculation tax petition on Change.org petition purports to be an Alberta resident who has owned vacation property in B.C. since 2006. A Gmail address is listed on the site, but the person who responded to theBreaker’s message declined to provide his or her name or do an interview. There is also a corresponding Twitter account which is also anonymous. 

“I’m not trying to be mysterious,” said the response to theBreaker. “I’m just trying to protect my sanity and safety.”

The initiator of the petition claimed to have been the target of unspecified threats and answered in the affirmative when asked if a complaint had been made to the police. theBreaker subsequently asked for the name of the police force and a case file number as proof, but received no response.

The petition is also listed on the ScrapTheSpeculationTax.ca website that was registered by the public relations and lobbying firm Hill + Knowlton, a company that contributed $72,380 to the BC Liberals from 2005 to 2012. H+K vice-president Steve Vander Wal did not respond to theBreaker. Vander Wal worked from 2002 to 2006 as an aide in the BC Liberal government, including a year as then-Education Minister Christy Clark’s assistant. 

The privacy policy page on ScrapTheSpeculationTax.ca describes all the ways that visitors’ personal information is received and collected. There is no name, office address or phone number listed for the campaign itself, only a “contact” email address. 

UDI logo from ScrapTheSpeculationTax.ca

The Urban Development Institute’s Pacific, Capital and Okanagan regional offices are listed on the website as members of the coalition supporting the campaign. Cheryl Ziola, spokeswoman for the real estate developers’ lobby, said: “The campaign engaged with Hill + Knowlton to provide communication support and assist with the technical aspects of getting the website up and running.”

Ziola did not fulfil theBreaker’s request to provide the name of the head of the coalition, the name of the client directing the campaign, or the organizer of the Change.org petition. When theBreaker moved the embedded logo from ScrapTheSpeculationTax.ca, the file name was revealed to be “udi-logo.png.” Ziola did not respond to theBreaker brought this to her attention in an email.

UDI CEO Anne McMullin did not respond for comment. 

School tax revolt brewing

Meanwhile, the BC Liberals are setting their sights on another controversial NDP tax proposed in February’s budget. A protest is planned against the so-called Additional School Tax at a May 1 public meeting to be hosted by NDP Attorney General David Eby in his Vancouver-Point Grey riding. 

The NDP plans to slap a 0.2% tax on the value of properties between $3 million and $4 million and 0.4% on the value above $4 million to fund schools. Those properties worth $3 million or more would only pay the tax on the amount that exceeds $3 million. Deferrals would be allowed for seniors and families with children at home. 

Anti-school tax petition on Change.org

“When, and if, people fortunate enough to own a home in this price range decide to sell, they will benefit from a great windfall,” Eby wrote in a March letter to constituents. “This is a windfall that I know a number of us in this community – including a number of you who have written to me about this tax – agree is the product of a pernicious and corrosive housing affordability crisis that has badly hurt the sustainability of our community, and Vancouver as a city.”

Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners’ Association president Nicole Clement sent English and Chinese letters on March 27 to Premier John Horgan, calling the tax “unfair, arbitrary and counterproductive” because it would hit hard the seniors who bought their homes decades ago, but saw the values recently skyrocket through no fault of their own.

Eby’s attempt to replace the meeting at St. James Community Hall with a telephone town hall was unsuccessful. He had claimed there was interest outside the riding, but bent to pressure and decided to carry-on with the in-person event. 

theBreaker learned that Westside opponents of the tax increase were scheduled to discuss strategies on a teleconference with BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson on April 27. BC Liberal director of operations Kavi Bal also offered the group assistance from the party headquarters for project management, advice, media messaging and training. Bal, who studied for a real estate trading licence at UBC in 2010-2011, worked in 2014 to 2016 for Kinder Morgan’s communications department before joining the BC Liberal government caucus office. 

It is expected the anti-tax protesters will draw attention to Eby’s riding office manager Dulcy Anderson whose partner is the oft-quoted University of B.C. business professor Tom Davidoff. 

In early 2016, Davidoff was among a group of nine economists who proposed the B.C. Housing Affordability Fund with revenue from a 1.5% surcharge on foreign owners of vacant properties or those with “limited participation in the Canadian economy.” Six months later, the BC Liberal government slapped a 15% tax on Metro Vancouver house purchases by foreigners. It caused a brief decline in the market, which quickly recovered. 

This anti-school tax campaign also features a Change.org petition, titled Say No to New Provincial Surtax on Property. Like the one mentioned above, it is also anonymous.

SHPOA’s MaryAnn Cummings, a retired lawyer, claimed in an email to theBreaker that SHPOA is behind the Change.org petition, which is in English and Chinese.

Said the petition’s preamble: “The NDP government has deceptively misnamed their new surtax on private property as a school tax. But it is plainly a wealth tax. And once they have smuggled it in, the categories of wealth will expand and the tax rates will rise.”

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Bob Mackin An online petition opposing the NDP

Bob Mackin

The detailed background check for those seeking the Non-Partisan Association nod to run in October’s Vancouver civic election contains pointed questions about lobbying and work in the real estate industry.

A close read of the application form suggests rookie Coun. Hector Bremner faces an uphill battle to become the right-of-centre coalition mayoral candidate, because of the job he refused to quit when elected last fall.

theBreaker has seen a copy of the 51-page “potential candidate package,” which covers 54 topics, from the personal, professional and financial to the legal, political and ethical.

April 29 is the deadline for hopefuls to submit the forms to the NPA’s candidate selection committee. Bremner claimed on Twitter March 20 that he sent his package to NPA headquarters. Party president Gregory Baker told theBreaker on April 17 that Bremner’s form was incomplete and he had returned it to the candidate who had yet to resubmit. 

Has a citizen caught Coun. Hector Bremner (far right) with his pants down? (@PaceGroupVan)

Questions in the package include: 

  • Have you ever been a member or been employed to represent a special interest group or to lobby on behalf of that group?
  • Have you ever registered for lobbying with the province of British Columbia, other provinces in Canada, or with the federal government? 
  • Do you own or work for a real estate development company in Canada? 
  • Is there anything from your past that could present a conflict of interest? 

Bremner won last October’s by-election by exploiting left-wing vote-splitting and low voter turnout. His campaign was managed by veteran BC Liberal lobbyist Mark Marissen, the ex-husband of ex-Premier Christy Clark.

Despite the seat on city council, Bremner continues to work as a vice-president at the Pace Group and even promotes his position on the civic website. The BC Liberal-aligned public relations and lobbying firm’s website lists developers Aquilini Investment Group, Concert Properties and Intracorp among its clients. The Aquilinis own the Vancouver Canucks, Rogers Arena and its surrounding towers. The Aquilinis partnered with the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh first nations on major acquisitions of provincial and federal land in the city. Redevelopment proposals are expected to come before city council during the 2018 to 2022 term.

Bremner, a former aide to Deputy Premier Rich Coleman, is already the subject of two conflict of interest complaints from party members under city hall’s code of conduct. An investigator has been appointed in one case. 

After theBreaker revealed the first complaint to city hall on April 12, Bremner recused himself from an April 17 public hearing on liquor sales in grocery stores, because of his past work to lobby municipal politicians in North Vancouver City and Maple Ridge for Save-On-Foods and the B.C. Wine Institute. On March 13, however, Bremner remained in the chamber when council decided to refer the matter to that public hearing.  

theBreaker has learned that at least one complaint was made to B.C.’s Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists against Bremner for failing to report that he was a former public office holder on his 2015 registration to lobby finance minister Mike de Jong and deputy minister Peter Milburn on behalf of Steelhead LNG. The Lobbyists Registration Act requires disclosure of past employment in government and gives the Registrar power to levy fines up to $25,000. The first offence penalty for providing information that is not true on a return ranges from $1,000 to $7,500.

Thief? Rapist? Bankrupt? NPA demands to know

The party with the monogrammed grape logo is scheduled to choose its mayoral candidate and approve incumbents at a May 29 meeting. Bremner, accountability activist Glen Chernen, ex-Park Board chair John Coupar, entrepreneur Ken Sim and engineer George Steeves want to reclaim the mayor’s chair for the NPA. Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver took power in the 2008 election. Robertson will not run for a fourth term.

The NPA requires applicants to disclose whether they have been charged or convicted under the Criminal Code, any other federal or provincial statute or regulation, including the Income Tax Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. “Is there anything in your background that, if disclosed, could hinder your campaign or adversely affect the performance of your duties as an elected official?” the questionnaire reads.

The NPA wants to know whether a potential candidate or the potential candidate’s company has been involved in any lawsuits regarding dismissal for cause, unfair or illegal employment or labour practices; charged or found guilty of sexual or other harassment; found guilty of misappropriation of funds, declared bankruptcy or entered into a consumer or credit proposal of any kind; ever lost judgment in any legal proceeding; ever been audited by the Canada Revenue Agency; ever been charged with an offence or a complaint made against you pursuant to a municipal or regional district bylaw; ever been disciplined, charged, convicted, or involved in any breach of trust of the rules of a private or professional association; ever been involved in any controversy in the last five years that has the potential to go to litigation or public review; presently involved in any matrimonial or custody proceedings in any court; or contemplating litigation with City of Vancouver or any of its boards or departments, any political party or community group.

For those with prior political involvement, the NPA wants to know if they faced charges or findings of committing an election financing offence, receipt of illegal payments or gifts or any abuse in holding public office. 

  • Do you have any debts or unfulfilled financial obligations that could expose you to attempts at political interference by your creditors? 
  • Have you ever been suspended, expelled, or required to withdraw from an educational institution? 
  • During your education years, have you been either charged with, or the subject of a complaint of plagiarism, cheating on examination, or other improper conduct of any type? 

“The potential candidate shall conduct himself or herself in a manner that respects the rights and legitimate democratic interests of all citizens, voters, political parties and shall avoid behaviour that is likely to bring the NPA and the electoral system into disrepute. If the NPA determines that during the time that the application is being processed the conduct of the applicant would tend to bring into disrepute the integrity of the NPA, it may on notice to the applicant refuse to further process the application in which case it shall return the deposit to the applicant.”

Plan to raise $250K required

The NPA requires prospective candidates to undergo background checks, the results of which shall remain confidential to all except the NPA board, legal counsel and those persons assisting the board. He or she must agree to put the interests of the NPA ahead of personal interests, and be available for a minimum 60 hours per month before June 30, rising to a minimum 120 hours per month from Aug. 16 until the Oct. 20 election day.  

Clockwise, from left: Steeves, Sim, Bremner and Coupar. Centre: Chernen.

Commitments include door knocking, telephone campaigning, public meetings, volunteer and recruitment, membership recruitment, public appearances, campaigning from the campaign office, candidate training, assisting in fundraising and other duties assigned by the campaign manager. 

Prospective candidates must provide five personal references and three business references, and buck-up. A $2,500 application fee is required, plus a detailed plan to raise $250,000 in campaign funds, list of the names and contact information of 300 eligible members who support his or her candidacy and names and contact information of 25 committed campaign volunteers.  

Within five days of approval by the NPA candidate selection and green light committees, “evidence [is required] of $40,000” in the potential candidate’s campaign account and a $25,000 nomination deposit payable to the NPA. Unsuccessful candidates will receive $20,000 refunds. 

There could be other costs for those seeking the job of mayor, which pays more than $168,000-a-year, or councillor, which pays more than $85,000. 

“If required by the campaign manager, the candidate agrees and understands that they may be required to purchase a candidate services package from the association, which may include a set number of signs, brochures, paid telephone bank calls, media advertisements, campaign team training sessions and other assistance to be provided to the candidate.”

Social media will obviously be a big part of the campaign. The NPA wants to know whether a prospective candidate would agree to the party creating Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts in his or her name and allow a representative of the party to access existing accounts to review the content for potential issues concerning suitability as a candidate. 

Are you aware of any other instances of electronic material posted on the internet or otherwise, which if publicly disclosed, could adversely affect your candidacy or reflect unfavourably upon the NPA? 

The deadline was originally March 23. Membership is open to Canadian citizens, 18 and up, who are registered to vote in any municipality or regional district in B.C., and willing to pay $10 a year or $25 for a four-year membership. 

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Bob Mackin The detailed background check for those

Bob Mackin

You won’t believe your eyes! 

Driver Carolus Chow certainly couldn’t believe his. 

Before 11:30 a.m. on April 25, he was driving on Lougheed Highway in Burnaby when he witnessed two westbound drivers deliberately run red lights — one of them did it at two intersections in a row. 

The dangerous acts were captured on a dashcam.

Drivers of a Toyota and Hyundai both failed to wait for the green light at Rosser. The Hyundai driver did the same at the Madison intersection. 

ICBC says running a red light at an intersection is a $167 fine plus two penalty points. 

If you see a red light runner, call the local police. 

Then send your dashcam footage to theBreaker.news

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Bob Mackin You won’t believe your eyes!  Driver Carolus

Bob Mackin

British Columbia’s Passenger Transportation Branch ordered the owners and drivers of 14 vehicles that were listed on a black market ride-hailing app to stop charging passengers for rides or face fines up to $5,000. 

None of the 14 was fined. Several ignored the cease and desist letters and no further action was taken, according to documents released to theBreaker under freedom of information.

Late last August, PTB sent registered mail letters, signed by registrar Kristin Vanderkuip, that threatened prosecution under section 23 of the Passenger Transportation Act. The law states that commercial passenger vehicles may only be operated by a person with a valid licence to do so. Penalties range from $1,000 to $5,000 for anyone operating a black market taxi or limo service.

Several BMWs were available to pick-up RaccoonGo app users, according to an investigation.

The letters were a result of an investigation during late-April to mid-May 2017 by a PTB inspector who found a variety of vehicles, some of them luxury imports, available for hire in Richmond on the RaccoonGo app, which is designed for Chinese drivers and passengers. RaccoonGo is one of seven companies that the PTB is aware of which compete in a black market while industry leaders Uber and Lyft lobby for ride-hailing to be legalized in B.C. The government targeted drivers, not the apps, because driving is regulated and the technology is not.

Five of the cars were BMW models, including a 2016 BMW 328i, and one was a 2017 Audi A4. 

In only one case of the 14 did police intervene. The owner of a 2014 BMW 435i received the order by registered mail on Aug. 30. The incident report shows that PTB inspector Douglas Pickering called the Coquitlam RCMP on Oct. 17. On the same day, Mounties served a four-month prohibition against driving from the superintendent of motor vehicles, for an unspecified unsatisfactory driving record.

A prepared statement sent to theBreaker by Danielle Pope, a representative of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the aim is information before enforcement. 

“We are confident that the information in the cease and desist orders regarding fines for operating without a licence as well as the information in the public advisories are a sufficient deterrent,” the statement said. “However, as this is an ongoing investigation we are unable to provide further comment related to enforcement actions.”  

A driver of a Toyota Corolla, whose car was listed on the app May 2, admitted in an Aug. 30 email that he had been on the RaccoonGo service, but was no longer. “I’m not using and I will not use my vehicle to work for RaccoonGo, and I have nothing to do with this company,” the driver wrote. 

A 2013 BMW X3 owner replied Sept. 12 in these five words, without disputing the PTB notice: “I got this letter, thanks.” 

Letters were sent to the lease companies for a 2017 Honda Accord and Mazda 3. PTB eventually received emails from drivers claiming: “I lent this car to someone else. But now I understand the Act, will comply with it.” 

A 2015 Porsche Cayenne lessor told PTB that the lessee denied operating the vehicle for commercial passengers and asked for proof on Aug. 30. A Sept. 10 handwritten letter of consent said: “I (name censored) can assure that the vehicle has not been used for commercial purpose recently; In response to the Passenger Transportation Act. I clearly understand and agree to comply with the Act with my earnest cooperation.” 

A 2012 BMW X5 owner claimed in a phone call with PTB that it was a mistake, that “somebody hacked his app.” 

A letter was sent to the lessor of a 2016 BMW 328i spotted April 26, but the letter was returned to sender. A registered letter to a 2016 Mazda 3 owner was signed for by the subject on Aug. 30, but no reply was received by PTB. The letter to the lessee of a Jeep Wrangler sent Sept. 19 was returned to sender. 

Passenger Transportation Branch registrar Kristin Vanderkuip (BC Gov)

The 2017 Audi A4 and 2014 Infiniti Q4 owners denied the violations. The owner of a 1997 Lexus ES300 replied by email on Sept. 2: “I want to clarify that my vehicle is only for family uses. Mainly for driving to work and shopping. Sometimes for my wife and son. So I don’t understand why I received that letter.” 

At the end of January, the government said over 20 cease and desist orders had been issued and 23 fines of $1,150 were levied against drivers operating without a licence. It warned that unlicensed ride hailing vehicles operate without government-approved safety checks, insurance for paying passengers and the drivers aren’t vetted by police. 

Lawyer Paul Doroshenko said the lax enforcement is a legacy of the previous BC Liberal government, which didn’t adequately fund or direct staff and officers to uphold laws. 

“Looking back at the last five years of the BC Liberal regime, it just seemed like the attorney general’s office and the solicitor general’s office might as well have been vacant, because nothing seems to have happened,” Doroshenko said. “It was like they were coming in for coffee or something.”

He noted the timing of the investigation was during and shortly after the election, when the government was operating in caretaker mode without oversight from politicians. 

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TRA 2018 81667 PTB TheBreaker by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin British Columbia’s Passenger Transportation Branch ordered

Bob Mackin

The two principals of the Victoria company linked to the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica privacy breach scandal finally broke their silence on April 24. 

Zackary Massingham and Jeff Silvester might be wishing they stayed home, after several Members of Parliament accused them of being dishonest about various aspects of their company, AggregateIQ.  

AIQ’s roles in the Brexit campaign in 2016 and U.S. Presidential campaign in 2017 are under investigation by privacy authorities in Canada and the United Kingdom. In his opening statement, Massingham described AIQ as “an online advertising website and software development company” and Silvester likened it to the digital version of burma shaving for political candidates. 

Jeff Silvester (left) and Zackary Massingham during April 24 testimony at the House of Commons in Ottawa (ParlVu)

“We are not a big data company, we are not a data analytics company, we do not harvest or otherwise illegally obtain data,” Silvester said. “We never share information from one client to another, and we are not a practitioner of the so-called digital dark arts.”

Massingham and Silvester denied their company was a subsidiary of Cambridge Analytica or SCL Group, but members of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics didn’t buy it.

“I just would say, as the chair of this committee, I know we’re all saying the same thing and we’re all concerned: something doesn’t smell right here,” concluded chair Bob Zimmer (Conservative, Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies). “I would challenge AIQ to do the right thing.”

One by one, MPs took turns challenging AIQ’s credibility and doubting the sincerity of Massingham and Silvester. 

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (Liberal, Beaches-East York) said he had just received a text message from Damian Collins, a member of a similar parliamentary committee in the U.K., who contradicted Silvester’s claims that the company is cooperating with the Information Commissioner’s Office in the U.K.

Collins’s text message quoted commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who said AIQ had refused to answer her questions. 

Silvester claimed that Denham wrote a letter to AIQ last May and they replied the next week, but didn’t hear from her again until the end of January this year. 

Said Frank Baylis (Liberal, Pierrefonds-Dollard): “You have purposely misled us, Mr. Silvester, you have just purposely misled us to the point that someone would contact us during your questioning, and say you refused. You did not say you refused. [Denham] said you refused.” 

“We answered the questions the best we could do,” Silvester said. “And that’s all we can do. Each time we’ve responded.” 

NDP’s Charlie Angus (NDP, Timmins—James Bay) challenged them to be transparent, because they were protected by parliamentary privilege. 

“You can’t be sued for what you say, Mr. Massingham, they can’t use it against you in court,” Angus said. “So I’m not sure why you expect us to believe that all these people are making stuff up about you when you could just explain to us why you were set up with SCL and what your direct role is with SCL and Cambridge Analytica. The idea that this is all a series of isolated companies that had nothing to do with each other, you didn’t know each other, but you just happened to be working on all the same projects and you were listed as SCL Canada. Why are you taking the fall for these guys?” 

“I can’t speak to what marketing materials they’ve put our or what they do with my contact information,” Massingham said. “But I can tell you we are not part of SCL or Cambridge Analytica.”

Christopher Wylie testifying to a U.K. Parliamentary committee on March 27.

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie, also from Victoria, called AIQ a Cambridge Analytica franchise when he testified March 27 in London. Wylie and Silvester had worked in the Liberal Party of Canada. Massingham’s past includes work on BC Liberal Mike de Jong’s first failed attempt at the leadership. Wylie alleged that AIQ was a “proxy money laundering vehicle” for the Vote Leave campaign in 2016. 

On the latter point, Erskine-Smith asked Silvester if he found it strange that AIQ received £625,000 from Vote Leave to spend on behalf of the Beleave group during the referendum on the U.K.’s membership in the European Union. 

“Did you not think that was strange in the context that if they spent it on behalf of Vote Leave themselves they would have gone over the [legal] limit. Did this not raise any flags for you at the time?” 

Replied Silvester: “When they asked us to do the work we sent an invoice to Beleave, then they let us know it was going to be paid by Vote Leave. We then that was odd to us that Vote Leave was making a donation.”

Zimmer asked the last question, where AIQ had ever been “part of or involved in coordinating or organizing multiple clients’ ads for the same or similar campaign, yes or no?”

Silvester replied “No, I don’t believe so.” 

In the months before the scandal erupted, AIQ had been involved in the unsuccessful Todd Stone campaign for leadership of the BC Liberals. The Tyee also reported that AIQ worked on three BC Liberal riding campaigns for the May 2017 election, after a contract with the BC Greens in 2016.

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Bob Mackin The two principals of the Victoria

Bob Mackin

West Vancouver’s Yihao Wang will be sentenced May 10 in North Vancouver Provincial Court after pleading guilty April 24 to driving a supercar 150 kilometres-an-hour above the speed limit last summer. 

Wang’s lawyer, David Baker, asked the court for a Mandarin interpreter to be present for the sentencing. Wang had no problem understanding when Baker asked where his vehicle was outside the courthouse.

Wang had just emerged from the lobby wearing a black baseball cap, sunglasses and surgical mask. He strode briskly, in a pair of $1,000 Salvatore Ferragamo velvet gold-monogrammed loafers, to a parked white Porsche SUV after ignoring questions from reporters. Wang occupied the passenger seat, while another man, wearing a similar surgical mask, got behind the steering wheel. 

Ferrari supercar impounded July 4 (WVPD)

West Vancouver Police impounded Wang’s $300,000, 2015 Ferrari 458 on July 4, 2017, after he flew across the Lions Gate Bridge at 210 km-h. The posted speed limit is 60 km-h. He was banned from driving for 16 months. 

Outside the courthouse, Baker called that “the sentence prior to the verdict.” He said the guilty plea to avoid the trial “is favourable to my client and meets the Crown’s needs.” 

“He’s very sorry for what occurred, he regrets it, he’s been taken off the road for 16 months which is a significant penalty already and he’s taken responsibility by entering a plea today,” Baker told reporters. “Many other young people get tickets for speeding and they continue to speed. I expect now that he’s been sanctioned in this way, he’ll slow down significantly.”

Court files show that Wang, born in 1994, was found guilty of failing to produce a driver’s licence or insurance in 2013 and 2015. He did not dispute speeding tickets in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and was ticketed for using an electronic device while driving in 2017. In April 2017, Wang was caught driving 126 km-h over the same bridge behind the wheel of a Mercedes Benz CLS66. 

Fuerdai is the Mandarin term for “rich second generation” and Wang has all the trappings of being the scion of wealth. The Ferrari driver lives in a British Properties mansion that was assessed at $6.29 million and registered to Xinghui Wang. Yet, Baker refused to say whether Wang is a student or has a job. He would not comment on the source of Wang’s funds or whether he was returning from a casino when cops nabbed him. He said that Wang’s family is involved in a legitimate business, but declined to provide details.  

Yihao Wang (left) (Mackin)

“I have no idea where he was coming back from [on July 4], this case has absolutely nothing to do with casinos and money laundering,” he said. “This case is about a young person who drove too fast.” 

Const. Jeff Palmer said that West Vancouver Police have impounded 96 vehicles for excessive speed in 2018 so far, compared to 46 for the same period in 2017. Palmer said the increase is partly due to staffing, because traffic officers who were recovering from on-duty injuries in 2017 are back on the job with a similar shift rotation to patrol members. 

Only 11 of the drivers whose cars have been impounded in 2018 are West Vancouver residents, Palmer said. Approximately 60% of impounds were for excessive speed on the Upper Levels Highway, 30% on Cypress Bowl Road and only two so far on the Lions Gate Bridge. Of the 96 drivers, 77 were male, ranging from 19 to 55. 

The highest alleged speed this year is 187 km-h in a 90 km-h zone.

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Bob Mackin West Vancouver’s Yihao Wang will

Bob Mackin 

The much-anticipated expert report into money laundering at Lower Mainland casinos may not be published until the end of May. 

So said Attorney General David Eby in an April 20 interview with theBreaker.

Eby received University of British Columbia law professor Peter German’s 250-page, 48-recommendation document at the end of March, which he called a “comprehensive report about the history of the issue in British Columbia casinos.”

“I’m hopeful to have it out by the end of the [spring] session; we’re doing some due diligence to make sure we’re not going to interfere with any law enforcement investigations by publicly releasing it and that we’re not unintentionally releasing anyone’s private information,” Eby said. “The goal is to get it out to the public as quickly as possible because that’s why we commissioned the report in the first place.”

B.C. Attorney General Eby in Ottawa, March 27. (ParlVu)

The spring session of the Legislature is scheduled to end May 31.

Eby appointed German late last September after releasing a 2016 consultant’s report that had been suppressed by the previous BC Liberal government. The MNP report said gamblers from China used underground banks to bring large volumes of potentially dirty money to play at River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond, the flagship of Great Canadian Gaming Corp.

theBreaker was first to report that criminology professor John Langdale warned an Australian police intelligence conference last November about the “Vancouver model” of money laundering. Langdale told the conference that the “Vancouver model” involved transnational drug trafficking and capital flight from China that led to investment in Canadian real estate. Key to the scheme are B.C.’s Chinese sister province Guangdong, financial centre Hong Kong and gambling haven Macau.

River Rock and all other casinos in B.C. are operated in partnership with B.C. Lottery Corporation. Eby told theBreaker that the Crown corporation’s top officials have his vote of confidence.  

“If I had any reason to believe that someone had acted unlawfully or inappropriately to the extent that it compromised their ability to do their job, certainly those individuals would be removed,” Eby said. “Currently, I have total confidence in the ability of the BCLC executive to work with government in implementing the recommendations of the German report.”

BCLC CEO Jim Lightbody was the Crown corporation’s vice-president in charge of casinos from 2011 until 2014 when he was promoted to replace Mike Graydon, who quit to work for the company behind the Parq Casino beside B.C. Place Stadium. Brad Desmarais, a former senior police officer with the RCMP and Vancouver Police, joined BCLC in early 2013 as vice-president of corporate security and compliance. He took over the casino division in mid-2015. 

In the BCLC service plan released the same day as the BC Liberal government’s 2015 provincial budget, Lightbody reported: “The fastest growing segment of our revenue – high-limit table games in casinos – is heavily dependent on an international player base and is largely tied to the health of the tourism industry. The recent slowdown of international economies and currency restrictions presents risks for the growth of business.”

Great Canadian Gaming reported a 30% year-over-year increase in net revenue from table games during Chinese New Year in 2014.

theBreaker asked Eby specifically to comment on whether the jobs of Lightbody and Desmarais are safe.

Said Eby: “I’ve been working closely with the executive at BCLC throughout the German review and will continue to work closely with them as we work to implement the recommendations that he has put forward. Mr. German’s report will speak for itself, in terms of what exactly the issues were he identified in his review, and I look forward to releasing it as quickly as possible.” 

BCLC’s Jim Lightbody (left) and Brad Desmarais (LinkedIn)

According to the 2017-released compensation report, BCLC paid Lightbody $415,060 in pay and perks, while Desmarais’s package was $269,551. 

In 2007, BCLC’s board fired CEO Vic Poleschuk after a damning report by Ombudsperson Kim Carter into the unusually high rate of big lottery wins by retailers and retail employees. Carter found major gaps in BCLC prize payout procedures, lax enforcement and poor protection of consumers.

Poleschuk left with a $735,000 severance and became a consultant to Great Canadian Gaming, which hired him to run its Eastern Canada operations in 2010. Lightbody was BCLC’s vice-president of lotteries under Poleschuk. 

The BCLC board is down to four directors after the Dec. 31, 2017 expiry of appointments for BC Liberal-aligned auto dealer Moray Keith and tech entrepreneur Matthew Watson.

Chair Bud Smith, the former Social Credit attorney general, continues to serve with tech consultant Andrew Brown, ex-KPMG partner Robert Holden and hotelier Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia. Lisogar-Cocchia’s chain of Absolute Spas counts a location at River Rock. 

Eby said he asked German to make recommendations about changes to BCLC’s corporate structure, which could apply to the board. 

“I didn’t want to appoint any new board members until I had a sense about what was coming down the pipe. Now that I have an idea, we’re currently doing the work around identifying appropriate new board members who will assist us in any transition that we need to do,” Eby said. 

“My goal is to have some overlap between the current board members and incoming board members so that they can have a little bit of background about the organization and come up to speed on the current challenges at BCLC and any opportunities as well.” 

BCLC’s latest annual service plan contemplates a $55 million drop in net income for the casino division, partly due to the crackdown on casino money laundering. BCLC counted $1.34 billion in profits in fiscal 2016-2017. 

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Bob Mackin  The much-anticipated expert report into money

Calgary, the 1988 Winter Olympics host, is one of seven cities showing interest in bidding for the 2026 Games.

The International Olympic Committee will vote on the host city in September 2019. 

Last week, city council voted 9-6 against abandoning the bid. Now debate shifts to a plebiscite. 

On this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, host Bob Mackin interviews guest Tom Sindlinger of No Calgary Olympics.

Sindlinger says there must be a plebiscite, to let the people decide whether to back the bid. But it should be open to all Albertans, not just Calgarians.  

The economist and former member of Alberta’s legislature loves the Olympics, but not the five-ring circus’s massive public spending and debt. He points to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics as a cautionary tale: the British Columbia auditor general never did a final report and organizing committee board minutes and financial documents are out of the public’s reach until 2025.

Sindlinger also offers his take on Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s threat to use taxpayers’ money to buy a stake in the stalled Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. 

All that, plus regular commentaries and a look at news headlines in Cascadia and around the Pacific Rim. 

Listen by clicking below or go to iTunes and subscribe

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Will Canadians be stuck with bills for Alberta's pipeline and Olympics?
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Calgary, the 1988 Winter Olympics host, is