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Bob Mackin

Epta Properties, the Vancouver developer that demolished a Royal Canadian Legion hall in North Burnaby, but failed to build a new one, is negotiating to buy prime land in Greater Palm Springs, theBreaker has learned. 

Epta Properties was supposed to redevelop the former Royal Canadian Legion hall site in Burnaby Heights. (Mackin)

Jeff Woolson, executive vice-president of CBRE’s golf and resort group, declined to comment, other than to say the land “is under contract.” 

A year ago, Business in Vancouver reported on Epta’s broken promise to build a five-storey, mixed-use building with two-dozen condos on the former site of the 1955-built, branch 148 hall. It was supposed to be completed in summer 2015 and called Centro, with a brand new Royal Canadian Legion canteen for war veterans and their friends and families to sip, socialize and play darts. 

Epta, which is the Greek word for seven, never put a shovel in the ground.

North Burnaby’s Royal Canadian Legion, suffering from declining membership and increased competition for beer sales, chose Epta to redevelop the site in 2013. Epta paid the Legion’s $145,000 tax bill through the end of 2014. The company also took a $3.1 million loan on the property, but later claimed $2.82 million in costs, including a $700,000 “development management fee.”

Epta got bogged down in its own financial problems and developed nothing for the Legion. Instead of suing Epta or giving it more time to begin construction, Legion members voted to sell the property to Beedie Development Corp., even if that meant the canteen plan would fall by the wayside.

The vacant 4356 Hastings lot is surrounded by poorly secured Super Save construction fences. Coast Mountain buses, zoomed east toward Willingdon, displaying the “Lest We Forget” message on the eve of Remembrance Day. A small pond, containing a discarded sofa, has formed among the weed and shrub-riddled ruins of the legion hall. 

Centro was supposed to be one of three Epta projects in Burnaby Heights. Madison (4301 Hastings) and Montage (438 Gamma) were the other two.

Madison was completed in controversy. Epta’s two partners — Carey Siddoo’s Beta Properties and Steven Bosa’s SMB Holdings — sued at the end of September 2016. They alleged Epta, its related company Apollo Management Group, and president Bill Tsakumis and his sons/vice-presidents Angelo, Alex B. and Chris Tsakumis committed breach of trust, breach of fiduciary duty and unauthorized borrowing. 

Alex B. (left), Chris, Angelo and Bill Tsakumis (Epta).

Contacted on his mobile phone on Nov. 9, Angelo Tsakumis said he was busy and would call theBreaker back. No such call was received before deadline on Nov. 10. Alex B. Tsakumis did not respond to interview requests. 

Their cousin is former media commentator Alex G. Tsakumis, the CEO of Trigate Properties Group. Reached by phone in the U.S., he emphatically distanced himself from Epta. 

“Trigate is an entirely separate company from Epta with absolutely no overlapping interests or directors, not now or in the past,” Alex G. Tsakumis said. “The two companies couldn’t possibly be more different in vision or capacity. We have never had anything to do with Epta Properties, and we will never have anything to do with Epta Properties — ever, period.”

Beta and SMB’s statement of claim said Madison should have shown a $1.9 million profit, but instead had $737,148 in loans owing. The statement of claim said there were $17.7 million in sales, but $521,000 in debts, liabilities and obligations.

The Epta defence statement said the development recorded losses in 2014 and 2015 and the cost of sales was $18.24 million. Epta denied funds from the development partnership were forwarded to or used by the Epta-related cranberry farming company, Apollo.

On Aug. 4, 2017, Best Personnel filed a statement of claim for $65,000 plus interest against Epta and 1089330 B.C. Ltd. over money owing from Epta’s Montage. 

Epta-developed Montage in Burnaby (Mackin)

The lawsuit said Best agreed to provide Epta workers for between $19.95 an hour (general construction labourers) and $34.95 an hour (carpenters), but “Epta has refused or neglected to make payment, despite demand.”

Epta sold Montage in October 2016 to 1089330 B.C. Ltd., a numbered company whose CEO, Toby Chu, and two other directors are executives with CIBT Education Group, the parent company of Sprott Shaw College. 

Court Services Online shows Epta has been a party to 40 court actions in British Columbia — 24 of which as the defendant — since 2008. One of the civil cases involved the insolvency of Apollo, which started in 1985 as a Greek wine importer and morphed into a major cranberry grower for industry leader Ocean Spray. 

Apollo bought 184 acres on Barnston Island in 1989 and leased the land to Opus Cranberries from 1994 to 2007, when Apollo bought Opus and nearly 100 more acres on the unincorporated Fraser River island west of the Golden Ears Bridge. David Emri, who owns more than half the island, favours rezoning from the Agricultural Land Reserve to industry, for logistics or warehousing. 

In 2014, while Epta was immersing itself in Burnaby Heights, Apollo defaulted on loan payments and receiver FTI Consulting Canada was appointed. 

Court filings show that during a seven-year period, Apollo advanced $5.9 million from its cranberry farming cashflow to related parties, “with the majority of the advances made to Epta Properties Ltd.” 

“As a result of the related party loan advances the company was unable to make its loan payment to Farm Credit in November 2013.”

Farm Credit issued a default notice in December 2013, but agreed to waive the breach for a year to allow Apollo to reorganize. That was short-lived. Apollo failed to make its next scheduled loan payment to Farm Credit in February 2014.

The court documents also say that Apollo arranged a $4 million loan from First West Credit Union, “however, the residual funds were advanced by Apollo to Epta resulting in the company being unable to pay the scheduled quarterly payments to Farm Credit Canada in August and November of 2014.”

Farm Credit demanded repayment in January 2015. 

Cranberry farmland on Barnston Island formerly owned by a company related to Epta (Cushman Wakefield)

Apollo owed $23.626 million to secured creditors, primarily Farm Credit ($17.3 million) and First West ($4 million). In July 2015, Apollo reached a deal to sell the land, buildings, equipment, permits and contracts to D.R. Barnston Holdings Ltd. for $24.875 million, with a Feb. 11, 2016 closing date.  

Sometime between Nov. 3 and 7, however, FTI quietly removed the Apollo listing and related documents from its insolvency cases website without notice or explanation. Several older, dormant or completed insolvency cases remain on FTI’s public website, however. 

When contacted by theBreaker, FTI’s Vancouver managing director Craig Munro would not comment on the removal of Apollo. 

“The terms of this proposal were fulfilled and there are no outstanding matters,” Munro said by email.

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Bob Mackin Epta Properties, the Vancouver developer

Bob Mackin 

Evergreen Line construction site in November 2015 (Mackin)

British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said it didn’t put a $3.24 million contract for an Evergreen Line bus loop and parking lot to public tender for the sake of efficiency. 

Government policy states any construction contract worth $100,000 or more must be advertised publicly and subject to competition, unless only one contractor is ready or able to do the job or time does not permit public tendering.

Change order logs for the $1.43 billion SkyTrain extension obtained by theBreaker say a request was made in April 2013 to spend more, so as to make a temporary Port Moody bus loop and parking lot permanent. The contract change with scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin was approved in October 2013.

According to a statement sent to theBreaker by the ministry’s spokesman, Ryan Jabs, the government “realized the contractor could modify their current construction activities and complete the final loop and parking (with curb and gutter, street lighting and final paving).

“This saved the cost of finishing the temporary facility, eliminated the extra costs for  mobilizing a separate contractor, and avoided a delay in completing the permanent facility,” the transportation ministry statement said.

The additional cost for the bus loop and parking lot was the biggest line item in a list of $11 million in changes that the BC Liberals fought to keep secret before and after the May election. 

The dollar figures were censored from the documents that were originally released in early 2016 under the freedom of information law. On July 26, the week after the NDP’s John Horgan was sworn-in as premier, a government lawyer said there was no legal reason to withhold the dollar figures from the public. SNC-Lavalin, which held the main $889 million contract for the Evergreen Line, remained opposed. An adjudicator with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner finally ordered full disclosure on Oct. 12.  

theBreaker can now tell you about these additional costs for the Evergeen Line:

Additional Evergreen Line work to fix sinkholes by Seaview in Port Moody in October 2015. (Mackin)

  • More than a million dollars extra was spent on changes for utility conflicts with Telus ($860,128) and BC Hydro ($363,891). The ministry said utility mapping was provided before the contract was awarded, but the drawings from land owners did not always reflect the final as-constructed location; 
  • Guideway parapet noise barriers were installed for $777,197. The ministry said this was not included in the contract “because the discussions with the cities and the community were still ongoing at the time the contract was tendered.”
  • Flagging at Seaview ($306,916) and minor roadworks and paving changes ($327,901);
  • Retaining walls at Port Moody Inlet Centre station ($278,637) and the Burquitlam propulsion power substation ($193,361). “In both cases, the province determined these walls were necessary after construction was already underway, and it was more cost efficient for the contractor to install the walls while the power stations were being built,” said the government statement;
  • Another $378,980 was spent to remove hydrocarbon contamination from Hoy Creek, after Coquitlam Park and Ride extension construction led to pollution from an old auto wrecking business.
  • The province also spent $148,214 on attaching public art to infrastructure because, it said, community public art committees that selected the art were set-up after the contract was signed. 

The ministry said $19 million was spent on changes for items not included in the original contract and $17 million on unanticipated items. 

Sinkholes and tunnel trouble under Port Moody and Coquitlam delayed completion by six months. It finally opened Dec. 2, 2016, yet, the government still claims the $1.43 billion project came in $79 million under budget.

On opening day, Premier Christy Clark cut the ribbon, with Port Moody-Coquitlam MLA Linda Reimer and transit and taxis minister Peter Fassbender. MLAs Richard T. Lee (Burnaby North) and Doug Bing (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) also attended. The transit megaproject, however, did little to help the BC Liberals remain in power. Reimer,  Fassbender, Bing and Lee lost their seats to NDP opponents on May 9. The Green-supported NDP minority toppled the Clark government in a June 29 confidence vote. Clark resigned as leader and MLA the next month.

SNC-Lavalin’s Jeff Spruston (LinkedIn)

Why was there an 18-month legal battle over Evergreen Line costs, when another high profile infrastructure project isn’t keeping secrets?

The website for Victoria’s troubled Johnson Street Bridge project contains proactively released invoices from contractors PCL Constructors Westcoast and MMM Group.

While BC Liberal leadership candidate Todd Stone was Clark’s transportation minister, the government claimed disclosure of the cost of contract changes would harm both the government and SNC-Lavalin financially. 

Government lawyer Troy Taillefer informed the OIPC and theBreaker on July 26 that the new government dropped opposition to disclosure because there was no legal basis for maintaining secrecy of costs. Various legal orders have held that the public has a right to know about contracts negotiated between governments and companies that supply goods and services to governments. 

SNC-Lavalin project manager Jeff Spruston claimed, in a 97-word submission to an OIPC inquiry, that “disclosure of any of our pricing information (commercially sensitive information) will inform our competitors of some of our pricing details and may compromise our competitive advantage.

“We are presently bidding work similar to the Evergreen Line Rapid Transit Project in at least three other active procurements within Canada,” Spruston wrote.

In her Oct. 12 order, OIPC adjudicator Meganne Cameron rejected SNC-Lavalin’s pleading as “vague, speculative and unsupported by evidence.”

She ordered disclosure of the records by Nov. 23. But the NDP government delivered them almost a month early, on Oct. 26. 

Spruston did not respond for comment.

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EGRT Change Orders Mackin by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin  [caption id="attachment_5160" align="alignright" width="654"] Evergreen Line

Bob Mackin 

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital is rife with bullying, coercion, harassment, intimidation, lack of trust, nepotism and favouritism, according to a damning survey of staff and executives. 

Emergency, in more ways than one, at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

“’Would you recommend NRGH as a good place to work to a favourite niece or nephew just finishing training/university?’” Almost universal response of ‘NO!’” said the Nov. 6 presentation by Denver consultancy Vector Group Inc., which was obtained exclusively by theBreaker.

“Numerous people in several parts of the hospital volunteered that they’ve instructed their friends/families to take them elsewhere (the mainland) for care if they get sick.”

The presentation said that, in Vector’s opinion, the hospital’s culture is “past the tipping point.”

“From all indications Nanaimo Regional General Hospital is failing significantly in regard to managing people.”

Vector CEO Bob Carleton and COO Gary Craig delivered the initial findings of their three-week assessment on Nov. 6. Two days later, on Nov. 8, employees were briefed. A source told theBreaker that Carleton and Craig said NRGH is one of the three-worst organizations they have ever dealt with. 

“The simple act of continuing with daily operations exacerbates the toxicity of the culture,” said Carleton and Craig’s report. “This situation is not sustainable and will, in due course, lead to some form of self-destruction. However—it is very fixable in relatively short time frames with sustained and focused effort.”

The litany of criticism continued. 

Basic trust between people doesn’t exist at all levels. Instead, there is suspicion, fear and often loathing that predominates thinking about administration. 

“NRGH maintains an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Advancement is about who you know, not about performance. People feel the reality is clear; NRGH is headed downhill and nothing will ever change.” 

The study found the hospital has a toxic culture that disrespects and devalues people, and is focused more on budget than employees’ well-being and patient care.

BC Liberal MLA Michele Stilwell cuts Nanaimo hospital’s 50th anniversary cake with Island Health chair Don Hubbard (VIHA).

“Maintaining an atmosphere of fear, bullying, intimidation, retaliation and censure that prevents people from raising questions, issues or concerns. Placing high value on cronyism and nepotism in recruiting, hiring and promoting.”

A 10-point “culture summary” said managers spend more than 80% of their time on paperwork, people are the least-valued commodity in the system, pride and willingness to help each other is rare and, when present, is viewed suspiciously. 

“Accountability does not exist, other than the fact you may be blamed for anything at anytime. [She or he] who blames first wins. Keep your head down, say nothing, raise no issues or uncomfortable questions and you will not be noticed—which is the best you can hope for.”

The presentation suggested an eight-point way forward, including moving rapidly in rolling out the controversial iHealth records digitization with effective computer-based training, fixing the holidays and vacations scheduling problem, and communicating quickly with staff on study findings. 

“Authority figures must take responsibility for improving the situation and announce a clear action plan with timeframes for moving ahead. Include some form of ‘Yellow Card’ program to facilitate constructive discussion between management and staff during times of conflict or failure to live up to the values.”

In September, the Ministry of Health ordered Ernst and Young conduct an independent review of Island Health’s 18-month old iHealth paperless records system. Doctors complained the $174 million system is an error-prone, time-consuming boondoggle. 

Island Health hired Vector for $150,000 on an 18-month contract after 19 companies responded to a request for proposals early this year, said NRGH clinical operations director Damian Lange. 

“The report itself has been difficult for many to digest and take in,” Lange told theBreaker in a Nov. 9 interview. “It’s taken us many years to get where we are locally and it’s going to take us some time to get out of here.” 

Asked if there would be any immediate personnel changes, he said: “This isn’t necessarily about one, two, three or four people, this is a systemic reflection, this has been many years in the making, culminating in the harsh reality of this report.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said “we’re very interested and very concerned.”

“I mean, when a report describes the culture of a hospital as toxic, we have to take action,” Dix told reporters in Victoria. “My expectation, active expectation, will be that actions are taken to improve that, because ultimately, it’s the people who work for us, who are very important to us, and patient care, which is very important to us.”

Support for as low as $2 a month on Patreon. Find out how. Click here. Obtains NRGH Presentation Nov. 8 by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin  Nanaimo Regional General Hospital is rife

Bob Mackin 

Sue Hammell is the third ex-NDP cabinet minister to register as a lobbyist in less than two months. 

From the Composite Public Affairs website.

The retired Surrey-Green Timbers MLA is representing the non-profit consultancy First Nations Financial Management Board. The only target contact on her Oct. 26 registration is Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser. 

“Their mission is to provide the tools and guidance that will help First Nations communities build their confidence and capacity around financial management and reporting,” said Hammell, who held three cabinet posts between 1995 and 2001. “They’re stationed in B.C., but they work across the country. I hope we manage to get a lot of people to know what great work this group does.” 

In September, former NDP tourism and parks minister Ian Waddell registered to lobby Attorney General David Eby for the B.C. Wine Institute and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth for the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries. 

In mid-October, former environment minister Moe Sihota registered to lobby energy minister Michelle Mungall and finance minister Carole James for Woodfibre LNG.

Hammell is the first to go from the opposition benches last spring to a lobbyist this fall, a move which remains legal in B.C. The Eby-tabled lobbying reform bill includes a two-year, post-employment ban for cabinet ministers, their aides and senior bureaucrats. There is no restriction for ex-MLAs. 

“If you’ve been in government and the Legislature for 22 years, you get to know a lot of people inside and outside government,” Hammell told theBreaker. “But that doesn’t mean that I know more than people who have been working either supporting businesses or working with government.”

Hammell is executive vice-president of Surrey-based Composite Public Affairs, which was formed before the Greens joined the John Horgan-led NDP to topple the BC Liberal government in a confidence vote in late June. One of the Composite founders, Lori Winstanley, left to become Mungall’s top aide in July. She now works under Farnworth.

Horgan, flanked by Woodfibre LNG lobbyist Sihota (left) and ex-Premier Dan Miller, of the pro-industry PR campaign ResourceWorks (Facebook)

Fraser and Mungall were supposed to appear at Composite’s Hammell-promoted, Oct. 27 Vancouver Convention Centre event. They were both forced to cancel after theBreaker exposed the strange bedfellows behind the $295-a-ticket conference boosting the Horgan government

It was Horgan’s chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, who kiboshed the scheduled keynote speeches, according to an Aug. 22 memo obtained under freedom of information by theBreaker

“It has come to our attention that a new public affairs company is seeking to recruit ministers as speakers at a private, ticketed event intended to give attendees special insights into the policies of the government,” Meggs wrote. “It is not appropriate for ministers to attend such an event.

“Speaking on public policy matters may be appropriate at an event called for a broader purpose — for example a convention of health care providers or a business organization — if the ticket price relates to the conference objectives of the organization, rather than access to decision-makers. Normally, such events are open to the media as well. 

“It is not appropriate at an event which may be construed as privileged access in a setting where the subject matter relates entirely to government relations or the sponsoring organization is focused primarily or exclusively on government relations.”

Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation figures show Hammell’s 22 years as an MLA are worth an $87,420 annual pension. 

While Hammell said her priority is caring for her ill husband, John Pollard, she hopes to take on more lobbying clients “whose mission aligns” with her values. She said she doesn’t discuss Composite business with her daughter, Horgan’s director of communications, Sage Aaron.

“I have no intentions of ever putting her in a place where she has to defend my behaviour,” Hammell said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

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OOP-2017-72920 by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin  Sue Hammell is the third ex-NDP

Bob Mackin 

Heather Pederson wonders if Pressy Lake residents will ever get the answers they are owed about why the B.C. Wildfire Service didn’t stop the Elephant Hill wildfire from devastating their community. 

The massive fire started July 6 near Ashcroft, and scorched a 100-kilometre path of destruction, before arriving Aug. 12 in Pressy Lake, 30 km east of 70 Mile House. There, it burned 24 outbuildings and 33 of the 71 houses.

Pederson, a law enforcement officer from Chilliwack, said her family’s cabin survived, but she has actively searched for accountability through Freedom of Information after officials refused to answer by other means. Pederson joins a growing number of British Columbians — like retired teacher Dave McNab, trappers Wayne and Leilah Kirsh and hunting guide Stewart Fraser — who are speaking out after B.C.’s worst wildfire season. 

“It’s hard to see your community going through what they’re going through,” Pederson told theBreaker. “While as fortunate as we are, not everybody’s in the same boat. Overall there’s quite a sense of loss for everyone.”

Her parents, who spend April to November at the cabin, were evacuated July 29. They were among those assured by members of the Comox fire department working for BCWS that pumps and sprinklers would be installed to protect the buildings.

“They went around cabin-to-cabin, they spoke to other residents, they had a plan,” she said. “All their hoses and pumps were in place at the forestry campsite at the end of the lake.”

Four days after the fire roared through, photos of properties posted on Facebook showed nothing had been done to water the buildings. “You could see there wasn’t a pump, there wasn’t a hose, there wasn’t a sprinkler.” 

A fire destroyed house and truck at Pressy Lake (photo submitted)

Pressy Lake’s Sheena Wilkie expressed her frustration about the summer spell of poor communication in a September letter to Premier John Horgan. 

“Despite hundreds of calls, emails and messages, we were given no information and it didn’t seem like they even knew we were there,” Wilkie wrote. “At every turn, we have been stonewalled and stymied.” 

Instead of answering questions, agencies referred them to FOI.

“We need to know if anything was done to protect our homes, and if not, why wasn’t it?” Wilkie wrote. “These are reasonable questions. Questions that taxpayers should not have to jump through hoops to get an answer to.”

Pederson filed two FOI requests: one for Forests Ministry records about structural protection units at Pressy Lake and another for wildfire investigation reports from the Office of the Fire Commissioner. Pederson said she was met initially met with resistance. 

Fraser-Nicola BC Liberal MLA Jackie Tegart challenged NDP Citizens’ Services Minister Jinny Sims in Question Period on Sept. 21 to overrule the bureaucrats who asked Pederson to withdraw those requests. Pederson had been told it would be difficult and there were internal investigations. Sims had vowed to expedite information for those affected by the wildfires. 

Nearly a month later, on Oct. 16, Tegart quizzed Sims about the unreasonable delays that meant Pederson would be waiting until at least the last day of November.

“Delayed by months. The opposite of expedited,” Tegart said. 

Insult to injury: Pressy Lake called “Prissy Lake” in government report (FOI)

Sims said investigations were in progress, but information would be released as soon as permitted by the RCMP. 

Pederson eventually got 500 pages with a pledge of more to come. (Some of those documents are below). Most of them, however, aren’t relevant to Pressy Lake. 

Most of the documents were about billing for water bomber flights, weather forecasts and fire suppression activities in the nearby communities. It did include a handwritten assessment for Pressy Lake and an incident commander’s journal entry that referenced Pressy Lake. 

Adding insult to injury, however, is an Aug. 14 situation report that called it “Prissy Lake.” 

On Oct. 27, Kamloops Fire Centre manager Rob Schweitzer issued a memo to Pressy Lake residents. He offered condolences, but not apologies. 

Schweitzer wrote that a structural protection specialist had been deployed there on July 27 with a crew. They were deployed not by his office, but by the Cariboo Fire Centre to respond to another fire burning out of control north of Pressy Lake.

“The assessment of Pressy Lake area was never completed as [Jim Lake wildfire] was contained on July 28 and these resources were redeployed to another fire,” Schweitzer wrote. A structure protection specialist was deployed to Pressy Lake on Aug. 8, but the statement offered no more details. 

  Pressy Lake FOI Documents by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin  Heather Pederson wonders if Pressy Lake

This is a Fifth of November certain to remember.

Bob Mackin hosts the launch of podcast, including news headlines from around the Pacific Rim and around Cascadia. Plus a special feature: part of The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald’s keynote speech at the 2017 Allard Prize ceremony.

Keep up with the latest on British Columbia issues and institutions with and Podcast.

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Introducing, Podcast

This is a Fifth of November certain

Bob Mackin

Ballem at her going away party in 2015 with the city’s labour relations manager Kevin Jeske. (Facebook)

Penny Ballem, who was fired as Vancouver’s city manager two years ago, has a new gig, thanks to the B.C. NDP government. 

Health Minister Adrian Dix confirmed Nov. 2 that Ballem was hired in late September on a contract through Jan. 31, 2018 that pays a maximum $24,000. 

Dix said Ballem is providing advice on the $1.2 billion project to build a new hospital on 18.4 acres of False Creek Flats land north of Pacific Central Station by 2024. He said Ballem is “uniquely qualified to take a look at the business case and how to drive the project from here to make sure it meets the needs of the community.”

“The project has been, for a long time, stuck in the mud, has made some progress, but we’re still in the pre-business plan stage,” Dix told theBreaker. “I want to get it out of the mud because it’s obviously a crucial issue for the future of healthcare in Vancouver.”

Ballem, the city’s polarizing former top bureaucrat, did not respond for comment. 

In 2002, while Ballem was B.C.’s deputy health minister, then-BC Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell announced the 1894-founded hospital would be replaced. A decade later, his successor, Christy Clark, did the same. The move was finally confirmed in 2015. In late March, just before the official election campaign period, billionaire Jim Pattison donated $75 million for the Jim Pattison Medical Centre. Pattison’s donation was the largest by a citizen to a public health facility in Canadian history. 

Dix said Ballem is “supremely qualified” for the assignment because she is a practising physician and clinical professor who served under Campbell from 2001 to 2006, and became Vancouver city manager after Gregor Robertson led Vision Vancouver to its 2008 election win. 

Ballem’s tenure at 12th and Cambie was marked by several high-profile firings, resignations and early retirements of senior managers. After her September 2015 firing, for which she received a $556,000 golden parachute, Robertson called her a “force of nature.” Some of Ballem’s ex-colleagues threw a going away party later that year in the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, where they gave her a custom-made street sign poking fun at her “my way or the highway” reputation. Ballem’s deputy, Sadhu Johnston, was hired as her replacement in 2016. 

Ballem was instrumental in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics transportation plan. She was one of two Vancouver representatives on the board for the organizing committee. In 2016, she was appointed a member of Tennis Canada’s board of directors. 

In June 2009, the Globe and Mail reported that Ballem was paid $30,000 for just 78 hours work as a consultant on the Ontario government’s eHealth project, without a signed agreement. Ballem told the newspaper that she was going to lead Ontario’s diabetes management plan until her late 2008 hiring at Vancouver city hall. 

Bob Mackin [caption id="attachment_5096" align="alignright" width="300"] Ballem at

Bob Mackin

Vancouver Whitecaps FC isn’t commenting on the ejection of Seattle Sounders fans from B.C. Place Stadium on Oct. 29 for displaying a banner that read “anti-fascist, anti-racist, Always Seattle.”

“This is a Seattle and [Major League Soccer] issue,” Whitecaps’ director of communications Tom Plasteras told theBreaker. “It was an MLS official who basically determined the sign needed to come out and was the person handling this situation. It doesn’t really involve the Whitecaps.”

Sounders’ fans booted from B.C. Place for “political” banner (Twitter)

Plasteras said he did not know who that official was. In 2015, several fans at a Whitecaps’ game were ejected after displaying a refugees welcome banner.

MLS has a policy against banners and signs containing political messages at its matches, but has run advertising campaigns on league broadcasts and at stadiums against discrimination. Officially, the MLS fan code of conduct, on the league website, states that “fans have a right to expect an environment where fans enjoy the soccer experience free from… political or inciting messages.”

Three Vancouver Police officers and three B.C. Place security guards removed three Emerald City Supporters and their banner during the scoreless first leg in the Western Conference semifinal series, according to a YouTube video.

The second and deciding match is Nov. 2 in Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.

One of those ejected was Tom Biro, who Tweeted: “Being anti-fascist isn’t a political statement. Ever.” 

Sounders’ owners Adrian Hanauer, Joe Roth, Paul Allen and Drew Carey issued a statement reacting to the incident. They didn’t directly address the banner or the ejections, however. 

“We would like to reassure our fans that both the league and our club believe strongly in inclusion and acceptance,” said the statement above their signatures. “Tolerance and inclusivemess are pillars of our society, and ideals we take seriously as an organization. At a human level, we believe these values to be non-political. Speaking up for equality is simply the right thing to do.”

Whitecaps principal owner Greg Kerfoot did not respond to an email from theBreaker

B.C. Place spokeswoman Laura Ballance said management of the publicly owned stadium would not comment. 

MLS executive vice-president Dan Courtemanche said he would provide a statement later. 

“We did have an individual on site from our operations team, they are at all of our post-season matches,” Courtemanche said.. 

Though B.C. Place is publicly owned, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s policy director said the Whitecaps’ match was “nevertheless a private event,” so the promoter was justified in regulating spectator activities. 

“We think it’s fair to say they have a right to control what things are on display,” said Micheal Vonn. “That said, we would hope that they would exercise this control in the spirit that many people approach these events as public, community events, and use a light touch.”

John Knox, spokesman for the Whitecaps’ oldest and biggest supporters group, the Vancouver Southsiders, said supporters want more clarity and transparency on what constitutes a political message. Knox said many supporters feel the need to speak out in support of refugees and against racism and fascism, because of the times we live in. 

“We can’t have this situation where the parties are deferring to each other,” Knox said. 

“The prevailing fear within the league has always been about supporters groups turning into something ugly that we’ve seen in parts of Europe, where they’ve taken on those hateful positions and done damage to their communities and have hurt people,” Knox said. “Supporters here are going out of their way to be the complete opposite of that.”

Knox said the Southsiders are involved in the Independent Supporters Council, an association of supporters groups from various leagues around North America, and are concerned about the inconsistent application of MLS fan conduct policies around the league.

“We would like clarity, we would like transparency about what we can do and what we can’t,” Knox said. 

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Bob Mackin Vancouver Whitecaps FC isn’t commenting on

Bob Mackin

The B.C. Utilities Commission said Nov. 1 that pushing the pause button on BC Hydro’s $9 billion Site C dam would be more expensive than stopping the project.

That, according to the results of a three-month review ordered by the NDP. 

Mothballing B.C.’s biggest construction project would cost more than $3.6 billion, double the cost of cancelling it. If the NDP continues with what the BC Liberals began, the final bill will be more than $10 billion and it won’t be ready by the promised 2024 completion.  

Premier John Horgan vowed to decide the dam’s fate before the end of the year. 

Also Nov. 1, the NDP announced two transportation reviews. 

The minister responsible for the Insurance Corporation of B.C. said an outsourced review of operations will explore aspects of fraud that the Crown corporation had previously downplayed. 

ICBC often blamed fraudulent crash claims for a spike in costs. An Ernst and Young report commissioned by the former BC Liberal government said the beleagured basic auto insurance and driver licensing monopoly needed to “broaden competitive procurement activities.” 

“You should read the word ‘fraud’ in these terms of reference very broadly,” Attorney General David Eby told theBreaker, after hiring PwC to conduct a review over the next six months. “ICBC has very certainly been focused on customer fraud in its public-facing communications. I want to make sure that there are no issues internally or with contractors that employees that employees might be aware of and feel that they can bring it forward.”

Eby said he wants every employee at ICBC that has an idea to save money or a concern about how business is conducted to “bring it forward and that their job will be safe.”

ICBC lost $500 million last year. Because of urgency, Eby said it was his call “to proceed with speed to get this review underway,” instead of issuing an open tender call to all firms across North America. Deloitte, EY, KPMG and MNP were the other firms contacted.

PwC is also ICBC’s financial auditor, but Eby said PwC’s audit department is separate from its business review department. “There would be zero overlap,” he said. 

He conceded that it is not a fixed-price contract and the cost will depend on how much work there is to do.

Eby said the government has already decided there will not be a move to no-fault insurance, but other efficiencies are sought.  

“Legal costs are 25 cents of every premium dollar that’s collected, they’re a huge cost driver,” he said. “The previous government was afraid to have have difficult confersations with auto body repair groups, with medical experts, with the legal profession. We are not afraid to have those difficult conversations. Those costs must come down and we will find a way.” 

In their final months, the BC Liberals considered selling ICBC’s North Vancouver headquarters and even the website address. Eby said information provided to him when he became Attorney General said the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest bank by assets, was considered a potential buyer for the web name. 

“There was a liquidation sale going on without addressing the underlying problem that business operations were not breaking even,” Eby said. “We want to make sure that we’re not taking the approach of the previous adminstration, which is what can we sell to buy a little bit of time.”

Untangling the Massey mess

Also Nov. 1, the NDP named Stanley Cowdell and his Westmar Project Advisors consultancy as the technical reviewer of the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project. 

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena cancelled bidding for a 10-lane, $3.5 billion Richmond to Delta bridge on Sept. 6. It took nearly two months to announce the reviewer and terms of reference. 

Cowdell’s firm will be paid between $350,000 and $1 million over six months. 

Spokesman Ryan Jabs said the ministry considered “over two dozen people in the industry” who had not previously been involved in the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project. Ten people were directly contacted. 

Cowdell (top row, 2nd from right) with Premier Gordon Campbell in 2009 (BC Gov)

“The review may also include additional technical work done by other specialists in the areas of traffic engineering, geotechnical, seismology, bridge and tunnel design and construction, which may increase the costs (to a maximum of $1 million, including Mr. Cowdell’s contract),” Jabs said by email. 

Westmar was the ministry’s representative on the SNC-Lavalin-built Bill Bennett Bridge, a floating bridge project built as a private-public partnership. The vice-president of the government’s PartnershipsBC agency from 2002 to 2008 was Grant Main, the deputy transportation minister who survived the transition from the BC Liberals to the NDP. In 2009, then-premier Gordon Campbell gave Westmar the gold medal innovation award. 

Trevena was asked in Question Period why she hadn’t announced Cowdell a day earlier, during her ministry’s budget estimates hearing. She said the terms of reference weren’t finalized. Trevena said the 10-lane bridge plan was rushed under the BC Liberals, because it was a “glory project, for the previous premier.”

“We acknowledge there’s a traffic issue along the corridor, and something needs to be done,” she said. “But the scope of the 10-lane bridge was too big. They needed to work with local government around the whole region, including Metro Vancouver. That’s what we’re doing.”

Bob Mackin The B.C. Utilities Commission said Nov.

Bob Mackin 

The NPA candidate who challenged Mayor Gregor Robertson in the 2014 civic election is exploring a 2018 bid.

Veteran journalist Kirk LaPointe fell 10,000 votes shy of Robertson, who won a third term at 12th and Cambie. Since the election, LaPointe became a host on Roundhouse Radio, editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver, and vice-president of Glacier Media, the BIV parent that publishes the Vancouver Courier.

Early Oct. 28, LaPointe emailed supporters, urging them to sign-up quickly as NPA members so that they could come to the monogrammed grape party’s annual general meeting and vote for seven directors. The meeting date has not been announced, but LaPointe’s email speculated that it could be Nov. 28.

LaPointe at a 2014 campaign news conference (Mackin)

The NPA, LaPointe wrote, “seems intent on publicizing the meeting after anyone joining the party would be eligible to vote. We have to beat that to the punch.”

“I am asking you to find three or four or five friends in the next 24 hours and ask them to spend $10 to join.” 

The tone of LaPointe’s email was urgent, because he claimed that “two other factions… that would drive the party to the hard-right” were trying to take over the party. 

“A move in that direction would practically guarantee a return to power by Vision Vancouver or a coalition of hard-left winners in the eventual election next October.”

Those “factions” were not identified by LaPointe.

It is no secret that Wai Young, the former Harper Conservative Vancouver South MP, is already fundraising to seek the nomination. Backers of BC Liberal Hector Bremner are also angling to control the board. Bremner, the lobbyist and Rich Coleman protege, won a city council seat for the NPA in the Oct. 14 by-election. His campaign was managed by Mark Marissen, the ex-husband of ex-premier Christy Clark. 

In the email, LaPointe counselled prospective NPA members to keep his name off their membership forms.

“There is another important wrinkle,” LaPointe wrote. “When you are asked on the online form who referred you to the party, indicate you are acting on your own. You are doing this of your own volition, and I worry that anyone other than ‘a friend’ in that line will be rejected by the party.” 

In an interview on Oct. 29, LaPointe conceded that the AGM may not take place on Nov. 28, because there is a city council meeting earlier that day. He said he has made no decision about running for mayor in 2018, but is keeping the door open. 

“I sent the email in order to make sure that those that wanted to be members of the party in advance of the annual general meeting got the opportunity to do so and weren’t going to be excluded if the call for the annual general meeting was inside those 30-day requirements,” LaPointe told theBreaker. “As for my own intentions, I’ve said all along that I’ve been considering whether to run again and I want to do something for the city.” 

Robertson’s Vision Vancouver is showing its age, after several party stalwarts went to work with the Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa and Horgan NDP in Victoria. The Vision by-election candidate finished a distant fifth. Two weeks later, Coun. Andrea Reimer, a Robertson lieutenant who was touted as a successor, announced that she would not run in 2018.

Robertson came to power in 2008 on promises to make city hall transparent and accountable and to end street homelessness by 2015.

Homelessness increased and the city is now struggling with an affordable housing crisis, fuelled by Chinese real estate investment. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner slammed City of Vancouver secrecy in a scathing 2016 audit and compliance report. Meanwhile, there are nearly 50 people working in communications for city hall and the parks board.

Bob Mackin  The NPA candidate who challenged Mayor