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Bob Mackin

When the first Honda Celebration of Light splashed above English Bay in 1990, it was known as the Symphony of Fire, there were no electric car chargers in parking lots, no carbon taxes charged at gas pumps and no separated bike lanes criss-crossing downtown streets and bridges.

(Honda Celebration of Light)

Drone shows have started to replace 4th of July fireworks displays south of the border. But don’t expect the green revolution to replace old fashioned fireworks anytime soon for Vancouver’s biggest public event, which returned July 23 from a two-year pandemic pause and continues July 27 and 30.

“In the short term, no, adding a drone show would really only just add expense,” said Celebration of Light producer Paul Runnals of Brandlive Management Group.

Runnals said there aren’t significant fleets of drones in Western Canada and downtown Vancouver has few large, convenient lots necessary for take-off and landing.

“In time, and as the drone technology gets to a point where it’s both financially viable and logistically viable, I think there may start to be more and more pressure on some of these big shows,” Runnals said. “But it’s hard to say if that’s three years away or 10 years away.”

Drones and fireworks at T-Mobile Park in Seattle on July 22 (Seattle Mariners)

Vancouver got a taste of the future in 2017, when Ontario company Arrowonics produced a nightly drone show instead of fireworks at the Pacific National Exhibition Fair. 

The main selling point for drone shows is the obvious replacement of fireworks pollution, both smoke and sound. The latter scares pets and wildlife, and even humans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. The former has been linked to lung and heart ailments. There is also the remote risk of sparking a wildfire.

“It’s the new, shiny thing everybody wants,” said Jeff Clarmo, CEO of Waterloo, Ont.-based drone and fireworks company North Star Entertainment and vice-president of Virginia-based Pixis Drones. “It’s environmentally the way to go and, because of the pandemic, people are starting to listen to the scientists. A lot more global warming, look at the summer around the world, It’s insane how dry and hot everything is.”

Jeff Clarmo (North Star Entertainment)

Pyrotechnics industry veteran Clarmo said his company has a fleet of 900 drones, but has few competitors. It costs around half-a-million-dollars to set-up a 100-drone system, he said, and drone shows can cost three times more than a traditional fireworks display. While Celebration of Light fireworks are 20-25 minutes, a drone show can only last 10-12 minutes, due to battery life. 

Clarmo admits fireworks are “on the downward spiral,” partly due to social media backlash. 

“Back in the day, everybody loved the good firework show, the odd person complained but with social media, everybody gets on the bandwagon, about their dogs and their pollution and the birds, and the environment,” he said. “And they’re not wrong, they’re not wrong.”

A 2014 study in Wuhan University in China found dramatic increases in particulate matter from Lunar New Year fireworks displays and that it took more than 15 hours for contaminant levels to return to pre-celebration levels. In Spain, the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research released a 2010 study that wondered “is the cocktail worth the show?”

Drones and fireworks at T-Mobile Park in Seattle on July 22 (Seattle Mariners)

Fireworks displays added the burden of smoke emissions to already contaminated urban air, putting people with pre-existing respiratory or heart conditions at greater risk. “The metalliferous and highly respirable nature of fireworks emissions makes them per se hazardous to the general population,” said the Spanish study.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation said it has not conducted a formal study of the environmental impacts of the Celebration of Light nor has it formally considered a drone show. 

Park Board chair Camil Dumont and city hall’s climate policy manager Matt Horne did not respond for comment. Neither did Coun. Adriane Carr or Coun. Christine Boyle. 

Clarmo said drone shows are rapidly winning over skeptics. In June, North Star produced a drone show to open L’International des Feux Loto-Québec fireworks festival in Montreal. 

“It’s a big step for these fireworks guys to actually say, you know, this is a real thing, because a lot of them, especially in the early years, were pooh-poohing it,” Clarmo said.

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Bob Mackin When the first Honda Celebration of

Bob Mackin

Coquitlam RCMP is backtracking on the photographs it released of the alleged accomplices of a man on trial for first degree murder who escaped July 21 from North Fraser Pretrial Centre, after a reporter noticed nearly identical images were published on various obscure websites.

Escaped gangster Rabih Alkhalil (RCMP)

Rabih (Robby) Alkhalil, 35, was dressed in a black jumpsuit and high visibility vest when he left in a white Ford Econoline van at 6:48 p.m. July 21 with two others who were posing as contractors.

The RCMP’s news release from the late morning of July 22 showed black and white images of two men, but not their names. Later in the day, the RCMP issued a news release that said police had tentatively identified the two suspects. 

However, this reporter contacted Const. Deanna Law just after 2 p.m. on July 23, noting that colour images of Suspect 2 were found on three different websites with three different names. A fourth image was found on a passport printing website in India. Law was asked to explain whether the RCMP-issued photograph of Suspect 2 was genuine or if the image was used because it most closely resembled the suspect. 

Almost an hour later, Law responded by email, to say she was in contact with investigators and would respond with an update as soon as possible. 

The face of “Suspect 2” in the RCMP July 22 news release was actually found throughout the Internet (theBreaker photo collage)

At 4:31 p.m., the RCMP issued a third news release about the case, confirming that the photographs were not the suspects. 

“It is believed that the suspects who helped Alkhalil escape bear a close resemblance to the photos they left behind, but those images are not them,” Law said in a prepared statement. “As with many complex investigations, the information is rapidly changing as we progress. For this case, time is crucial and it’s important to keep the public as informed as possible even though the facts could change as we go.”

Meanwhile, the RCMP says the Ford Econoline getaway van was found and is being examined by forensics experts. It also said North Fraser Pretrial Centre is cooperating with the investigation, which is turning into a global search. 

Alkhalil’s first degree murder trial will go on without him. He is charged with the Jan. 17, 2012 killing of gangster Sandip Duhre at the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel in Vancouver. Hells Angel Larry Ronald Amero is also standing trial for conspiring to murder Duhre.

Email exchange with RCMP communications officer.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Maisonville recalled the jury July 22 to say jurors would return on Wednesday to carry on the trial. She informed the jury that Alkhalil had absconded and said she would instruct them later how to handle that fact. She also warned jurors to ignore any media reports about the case. 

“I remind you again that both accused including including Mr. Alkhalil, who is not before you, is presumed innocent until the Crown has proven their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Maisonville said.

In the original bulletin issued at 10:19 p.m. on July 22, Coquitlam RCMP said corrections staff informed the RCMP of the escape at 7:30 p.m. It said Alkhalil left in the van at 6:48 p.m., but Law would not comment on the actual time that the warden had considered Alkhalil to have escaped. 

Alkhalil was one of four men convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a 2012 murder in Toronto’s Little Italy during a Euro soccer watch party at a cafe.

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Bob Mackin Coquitlam RCMP is backtracking on the

For the week of July 24, 2022:

Vancouver city council voted to continue exploring a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics, despite deputy city manager Karen Levitt’s recommendation to put it on hold while cost and risk questions about the $4 billion-plus mega-event remain unanswered. 

At the same July 20 meeting, councillors with left wing and right wing parties aligned to defeat Coun. Colleen Hardwick’s proposal to add a plebiscite to the Oct. 15 civic election ballot. The Canadian Olympic Committee (and its Four Host First Nations partners) breathed a sigh of relief, four years after Calgary voters turned down a 2026 bid.

“The people deserve to have the voice in whether or not we move ahead with the Olympics,” said Hardwick, Bob Mackin’s guest on this week’s edition of theBreaker.news Podcast. 

Hardwick is running for mayor with TEAM for a Livable Vancouver and promises to give voters the right to decide on the 2030 bid, just like they did almost 20 years ago when Vancouver successfully bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics. 

Also, headlines from the Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest. 

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The Podcast: Hardwick pledges plebiscite on 2030 Olympics bid if she defeats Stewart in mayoral race
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For the week of July 24, 2022: Vancouver

Bob Mackin

The promoter of the cancelled electric car race around East False Creek says he cannot say when ticket holders will receive refunds. 

“Of course, those people will get their money. I’m as transparent as I’m allowed to be, by the confines of all the agreements that are signed with the various stakeholders,” said OSS Group CEO Matthew Carter.

OSS Group’s Matthew Carter (LinkedIn)

Vancouver’s first Canadian E-Fest, including an ABB Formula E World Championship tour race, was scheduled June 30-July 2, but cancelled in late April after OSS Group had failed to secure all necessary permits. 

Carter said OSS Group does not hold the ticket money, but would not say who does or the total dollar amount of tickets sold.  

“The ticket holder will be informed every single step of the way as to how they get their money back, what the situation is, what the solution is,” Carter said. “Right now, legally, I am not allowed to tell you anything more.”

Carter would not explain why a contract would bind him from publicly discussing refunds. He denied there is a cashflow issue or that his company is in arrears with creditors. 

“I cannot give you a date, because legally I am not allowed. I cannot tell you where the money is held, because legally I’m not allowed,” Carter said.

Carter originally claimed 33,000 tickets were sold through ATPI Sports Events, but now says the figure was 36,000; he said he did not know how many were sold at full price. 

In May, Carter hoped ticket holders would be able to transfer their tickets to the 2023 race date. In June, Formula E terminated all contracts with OSS Group and Vancouver was not included on its 2023 calendar.

“We expect OSS Group to ensure that it proceeds to a full refund of these tickets and to provide details on this process in the short term,” said the June 17 Formula E statement.

Map of the proposed route for the Vancouver Formula E race.

At the time, Carter said ATPI would contact ticket holders after July 2. 

Film industry worker Andrew Chobaniuk spent $210 for general admission tickets last October. 

On May 16, Canadian E-Fest told him by email that his request for a refund was logged and the process would begin once the 2023 date was announced. Since then, Chobaniuk called his credit card provider, TD, which began investigating.

“My advice to people would be to call their bank, especially if they paid with a credit card,” Chobaniuk said. “Because, there are protections and insurance built into those.”

Chobaniuk lost confidence in OSS Group and is less likely to buy advance tickets to any event.

“I wouldn’t be involved, especially with this company, there’s no chance I give them my money,” he said.

The three-day festival was also supposed to include a celebrity electric car race, electric vehicle test drives, a concert by Nickelback and a business conference headlined by environmental activist and consumer advocate Erin Brockovich and former Mexican president Felipe Calderon.

Green Coun. Mike Wiebe co-sponsored the April 2021 motion with ABC’s Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung to bring Formula E to Vancouver. He still thinks the city can be a good host for the event, but admits he is also waiting for a refund.

“We’re going to have to bring in a new management team, because it has been very difficult and some of the issues with the local management team and just not being able to get great information or clarity on some of these things,” Wiebe said. “We had some discussions with Matthew and others that I don’t think fully represented what was actually going on.”

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Bob Mackin The promoter of the cancelled electric

Bob Mackin

The trial of Wolfpack Alliance gangster Rabih (Robby) Alkhalil will go on without him. 

The 35-year-old escaped July 21 from North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam, putting a temporary halt on his first degree murder trial in B.C. Supreme Court. He is charged with the Jan. 17, 2012 killing of gangster Sandip Duhre at the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel in Vancouver. Hells Angel Larry Ronald Amero is also standing trial for conspiring to murder Duhre. They were charged in 2018 and both pleaded not guilty.

Escaped gangster Rabih Alkhalil (RCMP)

Justice Miriam Maisonville recalled the jury to say they would return on Wednesday to carry on the trial. 

“By now, some or all of you will have heard that Mr. Alkhalil has absconded. I will instruct you later on what use, if any, you can make of that fact,” Maisonville said. 

“I remind you again that both accused including including Mr. Alkhalil, who is not before you, is presumed innocent until the Crown has proven their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial will continue in the absence of Mr. Alkhalil, and the Crown will have to prove his guilt to you beyond a reasonable doubt, as well as Mr. Amero. I’m instructing all of you now not to pay any further attention to any media accounts, nor anything that you read or hear on the internet, social media or otherwise.”

The judge emphasized the jurors must ignore anything heard about the case outside the courtroom, because only the evidence presented in the courtroom must inform their decision on whether Alkhalil and Amero are guilty. 

Coquitlam RCMP said Alkhalil, who is considered dangerous, was dressed in a black jumpsuit and high visibility vest when he left the provincial jail in a white Ford Econoline van at 6:48 p.m. with two others who were posing as contractors. RCMP say they were informed at 7:30 p.m., but their news release was not published until 10:19 p.m.

Duhre was murdered more than 10 years ago in the restaurant while the Sheraton Wall Centre hotel was hosting teams and officials for the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament. Members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team were at a yoga session at the time of the shooting. Goalkeeper Hope Solo tweeted that she was about to walk to Starbucks “when all hell broke loose in the lobby.”

Alkhalil was one of four men convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a 2012 murder in Toronto’s Little Italy during a Euro soccer watch party at a cafe. 

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Bob Mackin The trial of Wolfpack Alliance gangster

Bob Mackin

Will third time be a charm for Coun. Colleen Hardwick? 

At the current council’s last policy and strategic priorities committee meeting on July 20, the TEAM for a Livable Vancouver mayoral candidate failed a second time to get a plebiscite on the 2030 Winter Olympics bid onto the Oct. 15 ballot.

Coun. Collen Hardwick (left) and Mayor Kennedy Stewart at the April 12 city council meeting (City of Vancouver)

In April, no one else seconded her motion. At the latest committee meeting, all councillors with left and right wing parties voted against the motion. 

After the meeting, Hardwick pledged to give citizens the vote if she defeats Mayor Kennedy Stewart, saying there is simply too much at stake to exclude the people who would pay for the mega-event.

“In the leadup to the 2010 Games in 2003, there was a plebiscite undertaken by the city that demonstrated that the majority of Vancouverites were in support, and you could say that that significantly demonstrated public and community support,” Hardwick said.

Stewart led the opposition, with words similar to his March Tweets that city hall’s integrity commissioner ruled were misleading. This time, he accused Hardwick of violating the “spirit” of the non-binding, reconciliation-themed bid agreement with the Four Host First Nations (FHFN) and Resort Municipality of Whistler. 

Stewart asked Hardwick if she would “tick the no box” in a plebiscite. She said it’s not about whether one is for or against, but doing the right thing.

“What I’d really like to have actually is the books from the 2010 Olympics that are embargoed at the archives,” she replied.

Stewart’s stance is a 180-degree turn from February 2020. After former Vancouver 2010 CEO John Furlong hatched the 2030 bid idea, Stewart said: “The very first thing that would need to happen, however, is that residents of Vancouver get to express their support through a referendum much like the first bid.”

Salt Lake City, the 2002 host, and Sapporo, Japan, the 1972 host, are also considering bids. The IOC wants to choose the 2030 host in May 2023 when it meets in Mumbai, India. The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) has privately discouraged Vancouver, Whistler and FHFN from holding votes this year. 

When Green Coun. Pete Fry earlier asked about a plebiscite, Musqueam Indian Band Chief Wayne Sparrow said feedback from the IOC indicated “it would squish the bid.” Sparrow wondered why a plebiscite would be necessary for an Olympics when there wasn’t one for either the 2025 Invictus Games or 2026 FIFA World Cup. 

COC president Tricia Smith interjected, to say that the IOC is “totally open to plebiscites.”

“They just say please have the work done, before you get to the point where you come to us and say we have a bid ready,” she said. 

The last time there was a plebiscite on a Canadian Olympic bid, Calgary voters in 2018 rejected a proposal for the 1988 host city to bid on the 2026 Games. Those are going to Milano Cortina, Italy instead. 

“Something like this is not the Invictus Games, this is not the FIFA World Cup,” Hardwick said. “This is the Olympics. This is a $4 billion price tag and a lot of risk attached to it. And I think the responsible thing for us to do is to give the the Vancouver electors a chance to have their say.”

Deputy Vancouver city manager Karen Levitt (Vancouver.ca)

Deputy City Manager Karen Levitt recommended city council effectively put the 2030 bid on hold until senior governments decide if they will fund the mega-event and whether the NDP government in Victoria will take full responsibility for cost overruns and cancellation insurance. 

Said Levitt: “Timing is absolutely I’d say the biggest issue before you in this council report. We just don’t think there is enough time to do what needs to get done between now and January when the COC will submit their submission for the COC bid.”

Stewart and seven councillors voted to direct staff to carry on exploring the bid and negotiate multiparty agreements, while seeking answers from the federal and B.C. governments about backing the bid. 

ABC Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung acknowledged the cost and indemnification concerns, but reminisced about her time in the tourism industry before and during the 2010 Games. “We are excited about this opportunity and don’t want to close the door,” she said.

Hardwick and COPE Coun. Jean Swanson voted against the motion. OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle was absent.

“I have great misgivings about our ability in this council to to sideline staff advice in this case, which is sound,” Hardwick said. “And I also am struggling with the democratic deficit that I’m seeing here and I’ve seen otherwise. We are a city of reconciliation, we embrace that. But that doesn’t preclude our responsibility to our electorate.”

After the vote, Green Coun. Adriane Carr, the meeting chair, suggested a 10-minute break for “a tiny little celebration.”

To which Sparrow responded: “I’ve heard a couple of times about the election, I’m hoping [the bid] doesn’t get into the campaigning thing, when we’re working together.”

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Bob Mackin Will third time be a charm

Bob Mackin

The 2022 mayoral contest in Surrey appears to be unique in British Columbia local government history. Never have this many high-profile, veteran politicians with colourful histories announced a run to be mayor in the same big city, in the same year. 

Two of them are backbenchers in senior governing parties and one is a former White Rock mayor aiming to become the first to win Surrey. 

Is this it? Will another join the crowded field? Will one or more have second thoughts?

Clockwise, from upper left: Sims, McCallum, Hogg, Dhaliwal and Locke.

Stay tuned, official registration runs Aug. 30 to Sept. 9. 

Sukh Dhaliwal, 60

Party: United Surrey 

Experience: Liberal MP for Newton-North Delta (2006-2011) and Surrey-Newton (2015-present) 

Earlier this year, Dhaliwal was part of BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon’s campaign team.

The engineer/land surveyor’s bid for a BC Liberal seat was derailed by a tax evasion case. He pleaded guilty to three charges in 2014 and was fined $3,000. Trivia: Defeated NDP MP Jinny Sims in the 2015 federal election after she beat him in 2011. 

Gordon Hogg, 75 

Party: Surrey First 

Experience: Mayor of White Rock (1984-1993), BC Liberal MLA for Surrey-White Rock (1997-2017), Liberal MP for South Surrey-White Rock (2017-2019)

In the 2017 federal by-election, Hogg succeeded former Surrey Mayor and Conservative MP Dianne Watts, after she quit to seek the BC Liberal leadership. Now he’s leading the civic party that Watts founded. 

Trivia: Was the oldest graduate in Simon Fraser University’s class of 2016 with a PhD in public policy. Unofficially, the only MLA to rap during his swan song speech in the B.C. Legislature.

Brenda Locke, 67  

Party: Surrey Connect

Experience: BC Liberal MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers (2001-2005), Surrey city councillor since 2018.

Was elected on McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition slate in 2018, but split in mid-2019 over concerns about McCallum’s handling of the transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force.

Trivia: Prior to her election as an MLA, Locke was the executive director of the B.C. Liquor Licensee and Retailers Association. During her last two years in office, she was the Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction.

Doug McCallum, 78 

Party: Safe Surrey Coalition 

Experience: The incumbent was a Surrey Electors Team city councillor (1993-1996) before becoming mayor (1996-2005 and 2018-present)

The Crescent Beach resident’s first period as mayor came to an end when Dianne Watts rose to power in 2005. Much of the last 10 months has been spent dealing with “toe-gate.” He accused a pro-RCMP referendum campaigner of running over his foot last September in a Save-On-Foods parking lot, but faces trial beginning Oct. 31 for public mischief.

Trivia: His defence lawyer is Richard Peck, the special prosecutor who investigated challenger Jinny Sims.

Jinny Sims, 70

Party: Surrey Forward 

Experience: NDP MP for Newton-North Delta (2011-2015), NDP MLA for Surrey-Panorama (2017-present)

The former high school teacher was the B.C. Teachers Federation president from 2004-2007. She stepped down as NDP Minister of Citizens Services in 2019 after writing visa endorsement letters for supporters and hiding email. Peck recommended no charges, but Sims did not return to cabinet. 

Trivia: Defeated Dhaliwal in the 2011 federal election, but lost to him in 2015.

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Bob Mackin The 2022 mayoral contest in Surrey

Bob Mackin

There couldn’t be a worse time to sell British Columbians a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics, and not just because it’s the middle of summer.

The only thin ice or blizzard in these parts right now are metaphors that can be used to describe where the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Four Host First Nations-blessed bid stands and the sheer volume of challenges it faces.

Premier Gordon Campbell and Prime Minister Stephen Harper at Victoria International Airport on Oct. 30, 2009 (Bob Mackin)

Vancouver Deputy City Manager Karen Levitt recommends city councillors do nothing until senior governments do something to back the bid. B.C. NDP tourism and sport minister Melanie Mark wants a mini business plan on her desk by Aug. 15 before Victoria decides whether to underwrite another $4 billion-plus mega-event.

July of 2022 is a time of political, economic, social and environmental vulnerability. This is the flip-side of July of 2001, when newly elected B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell seized upon the International Olympic Committee’s choice of Beijing and rejection of Toronto for the 2008 Olympics. Sod-turning, ribbon-cutting Campbell went all-in to bring the Winter Olympics to Vancouver in 2010 and won two more elections.

It could be said there were too many reasons to say yes to 2010 and there are too many reasons to say no to 2030. Here are some of them.

Can you spare a billion?

It took a full 40 days for Premier John Horgan to backtrack on the Royal B.C. Museum project, expected to cost $1 billion to finish by 2030. It could still happen, but will be on someone else’s desk. Meanwhile, the Olympic bidders say they need at least $1 billion from taxpayers, but concede they don’t really know how much they’ll need because of the long list of “essential services” governments would have to provide in 2030. 

Healthcare before Olympics

Remember that bumper sticker from 2003? It could make a comeback. In 2022, some 900,000 British Columbians don’t have a family doctor. (Compare that with the 1.8 million tickets distributed for the 2010 Games.) People around the province are complaining of long wait times for ambulances and treatment at emergency rooms. The system is crumbling under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, overdose epidemic and an aging population. Horgan failed to convince Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to bring money to the Victoria Premiers’ summit earlier this month.

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

Inflation 

The 33,000 government workers in the B.C. General Employees’ Union could go on strike this summer. With inflation in B.C. a Canada-leading 8.1%, they’re demanding a cost of living adjustment and already gave a cold shoulder to the government’s offer of a 11% raise over three years and a $2,500 signing bonus. They’re a fraction of the total 400,000 public sector workers whose contracts expire in 2022. For every 1% increase in the total B.C. public sector payroll, the cost to taxpayers rises $386 million. 

Revolving door 

Municipal elections are Oct. 15. The NDP is scheduled to choose a new leader to replace Horgan by Dec. 3. Olympics boosters might dread the words “Premier David Eby”; he was one of the biggest critics of Vancouver 2010 while at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. And could there be another federal election, after the opposition Conservatives name a new leader on Sept. 10? A lack of stability in high offices won’t help the cause of anyone knocking on doors in Ottawa or Victoria looking for more than $1 billion and deficit insurance.

Let us vote

Greece gave us the Olympics and democracy. Coun. Colleen Hardwick says they should go together, like they did in 2003 when almost two-thirds of Vancouver voters said yes to the 2010 bid. Mayor Kennedy Stewart thwarted Hardwick’s first motion when he falsely claimed a plebiscite on the Oct. 15 ballot would violate a non-binding agreement with Whistler and the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Lil’wat nations. What’s really going on? The COC privately told the six parties that any referendum this year would cause the IOC to reject a Canadian bid for 2030. The COC is still licking its wounds after voters in 1988 host city Calgary rejected the 2018 bid for the 2026 Winter Games. 

Vladimir Putin (left) and Xi Jinping during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics (PRC)

Geopolitics

Vladimir Putin has a habit of starting wars in Olympic years. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia. In 2014 it was Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. In 2022, he decided to take on the rest of Ukraine. That came in the wake of his visit with Xi Jinping at the Beijing Winter Olympics where the dictators renewed their bromance with a “no limits” accord. Food and fuel shortages and inflation are sparking upheaval around the globe. Canada slapped sanctions on Russia, which is sidelined by many international sports federations, but not the IOC. Meanwhile, Xi tossed aside Hong Kong’s one country/two systems pledge and covets Taiwan.

B.C.’s megaproject mania

The NDP is building or expanding hospitals in Vancouver’s False Creek Flats ($2.174 billion), Cloverdale ($1.72 billion), Burnaby ($1.3 billion) and Richmond ($860 million). A new Pattullo Bridge is underway ($1.37 billion) and a new Massey Tunnel later ($4.15 billion) is on the drawing board. Meanwhile, the Broadway Subway is happening ($2.83 billion) and Langley to Surrey SkyTrain ($3.94 billion) has the go-ahead. The $16 billion Site C is half-finished. Metro Vancouver is planning to build a new sewage plant on Iona Island for $10 billion, but first it has to finish the $1.06 billion project in North Vancouver. Those add up to $45.4 billion but will cost more due to the rising cost of borrowing. Then there’s the need to build better dikes around Abbotsford, finish the Coquihalla highway flood and landslide repairs and rebuild burned down town Lytton.

Sport City

Vancouver was supposed to host its first Formula E race around Eastern False Creek on July 2. It was cancelled and, as of now, isn’t going to happen in 2023, either. But the “dance card” is looking rather full. The Laver Cup tennis tournament is coming in 2023 and there likely will be a Grey Cup week in 2024. Prince Harry’s Invictus Games will be co-hosted by Vancouver and Whistler in 2025 and Vancouver is one of 16 host cities for World Cup matches in 2026. 

Game misconduct

After a disappointing finish at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, athletes demanded change atop Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (COC)

Canada’s sport system enjoyed a boom after Vancouver 2010, where the men’s hockey team won the 14th and final gold medal in dramatic fashion. Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, Gymnastics Canada and the Canadian Soccer Association athletes have since blown the whistle about abuse and governance issues. The biggest scandal involves the country’s flagship Hockey Canada, which settled out of court with a woman who sued for $3.5 million after an alleged sexual assault by members of the 2018 junior national team. The organization with a secret account for misconduct claims has seen its federal funding frozen, and faces an audit and NHL investigation. Sponsors Canadian Tire, Esso, Scotiabank, Telus and Tim Hortons have called a time out. 

Where’s the 2010 bill? 

The total all-in cost of building and staging the 2010 Games was estimated at $8 billion. The biggest operational line item was the RCMP-led security, at almost $1 billion. City taxpayers spent $554.3 million, not including the bailout of the $1.1 billion Olympic Village, which was finally paid-off in 2014. B.C.’s Auditor General did not conduct a post-Games audit and the 2010 organizing committee, known as VANOC, was not governed by the freedom of information law. VANOC transferred its board minutes and financial documents to the Vancouver City Archives under a contract that says you can’t see them until fall 2025 — more than two years after the IOC wants to name the 2030 host.

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Bob Mackin There couldn’t be a worse time

Bob Mackin

The B.C. NDP government says wait until late summer for behind-the-scenes details about Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Minister Ravi Kahlon’s spring trade mission to Europe.

(Twitter/@KahlonRav)

But governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom have already released some of their internal documents, free of charge. 

Kahlon’s 10-day junket took him to Netherlands (May 22), U.K. (May 25), Ireland (May 27), Germany (May 30) and Finland (June 1). Ministry spokesman Tom Laird said by email that “final costs will be released after all expenses are tabulated.”

On June 1, separate freedom of information applications were filed with the B.C. government, and relevant departments in Dublin and London. The Republic of Ireland’s Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science replied with briefing notes and email on June 30. The U.K. Department for International Trade followed July 15 with briefing notes, but withheld ministerial email. 

The B.C. government charged $20 for a pair of requests about the Ireland and U.K. meetings and set a July 14 deadline. But it decided June 23 to delay the U.K. file until Aug. 26, claiming “a large volume and/or search for records.” On July 11, it also delayed the Irish file to Aug. 26, citing a need for “consultation with a third party or other public body.”

B.C.’s freedom of information law requires a response within 30 working days, but can be extended for various reasons. In Ireland and U.K., it’s 20 working days plus extensions. Unlike B.C., there is no application fee. Should an applicant appeal the quantity or quality of disclosure, Ireland charges €30 (almost $40). 

Darrell Evans, director of the Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies Society, is not surprised. Thirty years ago, the NDP gave B.C. a world-class FOI law. Since imposing the $10 application fee last November, Evans said, the governing party treats FOI like an “invalid on life support in the hospital, and they’re taking the pillow to its face.”

He blames Premier John Horgan and his chief of staff/political mastermind, Geoff Meggs.

“They think if they lose control of information, they’ll lose control of the agenda,” Evans said. “They don’t seem to feel obligated to inform the public.”

What was in the documents?

(Twitter/@KahlonRav)

The U.K. provided a partly redacted briefing note for Minister of State for Trade Policy Penny Mordaunt and a readout of her meeting with Kahlon. Conservative Mordaunt has since become a candidate to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. 

The readout, a summary of the meeting, said Kahlon outlined B.C.’s environmental, social and corporate governance ambitions and climate change agenda, with plans to advance hydrogen.

It said the Delta North MLA also touched on critical minerals and supply chain issues and addressed “false perceptions” of the forest industry’s dominance. He told Mordaunt only 1.7% of B.C. forests are harvested “and wanted to emphasize this point due to messaging challenges he had been hearing and made aware of.”

“[Kahlon] also outlined the importance of First Nations and indigenous peoples when it comes to the foresting industry with Canada the only place (other than NZ) to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.”

Mordaunt asked Kahlon if there had been any movement against the federal luxury car tax and thanked Canada for supporting U.K.’s campaign to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In the briefing note, marked “official-sensitive,” there was more information about the U.K.’s concern that the federal luxury vehicle tax would “disproportionately impact zero emission vehicles imported into Canada.”

The Irish disclosure included email exchanges within the ministry and Vancouver consulate to arrange Kahlon’s meeting with Minister Simon Harris, which was described as “scheduled very last minute.” The list of attendees revealed facts that were not included in B.C. government news releases, specifically that Kahlon traveled with Deputy Minister Bobbi Plecas and his senior ministerial advisor Ravi Parmar. 

Canadian ambassador to Ireland Nancy Smyth, embassy trade officer Caroline Donnelly and two B.C. Trade and Investment contractors rounded out Kahlon’s entourage. 

The 20-page briefing note for Harris included basic facts about Canada (a higher proportion of Irish descendants than the U.S.) and B.C. (home to 675,000 with Irish heritage), descriptions of B.C. politics, economics, immigration and housing, homelessness, the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid epidemic. 

The document profiled educational links between Ireland and B.C. and previewed a late June mission to Whistler for B.C. International Education Week by officials from Irish colleges. The briefing note highlighted the importance of Ireland’s 2018-opened Vancouver consulate, this summer’s retirement of Consul General Frank Flood and his incoming replacement Cathy Geagan and the resumption of Air Canada’s Vancouver to Dublin service. There was even a special mention of Minister of Public Expenditure Michael McGrath’s St. Patrick’s Day visit to Vancouver and his meeting with Horgan, which was described as “particularly engaging.”

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Bob Mackin The B.C. NDP government says wait

For the week of July 17, 2022:

Surrey, B.C. businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik had friends. He also had many enemies. In 2005, he was one of two men acquitted of masterminding the June 23, 1985 terrorist bombing of Air India flight 182 off Ireland. 

Despite the Crown’s failure to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, families of the 329 victims held Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri responsible for the worst terrorist incident of its type before 9/11. 

On July 14, 75-year-old Malik was gunned down near his Newton office and died at the scene. Police are searching for the killer and the motive. 

Retired Province investigative reporter Salim Jiwa is Bob Mackin’s guest this week on theBreaker.news Podcast. Jiwa authored two books about Air India flight 182. He provides reaction and context to last week’s shocking murder. 

Also, headlines from the Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest. 

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For the week of July 17, 2022: