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Bob Mackin

Finance minister Carole James is targeting pop drinkers after hopes for a windfall from pot smokers went up in smoke.

In the NDP government’s budget for 2020-2021, tabled Feb. 18 by James, the 7% provincial sales tax will apply to fizzy soft drinks that contain sugar, natural or artificial sweeteners beginning July 1. The government forecasts it will raise $27 million over nine months in the upcoming fiscal year and $37 million the next.

NDP Finance Minister Carole James on Feb. 18 (Hansard)

“The deterrence effects of this measure are expected to be most prevalent among frequent consumers,” states the budget and fiscal plan for 2020-21. “Males consume more soft drinks than females. Additionally, soft drink consumption is highest among individuals aged 14-18 and declines with age. The Canada Food Guide does not recommend consuming most beverages affected by this measure.”

Additionally, e-commerce companies doing more than $10,000 woth of business in a year in B.C. will be required to register with the government and collect the 7% PST. The government forecasts $11 million revenue beginning July 1, 2020 and hopes to reap another $16 million next year. 

By comparison, the B.C. government forecasts $6 million in cannabis tax revenue by the time the fiscal year ends March 31. It blames the delayed rollout of cannabis stores and lower-than-anticipated demand for disappointing revenue. It hopes to raise $50 million next year and $70 million the year after. The federal government legalized pot in 2018, but many British Columbians have continued to purchase on the grey market.

The B.C. government is one of the province’s biggest purveyors of pop, through BC Ferries and B.C. Pavilion Corporation, which operates B.C. Place Stadium and the Vancouver Convention Centre. James was unable to say what kind of impact the tax measure might have on the two taxpayer-owned companies.

“You’ll continue to see sales of pop, and see reductions in both, that’s not going to happen overnight,” James said. “Ultimately we do see a reduction in the sales of sugary drinks and sweetened beverages.”

Meanwhile, the 7% tax on Canadian sellers of goods and Canadian and foreign sellers of software and telecommunications services was hidden under the heading “Registration Requirements Expanded” and also covers Canadian sellers of vaping products delivered to B.C. consumers.

“These requirements will result in provincial sales tax being collected by a greater number of businesses in the digital economy,” the document said.

Overall, James forecasts $60.06 billion in spending, which includes a $300 million contingency, and a $227 million surplus in what might be the last budget before an election. The next one is scheduled for October 2021, but British Columbians could go to the polls before the end of 2020 if the NDP’s minority government alliance with the Green Party ends sooner. Total debt is forecast at $76.4 billion, which is expected to grow to $87.6 billion by spring 2023.

The other main tax measure announced Feb. 18 is a 3.7% tax hike for those earning more than $220,000 a year. Half the anticipated $216 million revenue in the new fiscal year is expected from those earning $1 million or more.

As for the carbon tax, which applies to fuel sales and energy use, the government forecasts $1.95 billion in revenue in 2020-21, up from $1.69 billion last year.

The province’s biggest megaproject, BC Hydro’s Site C dam, has cost $4.7 billion through Dec. 31, 2019. Another $6 billion is budgeted, including a $780 million contingency.

The net loss at ICBC, the struggling provincial auto insurer and regulator, is forecast to shrink from $1.15 billion to just $91 million.

“The forecasted net loss for 2019/20 is significantly lower than the prior year, mainly as a result of the recent product reform, improvement in frequency and higher investment income, due to bond gains from trading activities, gains from disposition of real estate investment properties and gains on disposition of investments during transition to British Columbia Investment Management Corporation.”

Premium revenue rose by almost $500 million to $6.32 billion and investment income grew $213 million to $771 million.

The NDP government has emphasized two themes for much of its term, which began in July 2017: ICBC”s dumpster fire-like struggles and casino money laundering.

Oddly, the new budget cuts $500,000 from Road Safety BC to $16.76 million and reduces ICBC’s road improvements and traffic safety budget by $2 million to $32 million. Similarly, the budget for the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch stays below $19.5 million.

Before the budget, the NDP announced it would move in 2021 to a no-fault-style auto insurance system at ICBC, which is costing $92 million to begin the transition. The first-round of public hearings in the $11 million Cullen Commission into money laundering begin later this month.

What about the trade and tourism impacts on the B.C. economy of coronavirus?

“We’re not making any changes at this point, but we’re obviously monitoring it very closely,” James said.

The public service is expected to remain stable at 31,800 full-time equivalents; there are more than 430,000 people in the wider public sector, including Crowns and agencies, hospital, schools and other facilities. More than 330,000 are unionized.

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Bob Mackin Finance minister Carole James is targeting

The cauldron was lit. The blue jackets and red jerseys were out in force. The flag was waved. Tragedy was remembered. And there were protests.

Whistler Olympic Plaza on Feb. 12, 2020, where late Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was remembered on the 10th anniversary of the tragic crash at the Whistler Sliding Centre (Mackin)

All that was missing on Feb. 12, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, were games of ice and snow. But you could find them, if you looked hard enough.

People were enjoying blue skies on the Whistler Olympic Park cross-country ski trails in the Callaghan Valley. The ski jumps, where the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics began 10 years ago, were closed.

The same week that Canadians pondered a milestone in their history, protests erupted across the country against a pipeline planned for Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C. The band council wants it, but the hereditary chiefs don’t.

On this edition of Podcast, listen to the sounds of the Olympic anniversary and the anti-pipeline protests.

Hear highlights of host Bob Mackin’s appearance on Mike Klassen’s Vancouver Overcast podcast and the 10th anniversary events at Jack Poole Plaza and Whistler Olympic Park. Also hear from Alan Mullen, chief of staff to Speaker Darryl Plecas, about the protests at the Legislature, which even spread to Attorney General David Eby’s constituency office in Vancouver.

Click below to listen or go to Apple Podcasts and subscribe. 

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

Support for as low as $2 a month on Patreon. Find out how. Click here. Podcast Podcast Podcast: Ten years later, more protests than sports

The cauldron was lit. The blue jackets

Bob Mackin

Competition in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics began on the Whistler Olympic Park ski jumps in the Callaghan Valley on Feb. 12, 2010, eight hours before the opening ceremony in Vancouver.

Further up the Sea-to-Sky Highway, overlooking Whistler Village, lugers were taking their final rides on the Whistler Sliding Centre track.

Whistler Olympic Plaza on Feb. 12, 2020, where late Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was remembered on the 10th anniversary of the tragic crash at the Whistler Sliding Centre (Mackin)

Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old Georgian, would become the last to depart the men’s start on what had been hyped as the world’s most-extreme sliding track.

Near the end of his run, his sled went out of control and he was catapulted into a pole. An hour later, he was pronounced dead at the Whistler Olympic Village’s polyclinic.

Months after the Games ended, evidence showed it was a preventable crash. The track’s architect had told VANOC officials in 2009 that athlete speeds on the track were greater than what the design called for. 

Terrance Kosikar was the first track medic to rush to Kumaritashvili’s aid. He has kept the athlete’s memory alive during the past decade. On Feb. 12, 2020, he was joined by Georgian Ambassador to Canada Konstantin Kavtaradze to march through Whistler Village to a memorial service at Whistler Olympic Park.

They were joined by members of the local Georgian diaspora, as well as Ken Melamed, the Olympic-time mayor of Whistler, and Rob Vagramov, the mayor of Port Moody whose father volunteered with the Georgian delegation.

“It was a day that changed a lot of our lives,” said Mo Douglas, former community relations director with VANOC, the Games organizing committee.  “In my mind, he’s a hero, he’ll be a legend. I’m so proud Whistler embraced that. It’s part of our Olympic history.

“He’s in my heart, more than Feb. 12.”

Watch highlights of the memorial below.

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Bob Mackin Competition in the Vancouver 2010 Winter

Bob Mackin

All the years of politics and economics, boosterism and booing finally gave way to 17 days and nights of sport and spectacle. It was British Columbia’s time to shine, and Premier Gordon Campbell used the Games for an election-style campaign and to promote the province to international business visitors.

His B.C. Liberal Party had already scored a third consecutive term in May 2009 and the next vote was not scheduled until May 2013. Campbell was intent on resuscitating his sagging popularity after introducing the controversial Harmonized Sales Tax in July 2009.

Campbell was everywhere, in red mittens and Canadian Olympic Committee garb or in a VANOC workforce blue jacket with a Canada scarf. He had been counting the days until the Games. Literally. His office bathroom on the seventh floor of Canada Place’s World Trade Centre included a 2003 to 2010, Alcan-sponsored Olympic countdown calendar beside campaign posters and newspaper front pages proclaiming his election victories.

Campbell spent the eve of the Games at the exclusive Vancouver Club, which was transformed for the IOC into the Olympic Club, for dinner with GE Energy CEO Alex Urquhart and GE chairman Jeff Immelt. One of the world’s biggest industrial conglomerates owned Olympic broadcaster NBC and was nearing completion of a controversial $663 million hydroelectric plant on the Toba River up the coast from Vancouver. GE and local partner Plutonic Power would sell electricity through builder Peter Kiewit, which expanded the Sea-to-Sky Highway, to B.C. Hydro, the government’s power utility. (Campbell also paid GE Olympic sponsorship president Peter Foss and NBC Olympics president Dick Ebersol a visit on February 27, the eve of the closing ceremony, and hosted the company’s reception in the provincial party room on the fourth floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery.) 

As the Olympic torch relay re-entered Vancouver via the Lions Gate Bridge on February 12, Campbell had already appeared on Grouse Mountain for an interview with NBC’s Today Show and returned downtown to greet California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the newly opened, $450 million Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel across from the Vancouver Convention Centre.

The former steroid-enhanced bodybuilder and action movie star took his turn in the torch relay through Stanley Park. Elected officials or declared political candidates were not supposed to be torchbearers, but VANOC bent its rules so Schwarzenegger could pass the Olympic flame to Sebastian Coe, the Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984 1,500-metre champion and chairman of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, beside the Brockton Point lighthouse. Campbell stood clapping and smiling, like a proud father, as the sun rose on opening day.

Ominous, grey clouds were approaching. The weather and the mood were changing.

Ski jumpers were the only athletes who competed February 12. The rest eked out one more training session and most planned to march in the evening’s opening ceremony with teammates.

At the Whistler Sliding Centre, luger Nodar Kumaritashvili of Bakuriani, Georgia, flipped the transparent visor on his helmet over his face and put his gloved hands on the handles next to his sled near the top of the $105 million track.

Georgian postage stamp in memory of Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Kumaritashvili had spoken the night before by phone with his father David, a national youth luge champion when Georgia was in the Soviet Union. The 21-year-old feared the newest Olympic track, which was unlike any he had plied. It was fast, long and narrow, on a steep slope between two valleys, just 92 metres at its widest. At Utah Olympic Park, the 2002 track was 450 m wide.

When it was finished in 2007, veteran Canadian bobsled pilot Pierre Lueders, a Nagano 1998 gold medallist and two-time world champion, and brakeman Justin Kripps, a Hawaii-born, Okanagan-raised former sprinter, took the first slide six days before Christmas. Their sled took air because of an ice ridge near the end of the first run. Luckily, the duo didn’t crash or flip. 

The complex was originally envisioned for Grouse Mountain by Arthur Griffiths and his domestic bid committee. Planners considered the Callaghan Valley nordic centre before finally settling on the site at Blackcomb Mountain. The best chance for post-Games revenue generation, whether it be competitions, athlete training or tourist visits, would be at a location that could be accessed by car or chairlift from the cluster of hotels at the resort village.

Kumaritashvili’s name was called on the public address system. He wore the number 30 bib. It was just before 10:50 a.m. The start tones sounded. He grabbed the two bars next to his sled and propelled himself forward, reclining on the sled with his legs in the runners. He would use a combination of leg, shoulder and head movements to steer the fibreglass sled while it hurtled down the icy course.

Kumaritashvili had learned to slide as a child in Bakuriani, but there was no suitable track near his hometown. He had to travel all the way to Latvia to train. With a limited budget, the Georgians could not afford to compete in the February 2009 test event at Whistler, but Kumaritashvili came and took 20 runs at the November 2009 international training week. Werner Hoeger, who competed for Venezuela, suffered a concussion on a crash during those sessions and was among several lugers who complained that Canadian athletes were given more practice runs on the difficult track. Officials scheduled extra sessions in January 2010, but the Georgians weren’t there.

It seemed like everything was normal for the world’s 44th-ranked luger through the section called Gold Rush Trail until turn 15. The last curve, called Thunderbird, saw Kumaritashvili hit 144 kilometres per hour. He was not the first to break the 137 km-h designed speed on the track, but he would be the last to start from the planned position.

Kumaritashvili’s sled hit the wall and he lost control, catapulting off the bowing sled. His body flew over a crash barrier that was too short and was propelled back-first into an unpadded steel girder. He suffered blunt force trauma to the base of his skull. Terrance Kosikar, a staff medic at the Whistler Sliding Centre, rushed to Kumaritashvili. B.C. Ambulance Service paramedics joined in, and desperately tried to resuscitate him.

Emergency crews had practiced for a sledding catastrophe the previous June during a scenario at the Justice Institute in New Westminster, B.C. They simulated a bobsled exiting the track and treated actors portraying injured athletes and spectators. Now it was too real.

“He was lying on the back, I see blood start coming out of the ear,” Russian coach Mikhail Zavialov recounted in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Fifth Estate. ”I see the left arm was broken, open broken. I see (his) hand was broken and there is no blood coming from (the) open part of the hand. I understand the heart was stopped.”

“There was nothing more that we could do to help bring this kid back,” Kosikar sighed.

Terrance Kosikar (Mackin)

“Mr. Kumaritashvili was transported, pulseless, to the emergency medical clinic at the Olympic Village in Whistler,” wrote coroner Tom Pawlowski, who ruled the death accidental, in a report issued the following October. “Medical intervention efforts were discontinued at 1149 hours.”

Gordon Campbell took a break from meetings and tried calling John Furlong.

“He didn’t get me on the phone, but he left me a voice mail that took me months to delete, where he said, listen, I can only imagine what you feel today, I want you to know I am here for you and I have your back,” Furlong said. “I have never forgotten it, because on that day we needed something so that we could keep on going.”

The RCMP shut down the track and treated it as a crime scene, a standard procedure, until determining otherwise. It reopened for February 13 competitions with the men starting at the women’s start location and women starting in the junior’s location. Safety padding was affixed to the columns and barriers were extended with plywood where Kumaritashvili came to a violent end.

Svein Romstad, the International Luge Federation’s executive director, declared it was athlete error, a stance reinforced in the federation’s April 2010 report.

“With all due respect, no sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death,” Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, said at a February 13 Whistler news conference.

Vancouver, it seemed, had a sad tradition of sports mistakes. British Empire Games marathoner Jimmy Peters was dehydrated and nearly died of heat stroke in the midday sun on the last day of the 1954 Games while approaching the finish line with a wide lead. Earlier in the week he had complained that organizers created a course too long and it needed to be shortened.

During the inaugural September 2, 1990, Molson Indy Vancouver auto race, six track workers were injured pushing Ross Bentley’s stalled car out of the chicane near B.C. Place Stadium. Jean Patrick Hein, a 20-year-old from Montreal, was struck by the car driven by Willy T. Ribbs and died later in hospital of head injuries.

Concerns about luge safety were on the minds of VANOC and luge executives five years earlier when a Brazilian luger crashed on the track built for the Turin 2006 Games and wound up with in hospital with a coma. Renato Mizoguchi’s grisly crash spurred officials to order entire sections of the track at Cesana Pariol be dismantled and rebuilt. The February 2005 world cup was postponed to November while the alterations were made.

Despite what happened in Turin, VANOC operated the 2010 Games track without major safety changes, even after it was discovered to be faster than designer Udo Gurgel intended. Veteran American luger Tony Benshoof, who participated in the official testing and approval process, claimed VANOC ignored his safety complaints.

“Our job was to build a venue according to a certain standard and we did our job thoroughly,” John Furlong told CBC’s Bob McKeown in the Fifth Estate’s “Death at the Olympics” exposé. “And, by the way, we had a massive preoccupation with safety and getting it right.”

That wasn’t universally true. A German worker with contractor Nussli had no safety harness and broke an arm when he fell 55 feet after a crane dislodged a platform at the temporary Cypress Mountain snowboarding stadium in October 2009. WorkSafeBC slapped VANOC with a $75,000 fine when a safety officer noticed workers weren’t using ladders while they dismantled the stadium scaffolding in March 2010.

At least 11 percent of athletes in the 2010 Winter Olympics suffered an injury and nearly 7 percent became ill, according to an IOC medical surveillance study.

Of the 2,567 athletes — 1,522 male and 1,045 female — 287 reported injuries while 185 reported sickness. Every fifth injury registered affected the head, neck and cervical spine. There were 20 concussions reported. Nearly two-thirds of illnesses were cold or flu-related.

VANOC spent $27.25 million on medical services (including $12.8 million from the B.C. government) and counted 8,911 “medical encounters” during the Olympic month. Of those, a whopping 860 were keeping dentists at the Vancouver and Whistler Olympic Village polyclinics busy and most were not injuries. Athletes from developing countries sought routine dental work that they couldn’t afford back home.

The 11 athletes and coaches of the Georgian delegation seemed to march in slow motion past the dancing aboriginal youths at the opening ceremony in B.C. Place. There were supposed to be 12.

With black armbands on their right arms and disconsolate faces, they walked around the floor. In every section of the stadium — even in the media tribunes — people stood and applauded. Many wiped tears from their eyes. The ceremony was dedicated in the honour of Kumaritashvili and the Olympic flag was flown at half-mast. Furlong and the IOC president Jacques Rogge looked dressed for a funeral instead of the planned celebration. The show must go on.

“At these Games you now have the added burden to shine and be united around your fallen colleague Nodar,” Furlong said on the stage riser at the west end of the stadium while the world watched. “May you carry his Olympic dream on your shoulders and compete with his spirit in your hearts.”

Three days later, on a sombre Monday morning, a low-key service was held at the First Memorial Funeral Services chapel in East Vancouver. Furlong, VANOC medical chief Dr. Jack Taunton, medical director Dr. Mike Wilkinson and Patrick Hickey, the Irishman who headed the European Olympic Committees, were among the pallbearers who loaded the gold-coloured coffin into the silver hearse.

“People [were] in shock and sorrow. There were no speeches,” Hickey said. “Nobody wanted a speech.”


The atmosphere in the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s Pacific Ballroom in the late afternoon on February 12 was mixed as Canada’s Governor-General Michaëlle Jean hosted the traditional pre-opening ceremony reception for heads of state. 

Guests were served petit Quebec tourtiere, Alberta beef tenderloin, Nova Scotia lobster tartelette and Nanaimo bars. The local mayors, aboriginal chiefs and provincial premiers hobnobbed with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov and William McKeeva Bush, Premier of the famed Cayman Islands tax haven. Attendees put down their wine glasses and cheese plates briefly at the $32,161.50 reception for a moment of silence in tribute to Kumaritashvili.

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

With 2,000 windswept and rain-drenched protesters clogging the streets, the dignitaries eventually boarded buses that took a circuitous route to B.C. Place. The protesters were all ages and representing all causes, blaming the Games for homelessness, poverty, environmental degradation and public debt. Police geared for a riot held them at bay on the street beside B.C. Place’s Terry Fox Plaza and memorial arch, as confused bus drivers tried to navigate the streets with their loads of dignitaries and sponsors.

The RCMP deployed its entire complement of 456 quick response team members to join the urban domain tactical troop and Vancouver Police riot squad for the occasion.

People were waiting around the world for the 6 p.m. Pacific time start and it wasn’t going to be delayed for the benefit of tardy dignitaries. A bus carrying Premier Gordon Campbell, Darlene Poole, the Four Host First Nations chiefs and Dick Pound got lost in Vancouver’s West End and wound up in a traffic jam near B.C. Place. Campbell got up from his seat and ordered the bus driver to stop and open the door. He led everyone off the bus and marched past the police officers who were warning passengers not to leave the motorcoach for the block-and-a-half walk.

“We walk in the door, we walk upstairs, we get to the ceremonial box and of course we’ve missed the opening of the Olympics,” Campbell said. “Frankly, I’m livid.”

Campbell sat down, shared a laugh with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s wife Laureen and realized he was probably the only person in the stadium upset he missed the opening. So grin and bear it, Gordon.

“I remembered something that Jack Poole used to say all the time: the Olympics is not about us, it’s about the other guy,” he said. “It’s about the athlete, it’s about the artist, it’s about the the people that make it work, it’s about the volunteers, it’s about the workers.”

They eventually did witness the parade of chart-topping B.C. singers Sarah McLachlan, Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado and k.d. lang.

They missed the most spectacular moment of the night, right off the top, when a lone snowboarder in a video on the big screen descended snowy peaks and glaciers as the names of all previous Olympic hosts were recited by the public address announcer: “1924 Chamonix, 1928 St. Moritz, 1932 Lake Placid…” 

Faster the boarder plied the slopes, through a giant maple leaf formed by people holding red flares, until he magically appeared on the stadium’s level 4. Professional snowboarder Johnny Lyall slid down a ramp and launched himself through the Olympic rings to land on the floor below.

“Welcome to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Bienvenue!” Lyall proclaimed upon landing the most-seen snowboard jump in history.

Ceremonies producer David Atkins used the flip of a $2 coin at the bottom of the ramp the previous day to choose between Lyall and fellow professional snowboarder Shin Campos to perform the stunt. The “toonie” landed on tails, the polar bear side, giving Lyall the honour.

Kevin Sansalone, the third pro hired for the production, broke four broken ribs and his collarbone on the first day of rehearsals in January. He landed the stunt, but caught his toe edge on the plastic at the end of the ramp at full speed.

He told friends he was involved in a TV commercial production, meanwhile, he secretly practiced the jump 50 times in the dome’s east end zone.

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics torch route (VANOC)

“I just didn’t say anything,” Lyall said. “They told us if the word gets out, we’ll cut this out of the ceremony.”

After the coin flip, Lyall realized he would commit the most-seen athletic maneuver of the Games, by virtue of performing in the most-watched event. Atkins gave the Vancouverite simple advice. 

“The best thing is to focus on the jump, dropping in, taking off and landing,” Lyall said. “The whole day I imagined myself dropping in, taking off and landing. That was all I could do to find any comfort in that time.”

Lyall wasn’t the only person who tried a trick in the dome on opening night. A 48-year-old man with a homemade pass gained entry to what was supposed to be a terrorism-proof stadium and came within a dozen rows of the dignitaries box where Biden was seated. The man tried to flee into the concourse, but was grabbed and handed over to Vancouver Police.

The athletes were sequestered earlier in the afternoon next door at GM Place before entering the stadium. Greece, traditionally the first delegation to enter an Olympic ceremony, was led by biathlete Athanassios Tsakiris. Slalom skier Vassilis Dimitriadis, the first torchbearer back in Olympia, would witness what the 55,000 spectators thought would be the end of the relay that he started. Athletes from a record 82 countries, including newcomers Cayman Islands, Colombia, Ghana, Montenegro, Pakistan, Peru and Serbia, paraded among powerhouses U.S., Germany and Russia. Host Canada came last, with speedskater Clara Hughes holding the maple leaf flag in front.

Jean declared the Games open. Rick Hansen overcame a steep ramp that breached local building code regulations to bring the Olympic flame into the stadium. The friend of Terry Fox toured the world in his 1986 and 1987 wheelchair marathon campaign for global accessibility, equality and spinal cord research.

Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, Catriona Le May Doan and Nancy Greene Raine were waiting to light their torches and then the indoor cauldron. Four ice poles were supposed to rise from the false floor like the four totem poles did earlier, and rest on each other with a single shaft emerging from the centre.

Exactly two months earlier when the torch relay went through Ottawa, John Furlong had secretly invited Greene Raine, the Canadian Press female athlete of the 20th century and a Conservative senator. She didn’t know who else would be in that final group until their secret rehearsal on February 10.

“The rehearsals went pretty well, we were confident, we knew the torches had only so much gas in them and everything was scripted,” Greene Raine said. “We had earphones in our ear and we were taking directions from David Atkins. He was so calm.”

Snowboarder Johnny Lyall at the Vancouver 2010 opening ceremony (Brian Howell)

Three of the shafts emerged and so did the centre burner. But not the one nearest Le May Doan. “Athletes, hold your position, we have a glitch,” Atkins said. “We’re having trouble with Catriona’s leg coming up.”

“We stood there for what seemed like an eternity, we could hear him saying ‘try this, try that’ to all the people in behind, underneath the stage,” Greene Raine said.

“Catriona your leg’s not coming up, your role now is to salute the VIP box,” Atkins said. “Everybody else, in 10 seconds I’ll count you down and carry on.”

“Then we did,” said Greene Raine. “When we walked off there wasn’t 20 seconds left of gas.”

Gretzky worked overtime. He was shuffled out of the stadium and into a waiting white pickup truck with green and blue trim for the drive to Jack Poole Plaza while holding the last, lit torch. The giant, white box beside the Vancouver Convention Centre had been removed, revealing the permanent replica of the indoor cauldron that Gordon Campbell failed to keep secret.

Despite what Furlong said the previous day, Gretzky was the last torchbearer.

Games on!

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Bob Mackin All the years of politics

Bob Mackin

A mysterious, large, white cubic structure occupied the plaza outside the Vancouver Convention Centre’s western expansion. The location would offer a scenic backdrop for Olympic broadcasters that included a set of Olympic rings floating on a Washington Marine Group barge off Stanley Park in Coal Harbour with the North Shore mountains in the distance.

A Feb. 5, 2009 sketch from a David Atkins production meeting for the Vancouver 2010 opening ceremony (VANOC/Vancouver Archives)

An official announcement was not made, but Premier Gordon Campbell did not deny a cauldron was secretly assembled there. “I’m sure you’re going to know more about it, there’s no point in keeping it secret forever,” Campbell said when I asked a few days before the Games. “You’ll hear all sorts of great stuff about Jack Poole in the next few days and, deservedly so; these are his Olympics.”

Campbell named the plaza after Poole on October 2. Three weeks later, the developer was dead. The local CTV affiliate saw my story and sent its Chopper 9 helicopter to survey the location. The white box had no roof and CTV’s aerial footage showed an industrial burner below. VANOC executives were not amused.

VANOC CEO John Furlong showed his displeasure with CTV by doing an exclusive interview with competitor Global TV in which he tried to douse rumours that Wayne Gretzky would be the final torchbearer.

“You can think about the last moments of the ceremonies as long as you’d like and you’re not going to figure it out,” Furlong said.

When it came time for those last moments, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, Catriona Le May Doan and Nancy Greene Raine were waiting to light their torches and then the indoor cauldron. Four ice poles were supposed to rise from the false floor like the four totem poles did earlier, and rest on each other with a single shaft emerging from the centre.

Exactly two months earlier when the torch relay went through Ottawa, Furlong had secretly invited Greene Raine, the Canadian Press female athlete of the 20th century and a Conservative senator. She didn’t know who else would be in that final group until their secret rehearsal on February 10.

“The rehearsals went pretty well, we were confident, we knew the torches had only so much gas in them and everything was scripted,” Greene Raine said. “We had earphones in our ear and we were taking directions from David Atkins. He was so calm.”

Three of the shafts emerged and so did the centre burner. But not the one nearest Le May Doan.

“Athletes, hold your position, we have a glitch,” Atkins said. “We’re having trouble with Catriona’s leg coming up.” “We stood there for what seemed like an eternity, we could hear him saying ‘try this, try that’ to all the people in behind, underneath the stage,” Greene Raine said.

“Catriona your leg’s not coming up, your role now is to salute the VIP box,” Atkins said. “Everybody else, in 10 seconds I’ll count you down and carry on.”

“Then we did,” said Greene Raine. “When we walked off there wasn’t 20 seconds left of gas.”

A $20 encoder failed, one trap door stayed shut. Le May Doan had nothing to light. After awkward silence, the other three did their duty.

Gretzky worked overtime. He was shuffled out of the stadium and into a waiting white pickup truck with green and blue trim for the drive to Jack Poole Plaza while holding the last, lit torch. The giant, white box beside the Vancouver Convention Centre had been removed, revealing the permanent replica of the indoor cauldron that Gordon Campbell failed to keep secret.

Despite what Furlong said the previous day, Gretzky was the last torchbearer after all.

Games on!

The company that engineered both the indoor and outdoor cauldrons had the foresight to prepare for a malfunction.

“If nothing had been done there would have been gas coming out (of the fourth arm),” said Con Manias, president of Sydney, Australia-based industrial and ceremonial burner specialist FCT Flames. “We had considered the possibility of perhaps not being able to operate one of the arms for one reason or another. It required our technicians to be able to make some changes to the gas systems to allow the three arms to operate in isolation.”

Had the Olympic flame gone out of control, it could have been the biggest disaster in Olympic history.

Neither VANOC nor B.C. Place had conducted a fire drill for more than two years in the stadium. Minutes of the stadium’s March 5, 2010, Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee said VANOC did a bell test, but no evacuation simulation. Provincial workplace safety law requires one every year.

“This test needs to be conducted,” said the meeting minutes. “The employer is in violation.”

Despite claiming to be a “green” Games, the permanent, outdoor Olympic cauldron and the one used at the B.C. Place ceremonies consumed 5,260 Gigajoules of natural gas at Games time. That would have heated 65 British Columbia households for an entire year.

An excerpt from Red Mittens & Red Ink: The Vancouver Olympics e-book, by Bob Mackin. Click here to get your copy today. 

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Bob Mackin A mysterious, large, white cubic

Bob Mackin

A new birth tourism agency with ties to China is operating among the private terminals at Vancouver International Airport’s south side, has learned.

BaoBaoLaiLa Inc., which means “baby is coming” in Mandarin, advertises a range of services, from online booking for what it calls “confinement centres” (also known as baby houses or birth hotels) to visa services.


The July 2019-incorporated company bills itself as the “first cross-border, mother-to-child maternity service platform in North America,” according to an English translation of its Chinese website

“We have set up companies and established operating teams in China, the United States and Canada,” according to “At present, hundreds of North American mother-to-child and maternity service agencies have signed contracts to enter the platform. It is our aim to go to intermediaries, save troubles and help mothers find the best mother and baby maternity services. Transparent, safe, professional and dedicated, we are the best cross-border mother and baby maternity service platform.”

There is no law specifically against birth tourism in Canada. Unlike the United Kingdom, Australia and France, a baby born in Canada receives automatic citizenship and becomes eligible for social, health and education services later in life. Expectant mothers from China have reportedly paid $30,000 to $70,000 to travel to Richmond and give birth at Richmond Hospital.

For the year ended March 31, 2019, Richmond Hospital counted 458 babies born to non-resident parents, just over 23% of all births.

BaoBaoLaila was registered federally last July by directors Guozheng Liu of Richmond and Yanan Song of Vancouver. Liu is the only director of Sincubator Inc., which was incorporated in 2013 as SVisa Canada Inc. and rebranded in March 2019 to Sincubator. Guo is also associated with Tangguo Holiday Inc.

Sincubator and BaoBaoLaiLa director Guozheng Liu (Richway Group) wanted to know more about the company and whether it was concerned about a Richmond city council motion aimed at curbing the booming birth tourism industry. A man who answered the local BaoBaoLaiLa phone number on the morning of Feb. 8 gave his name as “Tony” and said Liu was “not interested in talking to reporters.”

“I don’t think he’s interested to answer your phone [call],” Tony said.

Asked about his connection to BaoBaoLaiLa and Sincubator, Tony said: “It doesn’t matter, I don’t want to let you know any information about this as well.”

Coincidentally, the website went offline in the afternoon Feb. 8, but the website remained accessible on Feb. 10.

Sincubator is co-located, beside a private jet terminal at 4380 Agar Drive, with Richway Group, a digital advertising agency that specializes in creating campaigns for Chinese platforms WeChat and Baidu.

Liu was quoted in the Richmond News in April of 2019 saying that Sincubator would offer shared office space, legal and tax services to help immigrant businesses set-up shop in Canada and for Canadians to do business in China. Liu told the newspaper that he moved to Montreal in 2013 from China.

He did not reply to email from When reached by phone on Feb. 10, he said he would only accept questions in Mandarin and hung up.

Richmond city council is scheduled to debate its anti-birth tourism motion at its Feb. 10 meeting.

Inside the Richway, Sincubator and BaoBaoLaiLa office (Ina Mitchell)

Coun. Carol Day proposed that city council write letters to Ottawa seeking changes to immigration laws to end automatic Canadian citizenship for babies born to foreign parents. Day also wants city hall to communicate with federal officials, since hospitals are a provincial responsibility, and to review city residential rental and business bylaws to find ways that it can crack down on birth tourism.

“The demand for birthing services has created an unregulated shadow industry that includes food, medical, transportation services, counselling, etc.,” according to Day. “Richmond Hospital has over $2 million in unpaid bills since 2017. There are times that people living Richmond are unable to get the services they need at Richmond Hospital; and the current immigration policy is unfair to the citizens of Canada and immigrants who legally navigate the existing system.”

Richmond activist Kerry Starchuk, who unsuccessfully ran for city council in 2018, has led two MP-sponsored e-petitions to the House of Commons. Her latest petition garnered support from 10,882 people and the Trudeau Liberal government responded in October 2018 to say that it would undertake further research.

In Southern California, the U.S. Department of Justice charged 19 people involved in that region’s Chinese birth tourism industry in early 2019. Charges included visa and immigration fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and identity theft. Clients paid between $40,000 and $100,000 for services and the companies coached clients to lie to customs officers.

Last month, the Trump administration gave U.S. consular officials more power to deny visa applications from those whose primary objective is to give birth in the U.S. for the sake of obtaining citizenship for their child.

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Bob Mackin A new birth tourism agency with

What were the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics?

The 21st Winter Games, which opened in B.C. Place Stadium 10 years ago on Feb. 12, were a decade of local political debate, protests and fevered anticipation. They were two years of international economic upheaval. They were 17 days of Olympic glitches and Olympic glory. The price? More than $6 billion. Maybe as high as $9 billion.

Canadians snapped up the $10-a-pair souvenir red mittens and celebrated coast-to-coast-to-coast the record 14 gold medals won by their Olympians in Vancouver, Richmond, West Vancouver and Whistler in February 2010. The politicians and sponsors who staged the mega-event were quick to declare it a grand success. But was it really?

The Auditor General never did a post-Games report, to find waste and corruption and to determine whether taxpayers got value for money. The organizing committee’s board agendas and minutes, bookkeeping and correspondence remain locked away from the public eye until the fall of 2025. How much were executives paid? Who got the big bucks contracts and how were they chosen? Sorry, those are also secrets guarded by the Vancouver Archives, even a decade later.

But George Orr’s documentary, Chasing the Dream: The Real Story Behind Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Games, and Bob Mackin’s e-book, Red Mittens & Red Ink: The Vancouver Olympics, attempt to answer the big question. Was it worth it?

For instance, the Games were the catalyst for tourism and real estate booms. Vancouver has more luxury skyscrapers than before. It also has more homeless camps.

Was there a winter sport tourism legacy? B.C.’s biggest post-2010 annual sporting event is the Canada Sevens world rugby tour stop every March at B.C. Place, organized by several former VANOC executives.

On this edition of Podcast, a special edition devoted to the 10th anniversary of the Vancouver Olympics, listen to part two of host Bob Mackin’s interview of George Orr. His Chasing the Dream will air Feb. 13 on CHEK TV.

Also hear Mackin’s commentary on the Vancouver Games. What they meant then and what they mean now.

And join him on an “audio time machine,” to go back and hear some of the sounds of the Vancouver 2010 phenomenon. Starting with the day the city changed, when the IOC made Vancouver the 2010 Games host on July 2, 2003.

Click below to listen or go to Apple Podcasts and subscribe. 

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

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What were the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics? The

Bob Mackin and Ina Mitchell has learned the identities of two women who had roles in arranging the pro-Meng Wanzhou protest outside the opening day of the Huawei executive’s extradition hearing last month.

But questions remain about for whom they worked and why.

Students protested in favour of freeing Meng Wanzhou. (Mackin)

More than two dozen people were lured to downtown Vancouver on Jan. 20 with the promise of $100 to $150 each to appear as background actors in a two-hour music video or film shoot. When they arrived, they were told to stand outside the Law Courts and hold similar signs that included four slogans: “Free Ms. Meng. Bring Michael home. Trump stop bullying us. Equal justice.” (There are actually two Canadian Michaels jailed in retaliation by China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.)

Several of the sign-holders quickly encountered reporters who asked questions that they were either unwilling or unable to answer. Some, like actress Julia Hackstaff, realized it was not a production, but a protest. She abruptly left without collecting payment. 

Hackstaff told CTV News Vancouver and that she was angry after being duped to support a cause she knew little about and did not support. Hackstaff said she believes there were multiple layers of organization. She wants to know who was ultimately in charge. “So that person gets called out,” she said.

The bizarre incident gained global media attention and may have overshadowed the proceedings inside, which are at the centre of a diplomatic rift between China and Canada. The United States government wants a Canadian judge to send Meng to New York for a trial on charges that she defrauded HSBC in 2013 in order to circumvent sanctions against Iran. A judge has reserved decision on whether Meng’s U.S. charges are compatible with Canadian law, a key requirement for the extradition case to proceed. In the meantime, Meng lives under curfew at her Shaughnessy mansion in the same block as the U.S. consular mansion. 

Meng Wanzhou and her Lions Gate security bodyguard (Bob Mackin)

Huawei Canada and the Canadian correspondent for state broadcaster CCTV both denied involvement in the Jan. 20 protest. Executives from the Vancouver office of Huawei’s public relations company, Hill and Knowlton, did not respond to a query from

China’s Vancouver Consul-Gen. Tong Xiaoling told CBC Radio on Feb. 8: “I’m wondering myself, who these people are, or where they come from. I have no idea of them.”

One of the women involved in finding people to hold the signs is a corporate director of a local production company and a 2018 donor to the BC Liberal Party.

Costa Vassos, a Vancouver film and TV producer, said he was called in the evening of Jan. 19 while he was attending a wedding anniversary party for relatives. He said the caller was Helen Zhou, a woman that he had met during a Chinese TV production called Pei du ma ma. Zhou, he said, was a friend of the show’s producer and she had worked as a translator.

“She needed 30 extras, paying $50 an hour for two hours, and [wondered] do I know people, how can I help crew it up,” Vassos said. He said that he passed on some names to contact, not knowing what would happen the next day.

“From my perspective, as a producer, I work for people, but I also have my own projects. When someone potentially can be an investor, you’re nice to everybody,” he said.

Jiaming Helen Zhou (Facebook)

Helen Zhou is also known as Jiaming Zhou. She has not replied to phone calls and emails about this story.

Zhou was listed among several defendants in B.C. Supreme Court lawsuits related to Yangtze Capital Holding Inc., which owns the Richmond site of the former Ridgeside Winery, now Arcadia Winery. Elections BC lists her as a $1,200 donor to the BC Liberal Party in September 2018.

Corporate registry documents show Zhou is a director of CC Media Production Company Ltd. which is registered to an address in a condo tower near the University of B.C.

CC Media’s website describes the company as an “international media operation providing TV programs production, event planning, advertising agencies and other media related services.” CC Media touts a partnership with HaiRun Television Productions Co. Ltd. and the website lists an office is in Aberdeen Centre. The address, however is for the eHome Travel agency.

Joey Zhang (WeChat)

Zhou is also director of Arcadia Winery and Arcadia Trading Inc. of Richmond.

A second woman was involved in recruiting and reportedly paid one of the participants. 

News1130 reported Jan. 21 that a 20-year-old Burnaby woman had been paid $150 by an Asian woman in her 30s, who wore all black clothing and went by the name “Joey.”

From one of the unwitting Jan. 20 protest participants, obtained the Saskatchewan phone number for a woman whose mobile phone outgoing avatar matches the mugshot on the WeChat account for Joey Zhang of Regina.

Zhang has not responded for comment. 

A person with the same name and phone number advertised on a Chinese language online forum last summer for a cannabis-growing class.

This story will be updated should Zhou and/or Zhang respond.

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Bob Mackin and Ina Mitchell has learned

Bob Mackin

A human rights complaint against the RCMP by six indigenous people from Northern British Columbia is proceeding to a Human Rights Tribunal hearing.

In late 2016, Lake Babine First Nation members Richard Perry, Maurice Joseph, Emma Williams, Dorothy Williams, Cathy Woodgate and Ann Tom complained to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. They said they suffered discrimination because the RCMP bungled their abuse complaints against John Furlong, the former head of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. They filed with the commission after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not reply to their late 2015 appeal for help.

“Although the government failed to acknowledge, let alone investigate, our concerns regarding alleged abuse by John Furlong, it has favoured Furlong in ways that have silenced and re-traumatized us,” said the complaint by the six ex-Furlong students. “Neither the Public Safety Ministry nor the RCMP provided a service to remedy this situation.

“Instead they treated us in an adverse and differential manner. The denial of a service, and treatment in an adverse and differential manner are both prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Code.”

John Furlong (VANOC)

Former VANOC CEO Furlong has always denied the allegations and was never charged after the RCMP dropped the investigation in early 2013.

None of the allegations against him has been tested in a criminal or civil court. He filed defamation lawsuits in B.C. Supreme Court against the Georgia Straight and reporter Laura Robinson in late 2012, but later withdrew them. Robinson lost her defamation case against Furlong in 2015.

On Jan. 31, the Canadian Human Rights Commission decided the circumstances of the complaint warrant an inquiry and referred the matter to the Human Rights Tribunal. Hearing dates are pending. The RCMP has the right to ask for a Federal Court judge to review the decision.


The RCMP was in charge of the $900 million security operation during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the largest peacetime operation in Canadian history with more than 10,000 police officers and soldiers blanketing Vancouver, Whistler and Richmond.

After the Olympics, Furlong chaired the Own The Podium high performance funding agency for Canadian national teams. He was executive chairman of the Vancouver Whitecaps from April 2012 until December 2020, but remains a director of Canadian Tire and chairman of Rocky Mountaineer Railtours. 

Robinson’s September 2012 exposé in the Georgia Straight (“John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake”) found omissions and inconsistencies in Furlong’s 2011-published memoir, Patriot Hearts. Robinson’s story included allegations based on affidavits from those who accused Furlong of physically abusing them when they were students at a Burns Lake Catholic day school and he was a volunteer gym teacher beginning in 1969.

Furlong is keynote speaker at the Vancouver Board of Trade’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Vancouver Winter Olympics and Paralympics on Feb. 20.

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Bob Mackin A human rights complaint against

Bob Mackin

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

That is the message from the B.C. Lottery Corporation, after it increased the limit that gamblers can keep in their account from $9,999 to $250,000 — an increase of 2,400%. They can also transfer up to $100,000 per week, also a substantial 900% increase from the previous $9,999 limit.

The government gambling monopoly quietly announced on its website Feb. 5 that it would make changes so that could “compete with unregulated online sites operating in B.C.” The company claimed that more than half of gamblers on the website limit their weekly deposits to $100 or less.

B.C. Attorney General Eby in Ottawa, March 27.

BCLC claims it is trying to lure gamblers away from unregulated, grey market websites by expanding the appeal of the regulated with its built-in safeguards aimed at stopping crime and addiction.

Online gambling is illegal according to the Criminal Code, unless offered by a provincial monopoly like BCLC. But authorities have shied away from prosecuting companies from various jurisdictions that target British Columbians. Single-event wagering remains, in both casinos and online, remains illegal in Canada.

The increases fly in the face of the NDP’s stance while in opposition.

More than a decade ago, the NDP blasted the BC Liberal government for upping the weekly limit from $120 to $9,999, a jump of more than 8,200%. Then-NDP critic Shane Simpson told reporters in August 2009 that it was “unacceptable” and indicative of a government cash-grab that could have negative impacts.


“This has been done with no consultation, as I can see, with people who are concerned about problem gambling,” Simpson said at the time. In 2014, the B.C. Problem Gambling Prevalence Study concluded that problem gamblers are significantly more likely to gamble at casinos, in private games, on sporting events, bingo and online.

Since gaining power in the summer of 2017, the NDP government has sent letters to online gambling companies asking them to stop targeting B.C. gamblers. It also tried to encourage other provinces to join in a complaint to advertising standards regulators against grey market gambling companies that use free-to-play dot net websites as a marketing loophole to encourage gambling on similarly branded dot-com sites.

A spokesman for Attorney General David Eby, who is responsible for BCLC, said his office was too busy to reply to questions from on Feb. 6, because it was focused on the ICBC no fault insurance announcement.

Meanwhile, BCLC is planning to hold its annual New Horizons in Responsible Gambling conference March 10-12 at the Parq Casino in downtown Vancouver. 

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Bob Mackin If you can’t beat ‘em, join