Paragon's place at the BC Liberal table
The cost of the BC Place roof – like the billion dollar convention centre - has been a moving target. Announced at about $260 million in January 2009, the cost ballooned to $458 million ten months later, finally settling in at $563 million in October 2010 after the Liberal government went back over the figures for a retractable roof first at Treasury Board and then in cabinet.
At that first announcement in January 2009, PavCo chair David Podmore promised a tight-as-a-drum business plan. It never materialized. No wonder. What’s the point of a business plan that’s 100% wrong?
Another reason there’s no business plan is that it would likely show the direct link between the Paragon Casino deal and the exploding costs.
The casino needs customers arriving from the BC Place venue in droves. That means it needs a roof without an airlock. Without that roof the customer projections, which already appear overly positive, are meaningless.
Bumbling ex-minister Kevin Krueger admitted as much when he revealed in the Legislature that Paragon owner/lobbyist/government appointee T. Richard Turner called to tell him the retractable non-airlocked roof was central to the deal.
Central enough that Michael Graydon, the President of the BC Lottery Corporation, brought Dennis Amerine, Paragon’s VP of Regulatory Affairs, to the Treasury Board table in October 2009, when the roof deliberations were reopened. That’s what Mr. Graydon’s BCLC calendar – released to MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert – appears to show in this entry for October 1, 2009: "Dennnis Amerine - Treasury Board".
That runs contrary to what Rich Coleman, the Minister responsible for BCLC, told the legislature about BCLC’s role in the deal.
“Through the process,” Coleman told the NDP’s BCLC critic Shane Simpson “the lottery corporation wasn't involved at all. The RFP went out. The proponents would make their submissions. PavCo would then enter into a memorandum of understanding with who they thought the selected proponent was. At that point they would ask the lottery corporation for some confirmation of some financial data or of the proponent, and that's the only involvement they would have.
Meeting with treasury board to secure the BC Place funding increase to suit Paragon’s needs? That looks like BCLC was doing a bit more than confirming some financial data for the proponent. Looks more like they were playing strong-arm for Paragon in the Cabinet deliberations over the skyrocketing cost of the roof.
The NDP critics nailed the Minister responsibe for PavCo Kevin Krueger on Turner's obvious lobby on behalf of the Paragon deal made when he dialed up the Minister in his car just prior to Cabinet's reconsideration of the roof costs.
But maybe the real question about Turner’s government connections isn’t how often he called PavCo or its former minister. It’s how long the minister responsible for the BC Lottery Corporation, Rich Coleman, has been on T. Richard Turner’s speed dial.