Supersized casino story

"Abnormal in the extreme," is how Doug McArthur, SFU professor of public policy describes the length of time it took PavCo to select Paragon Gaming. MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says, "The sequence of the events was exceptionally fast for government." Both say a secretive, flawed process has resulted in the provincial government and a Nevada-based gaming company gaining a chance to expand gambling in Vancouver three times over. And some city officials say they aren't at all convinced that this is what the people of Vancouver need and want.

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"What I recall saying is...if the roof doesn't go ahead, that's fine, but we can't build what we said we'd build in the bid because we're counting on synergies between BC Place as renovated and the new development," he said.

Fowlie's original article is no longer available online.

Paragon Gaming spokesperson Naomi Strasser told Public Eye that Turner is a "minority investor" in Edgewater who is "not active" in the casino's "day to day operations."

This spring, NDP critic Chandra Herbert lodged a complaint with the Acting Registrar of Lobbyists over Turner's alleged impropriety.

"I was concerned that there was a potential conflict of interest," Chandra Herbert said. Turner was a member of the public service, so he cannot try to influence a decision that would benefit him personally, the critic explained.

In a letter to Herbert, Paul Fraser, acting Information and Privacy Commissioner and Registrar of Lobbyists, stated that he could not pursue the issue because he has no legal jurisdiction under the previous act to do so.

"People are definitely right when they question this and say something smells funny here," said Chandra Herbert. "I've had people suggest to me that this might have been a similar situation of a fixed deal [like BC Rail.]"

"When people are asking tough questions, the best thing to do is inundate them with all information that answers every question to assure them that the right course of action has been followed. But the government won't provide information," he said.

An election deadline

                    Former mayor Sam Sullivan, Wikipedia creative commons

In 2008, city council under Mayor Sam Sullivan gave their approval for redevelopment of Northeast False Creek, including the Plaza of Nations, the land around BC Place and GM Place, just before the municipal elections.

Up until this point, this land was considered not develop-able but then the province decided that they wanted to develop the area, Councillor Geoff Meggs told VO in an interview. Gordon Campbell's former deputy [Ken Dobell] was hired by the city and the province to study cultural infrastructure, said Meggs.

"The city responded with this hurry up plan and out of it came recommendations that went to council at the end of 2008 to approve in a general way how all of these places would be developed," Meggs said.

Since the province is the superior level of government, they actually have the right to do whatever they want, but they usually go through the re-zoning process as a courtesy and as a sign of respect for local government laws, said Meggs. 

"I think, politically, the province decided on a number of fronts to charge ahead. If you recall that period...Gordon Campbell was acting as if he was still the mayor of Vancouver and making a number of arrangements on behalf of the city because of various tools he had at his disposal," he said.

Council decided not only to approve the development plan but also made the decision not to ask developers to contribute to improvements for the surrounding community.

The city always charges development cost levies, explained the councillor, but where extra density is considered for a site, the city can consider community amenity charges. "In return for the increased density and the assumed revenue the developer is going to get, the city takes back a share of that for public art, daycare, that kind of thing," he said.

Instead, council voted to count the retractable roof as the community amenity and gave up $14 million dollars for community amenities.

"If I had been there I might have agreed to both, but it was rushed and it was done without a lot of community oversight," said Meggs.

"To me it was a very worthwhile trade off for the city, to allow the amenity to be the roof," NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton told VO.

"I will just tell you, politicians who pretend that they’re angry with that decision, would have made exactly the same decision themselves if they had been in the majority. It was just more fun to say, 'Oh this is terrible, this is terrible.' I don’t think any politicians would want to be the one who presided over the demolition of that stadium," she said.

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