BC Place casino proposal: lack of independent fairness advisor raises questions

The BC Pavillion Corporation, the crown corporation that owns BC Place, decided not to employ an independent, fairness advisor when choosing a developer for the lands west of BC Place. The details of the process, which resulted in the selection of Paragon Gaming to build an entertainment resort, including a mega casino, were never released to the public.

When government parties such as municipalities or the province itself is going through this kind of a process they have started to use fairness auditors, said Bill Buholzer of Young Anderson Barristers & Solicitors. "What happened with the BC rail deal is an example of the kind of situation where the province might consider having some sort of a fairness auditor to make sure that after the fact [there are no questions]."

PavCo did not have a fairness advisor when evaluating bids for the land development, Howard Crosley, General Manager of BC Place, said.

"It was a [mainly] dollar-driven type decision. It was the best proposal based on everything that was put into the proposal for the development of the site at BC Place," Crosley said.

“[This means] anything that would add to the area, that would create a synergistic effect to the stadium and will help the stadium and its business.”

There was no requirement [for PavCo to have a fairness advisor] because they have their own board of directors and it would be up to them, Buholzer, an expert on land use and planning law and building regulation, said.

"Clearly a public corporation like that could appoint somebody to watch a procedure like that and make investigations as to whether it was fair, if they perceive this to be a priority," he said.

Although PavCo is owned by the government, since it is a corporation it is expected to follow business principles in pursuing the objectives of the government. "My guess is that because PavCo is a corporation set up to operate on a business model, the government wouldn’t attach the same kind of fairness as it would if it was doing it itself," said Buholzer.

If the casino development had been a public-private partnership, as opposed to a land development project, it likely would have been subjected to a very different evaluation process.

"It could have been a public-private partnership [also known as a P3], but that office would have insisted on competitive bids. So the government put it out as a land development project, but does not seem to have followed the standard required competitive process for land development projects," Doug McArthur, SFU professor of public policy, wrote in an e-mail to VO last week.

The selection of a preferred proponent for the expansion of Surrey Memorial Hospital, a P3, involved a competitive selection process overseen by a fairness advisor.

This is standard practice for Partnerships BC, said Dave Ingram, Executive Director of Public-Private Partnerships for Fraser Health Authority.

"We also had fairness advisors for our outpatient care and surgery centre projects." Partnerships BC says that this is part of their best practice. It is a common process and it a part of a good process, said Ingram.

It gives higher-ups comfort in the knowledge that the process was fair and it also gives the losing proponents the knowledge that the winning bidder won fair and square, he said.

The report on the Surrey Memorial bidding process by Joan M. Young of Lang Michener LLP, is publicly avaliable on Partnership BC's website.

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