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

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All public-private partnerships evaluated by Partnerships BC have fairness advisors, confirmed Katie White, Senior Communications Consultant for Partnerships BC, a government-owned company that oversees public-private partnerships in the province.

When asked by VO if PavCo sought to avoid a more extensive process, Crosley said, "By issuing the RFEI for the development of the West side lands, (lands which are - and will continue to be - wholly owned by PavCo) PavCo sought to generate proposals offering the best commercial terms avaliable."

The land development deal, the retractable roof and T. Richard Turner

The lack of publicly avaliable information on the evaluation process is not the only thing that has critics asking questions about the casino deal.

The timing of PavCo's announcement of Paragon Gaming as the land developer and its decisions regarding the retractable roof at BC Place generated considerable public interest after it was revealed that T. Richard Turner, Chair of ICBC and former Chair of BCLC, had a longstanding business relationship with the Nevada-based gaming company.

In April, Public Eye learned that Turner was involved with Paragon Gaming Inc. casino development in Alberta while he was chair of BCLC's board of directors. At the time, the gaming company did not have operations in BC.

"I didn't even know Paragon wanted to look at B.C.," Mr. Turner told Public Eye. He said that he invested in a Paragon-developed casino with money from the sale of his air cargo facility business in 2003.

Mr. Turner resigned as chair of the lottery corporation on December 9, 2005. He joined the board of directors of the Paragon Gaming division that purchased Edgewater Casino at the Plaza of Nations just half a year later on September 1, 2006.

Public Eye revealed that Turner had called Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Kevin Kreuger to tell him the lack of a retractable roof was jeopardizing the casino deal.

When questioned by The Vancouver Sun's Jonathan Fowlie Turner said that he wasn't attempting to "influence any decision."

"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 avaliable 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 Spencer 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.

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