Vancouver riot review: John Furlong's balancing act

Former VANOC CEO John Furlong (far right) and NPA campaign chair Peter Armstrong (second right), from Armstrong's profile picture on Facebook

The following piece was first published on August 2. The Stanley Cup riot review, which will be released today, is co-chaired by John Furlong.

On the surface, no one seemed to bat an eye when former VANOC CEO John Furlong was selected for the provincial review of the post-Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver. After all, Furlong was the well-respected organizer of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. Who better to understand how to manage a large-scale event in the downtown core, which fell apart during the riots?

But behind the new appointment, a wave of disquiet rippled through some observers of Vancouver’s political scene. Wasn’t this the same John Furlong who criticized Mayor Gregor Robertson in his recent book? Does he really have the right to review the riot, given the death of an athlete under his watch? 

Some have told the Vancouver Observer that they wondered whether the BC Liberals had used Furlong’s appointment to set up the NPA to launch a politically-motivated attack against the mayor just ahead of the elections. Others, however, told VO that Furlong is a man of integrity, capable of objectivity despite his checkered history with the mayor.   Still others said that Furlong's findings will be discounted, given history, if they seem to fuel the NPA's effort to characterize the post-Stanley Cup finals mayhem as "Robertson's Riots."

Vancouver 2010 Winter Games

It was supposed to be John Furlong's shining moment: with an estimated 32.6 million people from around the world watching, he was standing at the podium, delivering a speech for the Olympics that would "transform a country".

"I have given thousands of speeches in my life, but never with so many people watching," Furlong wrote in his Olympic memoir, Patriot Hearts. 

Yet the celebration had a funerial overtone, due to the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old Georgian luge athlete who had a fatal crash just hours before the opening ceremony on an Olympic track which luge athletes criticized as having flawed design. Anti-Olympic protests flared up outside of the stadium. One of the four pillars of the Olympic cauldron had a mechanical failure and failed to stand up, as if Vancouver itself couldn't rise to the occasion. And behind the scenes, sources say, Mayor Gregor Robertson was struggling to be included in Olympic ceremonies and share the stage with Gordon Campbell.

It wasn't the first time that the mayor was left out of a key public event organized by the premier's office. "When the trade and convention centre opened the mayor wasn't invited -- that was very shocking ot me,"  COPE City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth told VO.

 Furlong openly expressed his disdain of the mayor of the Olympic city's wish to participate in his book.

Photo above: Mayor Gregor Robertson addresses a tourism event while VANOC CEO John Furlong watches (far right.)

"...I got a call from the mayor, who was freaking out about not being part of the ceremony in Olympia," Furlong said in his book, written with Globe and Mail reporter Gary Mason.

Furlong expressed annoyance later that then-Premier Gordon Campbell was going to have to "share the stage" with the Vancouver mayor.  "Now we had to phone back and say, ah, well, he's now going to have to share the stage with the Vancouver mayor.  It made us look like amateurs who didn't know what we were doing..."

Last week, City Councilor Ellen Woodsworth questioned Furlong's judgment for accepting B.C. Liberal acting Premier Christy Clark's appointment to review the Vancouver mayor's role in the Stanley Cup riots. And she apprently was  not alone in this view: in a recent survey in the Georgia Straight, 87 per cent of respondents said they did not agree with Furlong's appointment to an independent riot review.

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