Politics and the Hundred Million Dollar Question

Written by Brian Revel on November 8th, 2008

A buck twenty-five, or a hundred million dollars. A transit-fare cheat or a dismissive steward of our tax-money who refuses to share what is up with the city’s finances. That’s our choice for mayor in this election.

Just when I thought I knew the answer to who I thought should be mayor of Vancouver, this perfect storm blows across out fair city. Peter Ladner, in an off-handed comment at CKNW surmised the convenience of diverting from Robertson’s fare evasion scandal last week and the loan issue this week- suggesting that Vision Vancouver created a stir to deflect from Robertson’s image troubles. Convenient indeed.

Were it not for Vision Vancouver’s Tim Stevenson to draw attention to this in-camera decision to lend (or guarantee) Millennium Developments or its own financier, Fortress Investments, $100,000,000 to ensure the Olympic village got done, we would have never known about it. Certainly not before the election. Any more details? Nope. It was all discussed in-camera.

To be clear, considering the sad state of real estate prices in the Vancouver market, it’s looking like the taxpayers of Vancouver are going to be on the hook for most, if not all of the hundred million.

But to be fair, if the city does wind up having to foot the bill for the final touches on the new False Creek neighbourhood, the entire development will revert to city ownership. While this much we do know, questions remain.

The fact that it is silly-season, with a full city-wide election only a week away, politics cannot be cleaved out of this discussion. Is this just a political stunt being played by Vision Vancouver to discredit the NPA? Maybe. But regardless, because all the political parties agreed to an in-camera session to discuss this issue there is no way of knowing the truth to this most political of questions and so I cast a pox on all their houses.

Since Vision Vancouver and their comrads in COPE got weak-kneed about playing along with the NPA to go in-camera concerning this massive liability, I question their judgement in the first place. Equally, the fact that the NPA wasn’t prepared for this public outrage is equally mind-stumping.

Peter Ladner, the NPA Mayoral candidate, assures us all that even if the city does wind up having to pay out the $100,000,000.00, taxpayers will not have to pay a dime. How, is that possible? Does he propose that the short-fall be paid out of parking meter revenue? How is it that demanding to know what’s going on, “posturing” as Ladner puts it, is “costing us millions of dollars”? Who is in control here? The developer or the citizens of Vancouver? What other financial surprises have you hidden from the taxpayers?

Should the city have entered into a $100,000,000.00 agreement at all- never mind that it was in secret? Not on your life. A contract was signed several years ago and a contract is a contract. In the case of default, according to the contract, the property reverts to the city. So if the entire development was about to revert to the city, why should it not? At least we’d have an asset to balance the liability. But we can’t un-ring a bell. What’s done is done. Or so it seems.

So putting politics aside (because I still don’t know who to vote for) and looking forward, it is imperative on the Vancouver City Council to add a condition to the loan- or loan guarantee- whatever it is, that Fortress Investments actively and agressively look for alternative financing. On this point there should be no negotiation so that the taxpayers of Vancouver are not exposed to this $100,000,000.00 liabiity until the end of the Olympics. If this condition isn’t met, the city should walk away from the table.

The taxpayers of Vancouver deserve no less.



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