NDP gov't would consider sale of BC Place: Dix
Published Wednesday, April 24, 2013 10:21AM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 24, 2013 7:25PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- A New Democrat government would consider putting BC Place Stadium, the home of the B.C. Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps, on the auction block to pay off the debt of its Crown-owned operator, leader Adrian Dix announced Wednesday.
Dix said the BC Pavilion Corporation has racked up $1.2 billion in debt, due in part to massive cost overruns in putting a retractable roof on the stadium in downtown Vancouver.
The stadium retrofit cost $519 million, $149 million over budget, according to government accounts. Another Pavco project, the expansion of the Vancouver Convention Centre, cost $883 million, $388 million over budget.
"This is a time, in difficult times, that government has to focus on the fundamentals. Skills training, health care, education, managing the land base, supporting job creation -- those are the fundamentals. Retractable roofs and stadium management are not," Dix said at a news conference on the Vancouver waterfront with the distinctive stadium in the background.
"When the operation of a facility draws tens of millions in public subsidy every year and has left taxpayers with a mountain of debt, I believe we have to take a close look at whether that's a business that we should be in."
Dix says Pavco has accumulated $1.2-billion in debt and incurs operational losses of tens of millions of dollars a year.
If elected on May 14, Dix said he will appoint a panel of business and community experts, who will have 90 days to look at Pavco's books and report back to government.
A self-professed sports fan, Dix said he wants to ensure the long-term viability of both sporting franchises, the stadium and the Crown agency.
"If the private sector can do a better job running BC Place while freeing taxpayers of millions of dollars of losses and reducing public debt, we've got a win-win and we will pursue that," said the New Democrat leader, who is heavily favoured in polls to be the next premier of British Columbia.
Liberal Leader Christy Clark suggested the stadium might not be so easy to unload.
The Liberals were roundly criticized by the New Democrats for budgeting the sale of approximately 100 surplus government assets -- but BC Place was not one of them.
""Adrian Dix has been sharply critical of the fact that the government has decided to dispose of surplus assets. I can tell you when we put together our balanced budget, we did that after qualified public servants had spent many, many months valuing those assets, knowing there were buyers for those assets and we plugged those numbers into the budget."
When Clark was asked what the Liberals would do and whether she is ruling out a possible sale of BC Place, she didn't answer the question directly.
"What I'm saying is, if the government had considered it a surplus asset and there had been a buyer that was willing to pay for it, it might have been something the government had considered over the last 12 years. It was something that (former NDP premier) Glen Clark talked about, as well"
When asked if there is interest in buying the facility, Dix said hundreds of millions have been invested by the province.
"We'll see, but there is value there," he said.
Politics can make for strange bedfellows, and the NDP and the BC Conservative party find themselves on the same side on the issue.
Conservative Leader John Cummins has long considered the provincial investment a government subsidy. The Conservatives would sell the naming rights to the stadium and set a fall 2016 deadline for the Crown agency to be self-sustaining.
"There should be no need to have taxpayers prop up Pavco," Cummins said in a statement. "It's currently a dumping ground for Liberal insiders and cronies. They seem to have no desire to protect taxpayers' dollars."
Cummins pointed out that Pavco board member Suzanne Anton and board chairman Peter Fassbender are running on the Liberal slate.
Clark spent the day campaigning in the province's Interior, attending meet-and-greets and photo-ops in ridings that are considered friendly Liberal territory.
The day started with a mandatory visit to a Tim Hortons shop in Salmon Arm, more than 400 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, where she shook hands with Liberal supporters with a coffee in hand.
One of the hands she shook belonged to Nel Peach, a Liberal supporter who showed up wearing a button adorned with the name of her local candidate. Peach said she's been voting for parties on the political right, whether it was the Social Credit party or the Liberals, since the 1970s.
Peach, an enthusiastic woman who was full of praise for the Liberal leader -- "I think she's a very human person" -- declined to make a prediction about who will ultimately win next month's election.
"We will know on May 14 who will be the winner," said Peach. "That's how I focus. It's very easy to say we have to go by numbers, but time will tell."
After that, Clark visited a facility in Salmon Arm that makes modular homes for the resource industry, owned by Liberal candidate Greg Kyllo.
Clark, who posed for the cameras operating a drill and a staple gun, held up Kyllo's business as an example of what the resource industry can do for the province, not just by creating jobs at projects such as mines but also by driving spin-off activity.