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Trade secrets

Trade Centre Limited is once again caught with its pants down, continuing a long history of mendacity.


Chronicle-Herald provincial reporter David Jackson should be congratulated for his article published last week that lays out more mendacity on the part of Trade Centre Limited.

See, in September Jackson got word that somebody was conducting a public opinion poll about the proposed convention centre. The way Jackson heard it at the time, the questions were about which politician people would find most trustworthy to talk about the convention centre. Jackson asked TCL for the poll results, but the crown corporation refused to turn them over.

Jackson then filed a freedom of information request for them, and got the results in late December. That Trade Centre was able to delay releasing information related to a straight-forward request involving no trade secrets or personnel information for three months shows just how broken our freedom of information process is, but that's an editorial for another day. Trade Centre manipulated the process right to the end, releasing the information not directly to Jackson, as used to be protocol, but on the TCL website during the week between Christmas and New Year's, when the public wasn't much paying attention to the news.

But while Jackson knew about the "most trustworthy politician" question---it was Peter MacKay---he didn't know what other questions were on the poll, including the straightforward "Do you approve or disapprove of the convention centre proposal?" As Jackson reported, the poll "found that 50 percent either strongly (31 percent) or somewhat (19 percent) disapproved of the convention centre project. That compared with 42 percent who strongly (12 percent) or somewhat (30 percent) approved of it. Eight percent had no opinion."

Trade Centre president Scott Ferguson tried to mumble his way out of the stark truth, but understand what happened here: TCL paid $20,000 of public money for a public opinion poll, didn't like the results, so kept the results secret.

We've seen this before. TCL tried to keep the business case and economic impact analysis of the proposed convention centre from the public, and had to have their arms twisted through the freedom of information act to release them.

And those reports showed a consistent effort to mislead the public. As I reported in October of 2010: "We had four consulting firms doing an analysis on the need for and potential economic impact of a proposed convention centre, basing all their projections on a 150,000 square foot convention centre, as opposed to the 120,000 square foot convention centre that's proposed. Along the way, the firms added in an arbitrary inflator that made the future delegate count much higher than was justified, and then that figure was used by Gardner Pinfold to forecast the economic impact of the convention centre. But Trade Centre Limited evidently wasn't happy with even those inflated results, and so did their own in-house delegate projection that was more than double that projected by the consultants; those higher figures were then given back to Gardner Pinfold to run a second economic impact analysis that showed a supposed economic impact two-and-a-half times the first."

Let's also not forget TCL's role in the concert scandal. I revealed in early 2010 that Trade Centre Limited had lost $300,000 on the Paul McCartney concert through a forgivable loan on expected ticket sales that never materialized---a scheme that Ferguson shifted over to a secret city account for future concerts.

In documents I uncovered through a freedom of information request last month, there is an email from Ferguson to city staffer Wayne Anstey. In the email, Ferguson tells Anstey that TCL had used an advance-ticket-sales scheme for the world hockey tournament held at the Metro Centre, and that TCL's auditor had reprimanded him for it---that is, Ferguson knew that loaning money from expected ticket sales was an improper risk. But it didn't stop him from recommending the same scheme to the city, ultimately costing taxpayers another $359,550.

One of the enduring mysteries in this town is why Trade Centre Limited can repeatedly lie to the public and is repeatedly at the centre of financial scandals, and nobody calls them on it. Why isn't the provincial auditor general investigating? Why isn't the public outraged?

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