Liberal insider behind casino pushed for new stadium roof

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Retractable dome was a deal breaker for gambling facility, cabinet minister says

Jonathan Fowlie

Liberal insider T. Richard Turner personally warned cabinet minister Kevin Krueger that his company would back away from its plan to build a $450 million casino and hotel project next to BC Place if the government did not proceed with a retractable roof for the stadium.

Turner — a Liberal donor, government-appointed chairman of the Insurance Corp of British Columbia and a former chairman of the BC Lottery Corp — placed the call last year on behalf of Paragon Development Ltd. Last week, Paragon was publicly named to build the $450 million multi-hotel and casino project.

On Thursday, Turner confirmed he is a director of one of Paragon’s Canadian entities and a minority shareholder in the Edgewater Casino, though he ardently defended his call to Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Krueger.

“I didn’t try to influence any decision,” said Turner, adding he made the call after Paragon had been picked for the project.

“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 added, recalling the conversation with Krueger, the minister responsible for BC Place.

“If you cannot proceed with the roof, no problem, but we’ll have to downsize what we said we would do in the bid package,” Turner added, recalling what he told Krueger during the call.

In Krueger’s recollection, Turner had characterized the issue as a “deal breaker.”

“He wanted to make me aware that was the fundamental consideration to Paragon and that their bid wouldn’t proceed at the same level if it wasn’t a retractable roof,” Krueger said Thursday.

Neither could recall exactly when the call took place, though Turner said he thought it was late last fall or early last winter.

On Thursday, the New Democratic Party raised serious concerns about the call, questioning if it was appropriate for someone with such strong Liberal ties to be making a personal pitch on behalf of his private business interests.

“It smells and raises concern when you have a B.C. Liberal insider, who’s also the chair of ICBC, calling up the minister directly to try to argue for his company’s interest in a particular design,” NDP critic for tourism, culture and the arts Spencer Chandra Herbert said Thursday.

On Thursday, PavCo president and CEO Warren Buckley said Turner was not directly involved in any of the negotiations, but did say Turner had helped to arrange a meeting between the principals of both Paragon and PavCo.

PavCo is the Crown corporation that operates BC Place.

“At one point we were bogged down in what I would call legalese. It was just too much lawyers going back to lawyers,” said Buckley.

“He facilitated some meetings. He never attended the meetings, he just facilitated them,” Buckley added.

“Rick Turner was never involved, at all, with any discussions on commercial terms,” he added.

Naomi Strasser, a spokeswoman for Paragon Development Ltd. confirmed that Turner was not directly involved in negotiations.

“Turner is a minority investor in the Edgewater Casino and he does not have any involvement in day-today operations,” she said in an interview.

Turner, who said he didn’t recall arranging any meetings, said he feels he did nothing wrong.

“I’m just one guy. I happen to be the chair of ICBC but I look at that and say what does that have to do with BC Place and a business interest I have?” he said.

There’s all sorts of people who call cabinet ministers,” he added.

“I did because I’m a director of a company and that’s my duty as a director.”

Krueger agreed.

“I did not think it was in any way inappropriate for me to receive a call,” he said.

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