Thursday, January 29, 2009
Today French citizens are crowding the streets of Paris, enraged by their government giving massive "bail-out" funds to the banks, but nothing for citizens. Government corruption in Zimbabwe has destroyed their currency so that only foreign money is of value to them. In Britain, construction workers are marching in protest because some financial genius brought in foreign labour to do their jobs -- even bringing in floating accommodation for the foreign workers. The best item on tonight's BBC News was the new monument in Baghdad called "Spirit of Iraq" -- a replica of the shoes hurled at the man who started this world-wide melt-down.
And then I was told about this speech given in our own Legislature at 2:00 AM on January 17, 2009. It may rip your heart out, but it will leave you smiling. Here is Corky Evans, M.L.A. for Nelson-Creston, speaking on Bill 47, the legislation authorizing City of Vancouver to borrow millions for completion of the Olympic Athletes' Village, and asking "Why?":
C. Evans: I rise to speak precisely to the narrowly focused issue of Bill 47 ...
We are here talking about Bill 47. Bill 47 was requested by a mayor who I like and respect and was brought into the House by a minister who I'd like to congratulate for having his job. I like and respect that gentleman too. The mayor of Vancouver is the only politician I know where I ever walked into a farmer's barn and in the loft was an "Elect this man" sign for the mayor of Vancouver. I don't know farmers that put up election posters for politicians, and I think it's because the mayor of Vancouver was once himself a vegetable grower in the Fraser Valley.
He's asked us to come here and to pass this bill, Bill 47. The minister who brought the bill into the House is a gentleman I respect because he got to be a minister by sitting down there and actually saying what he thought instead of what he was told to say — a rare commodity in this House.
Bill 47 is about funding for an event, the Olympics, which I think we all love — especially the Winter Olympics. I remember sitting with my family and watching Elizabeth Manley make Canada proud. So we have a bill brought in by a guy I like, asked for by a mayor I respect, about an event that I think everybody here loves, and the total event sucks.
The debate debases what we are and what we do here. The fact that we have to have the debate at…. It is now ten minutes to two o'clock in the morning. It's an appalling insult to the people who will pay the bill. Good people asked for and bring in a piece of legislation to allow, to accommodate, to create an event — the Olympics — that we all believe in, and it is an embarrassment to be an elected politician and participate in this. How can this be? That's a massive contradiction.
I'd like to try to explain that contradiction. In fact, I think explaining that contradiction to the people at home, who I'm sure don't understand Bill 47…. I hope it is the purpose of this speech. How on earth did we get here, with the good intentions of putting on an event, to host the world, which we believe in? How did we get to this moment at ten minutes to two o'clock in the morning, trying to borrow a half a billion dollars to backstop a bunch of people who have walked from the project 90 days from its supposed conclusion?
I'm pretty old, so this event sort of has antecedents in my political memory. We, one time, hosted the world before — eh? Remember Expo 86? British Columbia — in fact, the same town, the town of Vancouver — said to the world: "Come on here." How did we organize that? We went and got a guy, Jimmy Pattison, and we paid him $1 to manage the event, to put it on, to host the world, to make us proud in the city of Vancouver. I don't think they had to come….
C. Evans: It's okay. Let them rage. The people can see who they are.
I don't think they had to meet at two o'clock in the morning in 1986 in order to attempt to backstop what Mr. Pattison was doing. I think maybe this time, when we're hosting the Olympics, we did it a little different.
Instead of getting a British Columbian to work for $1, we decided to give this project to something called a hedge fund. We decided to turn the athletes village, the part of False Creek that we're going to put 850 people from the world in, into the hands of something called a hedge fund from New York. Not a British Columbian working for a dollar, answering to a Premier, coming in here and being proud of it, but to a hedge….
I kind of think the people at home at ten minutes to two in the morning might want to know why. How come? If it used to be that we could do it with a citizen of our own province working for a nominal sum just because he's proud to be a British Columbian, how come we turned it over to something they don't understand, called a hedge fund, in New York?
That is the function of this debate on Bill 47. It's why, not what. How on earth did we get here? The answer to that question is that the present government, the Liberal government, aren't Social Crediters or New Democrats. They are a brand-new kind of administration in British Columbia that we've never seen before.
The people who used to govern and sit in that chair governed for us, governed this land, and believed they were responsible to the citizens at home watching, the citizens who own this land.
We've got a government who has decided that its function is to sell this land, a government who has lost its sense of pride at being British Columbian and has said to the world: "We're pretty sure that if you're from New York or Bonn, Germany or Tokyo, you can do it better than we can. We can't build our own ships. We can't run our own railroad. We can't run our own electric company." We will sell the creeks and the rivers, we'll lease the railroad for 999 years, and we'll get our ships from Germany, because we no longer believe in British Columbia.
So if we can host the Olympics, let's get something called a hedge fund, from New York, to do what Jim Pattison used to do for $1. It is an ideological mindset that none of the folks at home have ever seen before. What are we doing here at ten minutes to two in the morning attempting to backstop strangers we will never meet, who have decided to abandon us in the building of the Olympics to host the world?
Hon. Speaker, I would like to help the folks at home. I walked in here, and I've got to admit — I'm an MLA; I'm 61 years old — that I had no idea what a hedge fund is. I would bet that the majority of the members on the opposite side who signed the contract to do the deal don't know what a hedge fund is. I'm betting that of three million people in British Columbia, 99.9 percent of you could never afford to meet these people, never mind do a deal with them.
So I looked it up: what is a hedge fund? Remember, a lot of intelligent people say that when something's going on that you don't understand, the way to figure it out is to follow the money. So who did we decide to do our contract with? We decided to do it with something called a hedge fund. That's not a bank or a credit union. That's not borrowing from your neighbour. It's some kind of an institution which is defined in the encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
It says that a hedge fund is "a private investment fund open to a limited range of investors that is permitted by regulators to undertake a wider range of activities and other investment funds. It also pays a performance fee to the investment manager. As the name implies, hedge funds often seek to offset potential losses in the principal markets they invest in by hedging their investments using a variety of methods, most notably short-selling" and to participate in "funds using short-selling and other 'hedging' methods…." This is the important part: "…other 'hedging' methods to increase rather than reduce risk, with the expectation of increasing return."
I wonder if the folks out there in British Columbia understood that instead of hiring a British Columbian to do this project, we went to New York and got a firm that is in the business of increasing risk rather than reducing it, in order to increase income.
Now, hedge funds are typically only open to a limited range of professional or wealthy investors. This provides them with an exemption, in many jurisdictions, from regulations governing short-selling, derivative contracts, leverage, fee structures and the liquidity of interest in the fund.
In other words, we are here debating Bill 47, which is going to backstop a bunch of people who increased risk in order to get a better return on investment. Why? Because of the ideological mindset of the folks who have been governing British Columbia for seven years, who think that dealing with the robber barons of the world is better business than trusting our own people. That's what we're doing here at two o'clock in the morning. We're trying to figure out how to deal with the facts that we did a deal with the robber barons and they have backed out.
Now, follow the money. Bill 47 — we're here to debate Bill 47. Follow the money. What kind of a hedge fund? Which hedge fund that increases risk…? Somebody with a…. It's a great, beautiful name — Fortress Investment Group. Now, there's a George Bush title if I ever heard….The Fortress Investment Group. We gave a contract to the Fortress Investment Group to build the athletes village.
Did you debate it in here, hon. Speaker? I know I'm not supposed to ask you rhetorical questions. Did any of you members ever come in here and say: "Should we or should we not give a contract to somebody called the Fortress Investment Group in New York to build the athletes village for this event that we're all…"? I don't remember that debate. I remember secrecy. I remember people on the other side saying P3s are good because they reduce government risk.
At one minute to two we are here taking to the people of British Columbia all the risk that Fortress Investment Group was allowed to avoid by the contract that they signed in secrecy, without public exposure, with the government of British Columbia.
Who is Fortress Investment Group? It's "a New York–based asset management firm which manages private equity hedge funds and real estate and railroad-related investments, with announced plans to move into casinos and horse racing." Oh, those are good guys for the athletes village — the real estate and railroad company with announced intentions to move into casinos. There are some folks who will take our risk off our hands, eh?
I don't think, had we debated that in the House before we signed the contract, there'd be a single person from either side who would have said: "Oh yeah, that's better than a British Columbia bank or a Canadian credit union or the B.C. people. Let's get a horse-racing company and see if they'll build our athletes village." And now we're debating Bill 47.
Let's follow the money to see how we got here. What could possibly be the connection of Fortress Investment Group to the people of British Columbia, to the people we represent? Well, I guess there is a connection. If you follow the money, you find a connection. The connection would be that in 2006 Fortress Investment Group bought a company called Intrawest.
Now, who's Intrawest? Let's follow the money. In 1986 Intrawest acquired Blackcomb Mountain. Ten years later Intrawest acquired Whistler Mountain to form Whistler-Blackcomb, which is the venue of the 2010 Olympics. Follow the money. We did a deal with a hedge fund, who I submit on the record are the robber barons who are essentially responsible for the speculation in the world economy that has created the crash we're experiencing right now.
We did the deal with Fortress, which it turns out owns Whistler-Blackcomb. Then, in a development that defies understanding, Fortress decides that it's too broke to continue to advance the money to build the athletes village, but it's still rich enough to own Whistler-Blackcomb.
Now, at two minutes after two, we are here debating Bill 47. What does it say? I submit that what it says is that the people of Vancouver are going to backstop the company that is hosting the Olympics. I submit on the record here, at two minutes after two, that there is not even a contract with these robber barons that guarantees that we'll hold the Olympics at Whistler-Blackcomb.
We are being asked, in the narrow confines of Bill 47, to assist the good mayor, written by the good minister, to give the right to borrow to the people of Vancouver to backstop a New York company that owns Whistler-Blackcomb and hasn't agreed yet to let us hold the Olympics there.
When I was a little boy, one day at church the minister was at the front giving a sermon about usury. I was a little boy. I didn't have the slightest idea. I went home and said to my mom: "Mom, what's usury?" She said: "It's a sin." I said: "Yeah, but what's it mean?" And she said: "Well, that's kind of like when you loan some money to your friend and charge him more than 10 percent."
I was a little boy. I believed my mom. I've thought ever since that usurers were those crooks you see on late-night movies or the bad guys you read about in the Bible. It turns out that the usurers are the Fortress Investment Co. The city of Vancouver is paying them 11 percent on the money that Fortress refuses to advance to finish the contract on the village they agreed to build.
At five minutes now after two we're all coming here to vote on the narrowly written nature of Bill 47 to give the city of Vancouver the right to borrow the money to backstop the robber barons…. Every time we come in here, we, from our perspective — and the folks that govern from theirs — debate this idea of the public ownership and public initiatives and projects against the private.
I've been doing this ever since they sold B.C. Rail and sold off land in the tree farms and tore apart B.C. Hydro and ordered ships from Germany. It goes on and on and on — over in Maple Ridge, trying to stop them from bisecting the farm with the German P3 road. But every time I raise it, what do the ministers get up and say?
Come on. Shout it out. You say: "You stupid socialist. We have to do this to reduce the people's risk." Every single time we raise the issue, members in the government say: "P3s are the way to reduce risk."
It is now five minutes after two, and we are here taking on half a billion, maybe $800 million worth of debt for the city of Vancouver to backstop private industries' risk. It is dishonest to say that the P3, the private process that led us to Fortress, protects the people against risk. We are here. This entire debate is the Legislature of British Columbia embracing to our bosom the risk that private industry has reneged on, paying usurious interest rates to them every day until we take it back.
From this day on there should never be another minister or Premier with the gall to stand up and say that the P3 process, the private industry process, absolves the people of risk, because the government — that government — has brought us here today to take the risk back to the people because the New York hedge firm no longer sees a profit.
Hon. Speaker, I think that it's unparliamentary to say "lie," so I'm going to say that for seven years the people who governed this province have been mistaken. And now, tonight, they will understand, because they are the people who are bringing in the bill, asking the people to take back risk.
You will understand the mistake that you were led to, and in future you will understand that the people of British Columbia can manage their own affairs, run their own railroad, build their own ships, run their own power company and create electricity from their own creeks and rivers. It is wrong to say to the people of B.C. that by privatizing contracts, we off-load risk, because we are here at your request, taking it back and giving it to the city of Vancouver.
How much? What's it going to cost them? Bill 47 — let's speak to the bill. How much is it going to cost them? Is it going to cost them $250 million — the people of Vancouver? Is it going to cost them $300 million? What is the function of Bill 47 here? Is it $500 million? Is it wrong for an MLA to stand here and say: "We're debating the thing. What's it worth?"
Hon. Speaker, let them heckle. Let them shout. Let them write it down. What's it worth? How much risk are we taking back tonight and giving to the people of Vancouver? Is it a buck and a half?
Let the record show that nobody is shouting out an answer. Let the record show that they don't know. They don't know, hon. Speaker. We off-loaded the risk, and it turned out they can't make a profit, so we're taking it back.
C. Evans: Ah, let him go. It's two o'clock in the morning. It makes no sense. I can talk over him.
Deputy Speaker: Member. Member.
C. Evans: We took a beautiful project that I want to build. You want to build it? I think everybody here wants to build it. I want to see the Canadians in the Olympics, and I want to see our neighbours and friends around the world come here and say: "This is a beautiful place. This is a beautiful society. Look what they did."
But in secret, without coming in here and talking about it, somehow or other we decided to give a $500 million, $800 million, a billion-dollar deal to some people in New York that you never met, the ministers who are over there never met, I never met and the people of Vancouver never met. And then we said to them: "Oh, it's okay, you guys. If the rules change, we'll pay you 11 percent on your money."
I read the records. In the last five years they were making, at times, 30 percent on their investment because, of course, they're those professional and rich people that play with hedge funds. You know, if they were our class of people, we'd call them gamblers. But of course, they're professional people, so they're investors.
Then all of a sudden around the world those gamblers screw up the world economy with their speculative mortgages and their speculative stock values and by essentially gambling with money they don't have. And crash; it comes down. And all of a sudden the hedge fund doesn't have the money to keep its word.
Now, hon. Speaker, if this was happening in your life, if this was your landlord, your landlord couldn't say to you: "Oh, I can't pay the mortgage anymore, but you still have to pay me rent."
In this Legislature on this morning we are agreeing to Bill 47, which says that we will allow the city of Vancouver to backstop the debt, to borrow a sum of money which no one knows — more than a buck and a half and maybe as much as $800 million — to backstop a company that, it turns out, owns the venue on which we hope to host the world, and those people don't have to return that venue to the people of British Columbia. If this was your landlord, they'd lose the property. They could not renege on the loans without losing the property.
In this case Bill 47 says that we're going to backstop them, and they still get to own Blackcomb Whistler — that chunk of British Columbia. I submit, hon. Speaker, that every single person on that side and the Premier and all the people that work for him should understand that to ask the robber barons of the world to relieve us of risk is folly ...
I thought that none of the Big Media had reported on Corky's speech. But this email came in today. I sent thanks, and got Vaughn Palmer's OK to post it here. He said:
i wrote about corky's speech, calling it an early morning wakeup for government and opposition, in the column that was published on the front page monday Jan. 19.
There are many people on your side of the house who are very competent I am sure, but none who can get to the heart of the matter so competently.
As for the other side of the house I am quite sure there are none who could match you.
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