Conflicts of interest, Outside contracts and costly projects sour locals on Games

Supporting local business is not a priority for the Canada Winter Games. This was clear from the get-go, said Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce…

Supporting local business is not a priority for the Canada Winter Games.

This was clear from the get-go, said Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp on Thursday.

“We knew as early as 2004 that the business community was going to benefit from the Canada Winter Games in a peripheral manner.

“In other words, we’re not going to benefit directly.”

The Games has huge national sponsors. And Karp ran into this early.

“When a few local businesses wanted some contracts, they knew they couldn’t compete with national corporations for price pointing,” he said.

“And (the Games) let us know this.”

But this information didn’t trickle down to some local business owners.

 “I think the basic complaint is that anyone who was an official Games supplier in the past is really being preferred over anything local,” said Summit Awards owner Mitt Stehelin.

The Games admits it’s hoping to secure long-term national sponsors.

And coming north has helped.

“Some of the sponsors we’ve brought to these Games, because they’re at the national level, will be there for future Games,” said Morrissey.

“And that’s definitely a benefit for these Games coming to the North. Because we have gotten national broadcast exposure, these sponsors are happy with their contributions.”

When Stehelin first heard about the Games, he didn’t consider national sponsors.

Instead, he saw a golden opportunity — supplying Games pins.

“I pursued them for three years,” he said.

In July, the Games tendered the pin contract. Stehelin bid on it.

The contract went to Regina-based Laurie Artiss.

That’s a conflict of interest, said Stehelin.

Laurie Artiss consulted with the Games and helped shape the tender. The Games brought up Laurie Artiss before the request for proposals went out, he said.

“So, the so-called consultants are basically your chief suppliers, and the tender was tailored toward them.”

The Canada Games does not hire consultants to draft procurement packages, said its general manager Chris Morrissey, when asked about the pin tender.

“That’s not how we operate.

“Laurie Artiss weren’t consultants; they just bid on the tender after it went out.”

But Laurie Artiss vice-president Chris Pasterfield told a different story.

Asked if his company had been to Whitehorse to consult on the pins, Pasterfield said, “Oh, absolutely.”

Artiss has been working on the project for well over a year, said Pasterfield, from Alberta.

“We spoke to the Games people probably two years ago,” he said.

And Laurie Artiss has supplied pins for at least two past Games, said Pasterfield.

US-based conglomerate Sysco Food Service was recently awarded a controversial $500,000 Games food contract.

It has also supplied the Canada Games in the past.

And its Yukon rep, Glenn Sands, was a member of the Games committee overseeing food services at Yukon College.

Sands worked with this Games planning committee for nearly six months, but stepped down six weeks before the food contract was tendered, said college administrative director Wayne Coghill.

“He was brought in as a chef, not as a Sysco rep,” added Coghill.

“(Sands) withdrew plenty of time in advance of the procurement process,” said Morrissey.

“He was involved with development of the menu, but never developed the grocery list, or the procurement list that was required for the tender.”

The Games needs 3,000 people, and many wear multiple hats, said Morrissey.

“And we have a conflict-of-interest policy, and it clearly identifies when people have to remove themselves and that has happened,” he said.

“I don’t see (the Games) benefiting the community anywhere,” said Yukon Spring owner Paul Sheridan.

“It might benefit the retailers — for two weeks.

“But that kind of expenditure for two weeks …

“As taxpayers, we’re going to have to pay for that edifice up the hill for how many years?” he said, comparing it to Montreal’s Expo ‘67.

“Montreal just got out of debt this July,” he added.

“You do the math.”

This fall, the host society approached Sheridan for “freebies.”

It hoped he’d supply water and coolers for Games office spaces.

Sheridan declined.

Like many local business people, when he first heard the Games was coming North, Sheridan though it might be an ideal opportunity.

But he never saw a tender for the 160,000 bottles of water the event requires.

“Shoppers Drug Mart’s got it,” he said.

Shoppers is donating the water and medical supplies, said Games spokesperson Sunny Patch.

“It’s great that somebody like Shoppers would just donate that much water,” said Glacier Water Services owner Mike Nikon.

“But it hurts the local entrepreneur.”

The Games initially phoned Nikon for bottled water prices, to put a budget together, but warned that this didn’t mean Glacier was going to get the contract.

“So, he’s phoning for your expertise, but he doesn’t really want to give you any of the work,” said Nikon.

“He’s picking your brain for free advice and then basically going elsewhere.”

The Games are supposed to bring exposure to the Yukon, said local musician and college student union vice-president Rob Hunter.

 “But who’s it going to bring exposure to? For most of the small businesses it’s not going to do much.”

Hunter, through a friend on the Games volunteer committee, heard a band was needed for the volunteer-wrap party.

Though he never saw a tender or call for submissions, Hunter assembled a proposal listing several local bands, including his own.

“There’s all these great bands in town,” he said.

“And they just wanted a band to play cover music — our band can do it no problem.”

In January, Hunter learned the Games had hired a southern producer. The producer hired a cover band from Outside.

That’s expensive, said Hunter.

“It was a chance for us local musicians to play for all our friends and just have a good time and say, ‘We did it, we got through the Games.’

“It’s just another example of outsourcing.”

Hunter, who has lived in the territory for more than 20 years, expects to be paying for the Games for 20 more.

“So we should be getting more out of it,” he said.

Legacy buildings, like the Games centre and the athletes’ village, could potentially cost the city a lot of money, said Karp.

“But we can’t sit here and complain about it — we have to all get behind the Canada Winter Games and really focus on giving every person who comes here a great experience.”

Local businesses will benefit, said Karp.

“We have benefited through construction, employment, and through the ability, because of these legacy projects, to become competitive regionally, nationally and internationally in attracting major sporting events, meetings, conventions and tourism to Yukon and to Whitehorse,” he said.

Whitehorse has to get into the business of sport, he added, noting six more events are scheduled after the Games.

Some communities that have hosted Canada Games have not benefited from them, said Karp.

“But Calgary has done an excellent job in selling themselves after the Olympics, and that’s what we have to do.”

To pull that off, Whitehorse needs local expertise, said University of Alberta physical education and recreation professor Dan Mason.

“You run a risk if you host an event and bring in Outside experts,” he said.

“These experts come in and help and then leave. So you’re left with facilities you may or may not know how to use, or the possibility of hosting future events that you don’t know how to go out and attract.”

The current host society is a 50-50 split between Yukoners and Outside experts, said Morrissey.

The territory must plan what it will do after the event, added Mason.

 “If it’s just to get the name of the city out there, or be seen as good hosts and have this feel-good activity, that’s one thing,” he said.

“But you’d think if a city’s investing that much money it would want to take steps to ensure that it’s equipped to leverage the event and the facilities that are built for it, after the event.”

The positive economic impact of sporting events is often overestimated, according to independent studies, said Mason.

“So, if we make that assumption, then what cities need to do is try and figure out other ways to get the most out of their investment in the event.”

“After realizing, early on, that we may not be able to benefit contractually from the Canada Winter Games, we realized there were two ways we were going to benefit,” said Karp.

“One, we had to raise the bar in service and customer satisfaction, and give people who are here a great experience.

“And we had to get into the multi-billion-dollar business of sport.”

Others are already disappointed.

“I was hoping this wouldn’t go the way of past Games,” said Stehelin.

“But it did.

“The Games are heralded as an economic benefit to the North, but when the dust clears, the majority of the money is spent Outside.