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Riot review co-chair in conflict of interest, councillor says

John Furlong in downtown Vancouver June 30, 2011.

Laura Leyshon/The Globe and Mail/Laura Leyshon/The Globe and Mail

With a tense civic election looming this fall, in which Mayor Gregor Robertson's role in the Stanley Cup riot promises to be a key political attack point, a Vancouver councillor says one of the men appointed to chair the provincial riot review is in a conflict of interest.

COPE Councillor Ellen Woodsworth said John Furlong, the former chief executive officer of Vancouver's Olympic organizing committee, is compromised because he sits on the board of Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury West Coast train service. The company's executive chairman, Peter Armstrong, is the chief fundraiser for the Non-Partisan Association, the party trying to oust Mr. Robertson.

As well, Mr. Furlong, who was appointed to the board this past March, has socialized with Mr. Armstrong. The chairman's Facebook site is headed by a picture of the two cheering outside Chicago's United Center, along with others, during this year's playoff series between the Canucks and the Blackhawks.

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"There's definitely a conflict there," Ms. Woodsworth said. "It's clear he's close to Peter Armstrong, who's chair of the NPA's [fundraising]campaign. To me, that's hugely problematic, especially when the report is supposed to come out in … the middle of the election campaign."

She said Mr. Furlong, who was a last-minute addition as review co-chair, should step down to avoid any appearance of politicizing the review in an election campaign that is shaping up to be a no-holds-barred fight.

Mr. Furlong, however, said he sees no conflict and is committed to overseeing the review of the June 15 riot in an impartial way, along with his co-chair Doug Keefe, a former Nova Scotia deputy justice minister.

The two are supposed to present a report Aug. 31. The NPA has been mounting a campaign to label the riot the mayor's fault, repeatedly calling it "Robertson's Riot" and saying that it was his responsibility to ensure there was a plan in place to prevent trouble.

"Doug Keefe and I are independent and are expected to be," said Mr. Furlong in an e-mail. "As for me, I would not have accepted the assignment if this was not the case."

Mr. Furlong said that he has a good relationship with both Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Robertson and he knows that both of them expect him to conduct the review impartially.

"I do sit on the board of Rocky Mountaineer as an independent director and carry out my duties in accordance with the governance requirements of the company. This work is separate entirely to anything else I am doing in my professional life."

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NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton, running against Mr. Robertson for the mayor's job this fall, also said she sees no conflict.

"It certainly doesn't appear to me to be a conflict. So many people are friends and colleagues in this city. If you started excluding people because they're friends with somebody or they've gone to something with somebody, you'd run out of people."

Ms. Anton went to a Vancouver police board meeting Wednesday to again drive home the point that she thought Mr. Robertson's poor planning had placed an "insurmountable challenge" on police Chief Jim Chu. She said she felt Mr. Furlong's stature and qualifications outweighed any perceived political links he might have.

Mr. Furlong's last-minute appointment came as a surprise to city officials when it was announced by the province June 28. Until the previous day, the only name that had been mentioned to anyone was that of Mr. Keefe.

Caught off-guard at the time of the announcement, Mr. Robertson nevertheless expressed complete confidence in Mr. Furlong's qualifications to conduct the review.

Neither the city nor the province would say whether a discussion took place about Mr. Furlong's involvement in advance of the announcement and whether the city was in agreement with the appointment.

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Politicians from the mayor's Vision Vancouver party and his office staff say they have just recently learned about Mr. Furlong's connection to Mr. Armstrong and the NPA, but don't want to comment.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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