Clark’s Liberals teamed up with Bollywood awards in time for spring election, says columnist

MICHAEL SMYTH
VANCOUVER DESI

Times of India Film Awards

A hint of the Bollywood-style entertainment to come was featured at the announcement Jan. 22, 2013, of the Times of India Film Awards, to be held in April in Vancouver, B.C. Nick Procaylo/PNG

When Christy Clark went shopping for a Bollywood film extravaganza, the first glittering bauble that caught her eye was the IIFA Awards, touted by some as the “Oscars of India.”

The International Indian Film Academy negotiated with the government to bring their 2013 awards gala to Vancouver, but the deal never got done.

Why? According to an IIFA official, the government wanted to move up the date of the awards from June to April.

“The reason was very obvious to everybody,” IIFA spokesman Sabbas Joseph told me Monday from Mumbai.

“We were well aware of the political situation in B.C.”

In other words, he said, Clark’s governing Liberals wanted to stage the awards right before the May election.

“That was a key condition for them,” Sabbas said. “We explained the IIFA Awards are always held in June or July, and we couldn’t change that.

“They weren’t happy at all.”

Instead, the government announced last week Vancouver will host the newly created Times of India Film Awards from April 4 to 6 – just a few days before the official start of the election campaign.

The cost to taxpayers? $11 million – at a time when B.C.’s domestic film industry is in the tank and begging for help.

With the Indo-Canadian vote bound to be crucial in several swing ridings in the May 14 election, it seems clear the governing Liberals are using this event for political gain.

With the election looming, Clark and her cabinet ministers will be swanning around for photo-ops with Indian film stars. I’m told the government and the Liberal party have already been swamped with ticket requests.

But Pat Bell, the cabinet minister responsible, insists the government rejected the IIFA awards because the Times of India awards was a better financial deal for taxpayers.

“The breaking point was money,” Bell said Monday. “The timing of the event did not a play a role.”

Bell told me he received regular briefings from his staff during the negotiations with the IIFA. So I asked him if the government insisted on staging the awards before the election.

“There was discussion about a wide variety of dates,” he answered.

But did the government request a pre-election date? And did the IIFA say no?

“I wasn’t part of the direct negotiations, so I can’t comment on that,” Bell replied.

Not good enough for NDP critic Spencer Chandra Herbert.

“The Liberals got caught,” he said.

“When they couldn’t get the more prestigious IIFA awards right before the election, they invented a whole new Bollywood awards show for $11 million of taxpayers’ money.”

But Bell said the Times of India approached the government with the idea. And he said $11 million is a bargain compared to what the IIFA wanted for their awards.

So how much money did the government offer to the IIFA, and how much did IIFA demand?

“It wouldn’t be inappropriate to disclose that,” Bell said.

Joseph, the IIFA official, said the government offered “substantially less” than what it’s now paying to the Times of India. He suggested the government may have deliberately low-balled the offer after the IIFA refused to budge on the date.

“We didn’t want to be part of a political story in British Columbia,” Joseph said.

But a political story it has become – and an expensive one at that for B.C. taxpayers.

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