Exclusive: Vancouver Mayor not invited to Times of India Film Awards

Gregor Robertson, the mayor of the city that hosted the inaugural Times of India Film Awards, was not invited to the gala ceremony – and British Columbia's tourism minister was not even in Vancouver for the event.

Gregor Robertson, the mayor of the city that hosted the inaugural Times of India Film Awards, was not invited to the gala ceremony – and British Columbia's tourism minister was not even in Vancouver for the event.

"Neither the mayor nor any of his staff received any such invitations," Mayor Gregor Robertson's executive assistant Braeden Caley told Business in Vancouver.

According to the Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Ministry, Pat Bell was in Prince George on April 6, when the awards ceremony was held at B.C. Place Stadium.

Bell, who had promoted the event since it was announced January 22 by Premier Christy Clark, did not respond to a BIV query. He prematurely declared it "sold out" on March 5 in the Legislature.

Bell's ministry gave the $9.5 million, sole-source contract last December to BCCL International Events Private Ltd., the Times of India arm that planned and produced the controversial Bollywood awards show and related events.

The only two politicians of any stripe who were recognized during the show were Clark and Finance Minister Mike de Jong. Clark was the subject of isolated booing when she welcomed the crowd from the stage early in the show and she later fumbled the presentation of the best director award by beginning to announce nominees before she was prompted to announce the winner. De Jong was on stage for approximately 20 minutes with actor Boman Irani to present awards and to show off his Indian dancing and Hindi-speaking skills. De Jong also committed a blooper, prounouncing it the "toe-fee" awards.

The tourism ministry claims no tickets were allotted to public servants or politicians, but did not fulfill BIV's request for details about provincial-allotted tickets, including those who used them.

A government news release claimed: "Reserved floor seats belonging to the Province have been offered to B.C. business representatives who would benefit from the opportunity to meet officials attending from India."

A partial release, obtained via Freedom of Information, said the tourism ministry purchased 34 tickets for $4,437.50 on MasterCards by six workers connected to Destination BC, the new tourism marketing Crown corporation.

Mumbai public relations agency Genesis Burson Marsteller (GBM) was contracted by BCCL as its Indian PR agency. GBM's Krishna Vilasini led the media junket from India and she said she worked closely with Laura Ballance Media Group, the local TOIFA contractor. Vilasini told BIV her delegation included 12 personnel from wire services Press Trust of India and India Abroad News Service and television outlets ABP, India TV and CNN/IBN, plus another 12 to 15 from the Times of India Group's various media platforms, which includes the newspaper, websites and TV channels. The Indian media group arrived in Vancouver on April 3 and left April 8, the day after a tour to Whistle

Clark errantly claimed in a Tweet the morning after the awards that it had attracted 400 million Indian viewers, but the air date of the awards ceremony on India's Sony Entertainment Television and Canada's ATN has not been arranged.

Times of India Group chief operating officer Sameer Soni told BIV today that the awards will be televised in May, but perhaps not until the middle or end of the month. Cricket-mad India is currently "glued" to India Premier League (IPL) matches, he said, which end May 26. Soni said he hopes to promote TOIFA during IPL coverage and air the extravaganza on TOIFA rights holder SET when it won't clash with India's favourite sport.

"Not many (Bollywood) films get released during this period when the IPL matches are on," Soni said. "An event of this league has to be promoted extensively."

Soni said the BC Place event drew almost 35,000 people. He did not have the final TicketMaster report, but said 4,000 tickets were complimentary, given to sponsors, media partners and approximately 500 people who travelled from India.

He said the entire budget for TOIFA was $22 million, including the $9.5 million taxpayer subsidy, $7.5 million from TV rights, sponsorship and ticket sales and $5 million from the Times Group itself.

Meanwhile, final costs for the city are unknown.

City hall spokeswoman Wendy Stewart said organizers paid a $160,000 deposit to cover policing and streets costs. Last week she said there could be a refund, but this week she said: "It will take a bit of time to tabulate the event costs. Once that has been done, we'll reconcile the costs with the deposit."

The non-invite of Robertson was the second such incident in less than a month involving Clark. On March 8, Clark appeared at a BC Place news conference to announce that British Columbia would host the 102nd Grey Cup in 2014. Clark did not mention Vancouver in her speech. Robertson was invited to and appeared at the 2009 news conference, hosted by then-Premier Gordon Campbell, when the Canadian Football League named Vancouver the 2011 Grey Cup host.