November 3, 2017

Vancouver aspires to be a major player in world rugby

Matching international sport events with corporate world promises to deliver regional business benefits

Canada’s men’s team takes the field at BC Place stadium for the 2017 HSBC Sevens tournament | Rugby Canada 

Vancouver has a lot of nicknames: No Fun City, Least Affordable City, Most Livable City.

How about rugby city?

When the New Zealand Maori All Blacks, one of the world’s best-known rugby teams, came to BC Place stadium on November 3, it played in front of a lower bowl sellout crowd of 29,480, which occupied all 56 corporate suites and four specially created field-side suite areas. 

The game carved another notch in Vancouver’s belt as a burgeoning international rugby city. The success of the HSBC Canada Sevens tournament (Vancouver will host its third tourney next year) saw ticket sales jump 26% for last season’s mini-tournament compared with the previous year. The upstart ticket sales in a city where two of the main franchises (the Vancouver Canucks and the BC Lions) are struggling to fill seats has people thinking Vancouver might have found its international niche sport – and a lifeline for the often underused BC Place.

Rugby Canada recently announced that BC Place will host a Rugby World Cup qualifying match on January 27, 2018, when Canada is scheduled to play Uruguay.

Rugby Canada’s chief executive officer, Allen Vansen, said Vancouver appears to be following in the footsteps of a city that has already established itself as an international destination for rugby: Hong Kong. The Asian city is also an HSBC Sevens tournament tour stop and has merged many rugby events with its business community.

“Hong Kong has been around with their sevens tournament for decades,” said Vansen. “It’s kind of the grandfather of sevens.… They have a very corporate element over there, and it’s the same sort of thing. And so I think we’ve been able to start a similar connection with Vancouver.”

The Hong Kong Rugby Union holds a number of marquee events every year, including the Regal Hotels Cup of Nations, the Under 20s World Cup and a New Year’s Day Youth Tournament. Reports out of Hong Kong estimate the Sevens tournament alone generates an estimated $60 million in sports tourism revenue annually. Vansen, who attended the most recent sevens tournament in Hong Kong, said the city has done a good job at marketing the sport, something Vancouver could strive for.

“It is the thing that’s happening in Hong Kong, and everybody knows about it. And it’s taken years to build that in Hong Kong.”

Vansen added that the extra-curricular culture that comes along with rugby events can be a boon for local businesses. Fans tend to buy ticket sales in bunches, travel in groups and wear costumes while frequenting bars and hotels around the stadium before and after the match.

Hong Kong has also worked to couple tournaments with corporate events so that luxury stadium suites can be marketed to corporate buyers.

Rugby, both the 15-a-side game (40 minutes a half) and the sevens (which has short seven-minute halves), has added close to 17 million new fans since its debut at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, according to a Nielsen Sports survey done on behalf of World Rugby.

The biggest growth has come in the U.S. and Japan.

At the 2015 World Cup, the Japanese team beat South Africa, a perennial powerhouse, bringing rugby fever to the Asian country and cementing it as a solid ticket draw nationally. The men’s Rugby World Cup now attracts the third-largest audience for sporting events behind the Summer Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup.

Canada is also a contender in world rugby rankings. Its men’s team currently sits at 24th, and Canada’s fourth-ranked women’s team finished fifth at the most recent World Cup in Ireland.

Michelle Collens, the manager of Sport Hosting Vancouver – which was set up by the City of Vancouver – said the real benefit lies in tying corporate events to sporting events in the city, much as Hong Kong does.

“I think what [Vancouver] could do better is how we service the corporate groups and how we leverage these events to generate other business opportunities. We’ve always pitched the idea that an event could be an incentive for a group or a meeting or conference, and I think that’s what Hong Kong is doing a really good job at.”

Sport Hosting Vancouver has a series of major sporting events lined up for the city over the next couple of years, including the 2018 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, the 2018 International Skating Union Grand Prix Final and the 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship. It estimates that approximately $64 million will be generated in economic activity by the tournaments.

Vansen said there are no plans at this time to open BC Place’s upper bowl (which raises capacity to 54,500) for the Rugby World Cup match next year; however, strong ticket sales could change that.

“We will always look at opportunities to open up that upper bowl, if demand warrants it.”


Spanish sips for wine fest early birds

Planning ahead has its benefits. It can prevent you from missing out, gives you something to look forward to and may save you some money.

February 24, 2018, might sound like the distant future, but the opening day of the Vancouver International Wine Festival will be upon us in no time. If you attend every year, why not commit now? Advance tickets for select events go on sale November 1 at a reduced price until December 15. Details can be found at

VIWF 2018 has Spain and Portugal as the focus. Our savvy importers and buyers seem to have anticipated the interest in these countries’ offerings, as the selection in stores already appears more robust than usual.

While I have yet to test-drive the latest from Portugal, I’ve been wading my way through those from Spain. This wine giant has long bestowed us with plenty of cheap and cheerful wines, which absolutely have their place. However, I’m impressed by many of the sophisticated new arrivals. They demonstrate the diversity of styles and unique flavours of Spain while still offering great value for money.

You can prime your palate in preparation for VIWF with the following new listings at B.C. Liquor Stores. Treat it like learning a few phrases in another language before travelling to a foreign country – but even more enjoyable.

2015 Davila, O Rosal, Rías Baixas D.O., $22.49
Rías Baixas is in Spain’s far northwest corner and O Rosal is a sub-zone. White grape Albariño leads the way here, with support from Loureiro and Treixadura. Steely and succulent with lots of lemon pith, white flowers, orange and pineapple, it possesses excellent concentration and complexity for its price point.

2013 Bodega Menade, ‘V3’ Viñas Viejas Verdejo, Rueda D.O., $37.99
Made from old Verdejo vines in the predominantly white wine region of Rueda. Fragrant herb and green tea marry beautifully with toasted nut and slight popcorn notes in this judiciously oaked white.

2013 Bodegas Marta & Maté, ‘Píxide’ Ribera del Duero D.O., $18.99
Tempranillo is Spain’s most planted red variety and found in many of its regions. The extreme conditions of Ribera del Duero (dry, hot days, chilly nights) can make for fairly intense wines. Expect blackberry blossom, subtle vanilla, licorice, tobacco and dusty tannins.

2015 Descendientes de J. Palacios, ‘Petalos’ Bierzo D.O., $36.99
This elegant and polished red is crafted from Mencía, the grape behind the northwestern denominations of Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra. Here it gives wines a distinct freshness that distinguishes it from the full-throttled, jammy reds of Spain’s south. Bierzo is a particularly silky example with gorgeous cherry, juniper and violet scents.

Hidalgo, ‘Gobernador’ Oloroso Seco, Jerez D.O., $39.99
Sherry is one of Spain’s greatest gifts to the wine world, but is still sadly underappreciated and misunderstood. It deserves an entire article. In the meantime, try the Gobernador Oloroso. Aged in old barrels for about 12 years, giving deep walnut nuances along with wood polish, mushroom and dried fruit, it is tangy, long and dry.

• Prices exclusive of taxes.  



BCUC performed an impossible task efficiently and accurately

On August 3, 2017, John Horgan’s BC NDP government gave the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) an impossible charge: review the then-$8 billion Site C project (now the $10 billion Site C project) in three gruelling months.

At the time, little information was available about Site C. The calculations were opaque and idiosyncratic, the underlying forecasts confidential and the cost components unknown outside of BC Hydro.

The BCUC’s first step was to assign the fact finding to the well-respected Deloitte accounting and professional services firm, which did an excellent job. Its first report clarified the quagmire the project was sinking into – identifying a likely year delay and the presence of massive cost overruns. Never has a forecast been so immediately validated when BC Hydro announced the delay of the river diversion and an additional $610 million cost overrun, just days later.

As an expert retained to work on the Site C inquiry, I participated in this gruelling schedule, reviewing and filing hundreds of pages of testimony and analysis. I testified twice during the expert sessions and worked with other experts to untangle the facts from BC Hydro’s filings and responses.

On November 1 at 10 a.m., my staff and I started reading the BCUC’s 299-page final report. To put it mildly, we were impressed. Actually, we were more than impressed. The BCUC had digested and reviewed the thousands of pages of submissions, winnowed the wheat from the chaff and made some courageous decisions, including:

•delaying the project is not viable;

•Site C is not going to save anyone money;

•the Site C risks dwarf the alternatives;

•BC Hydro’s load forecast is unsupportable;

•BC Hydro’s export plans are unrealistic;

•wind, solar and geothermal are commercially viable (the rest of North America sighed with relief at this); and

•both Canadian power treaty storage and non-treaty storage need to be added back into the calculations.

BC Hydro had dismissed the significant benefits of the Columbia River Treaty out of hand because the 60-year relationship between the owners of dams in Canada and the U.S. might not survive more than 10 years. This is an odd idea that old friends would dismiss a mutually beneficial undertaking simply because their respective accountants could not agree on future payments. The BCUC wisely rejected this idea. It also recognized that an enormous amount of non-treaty storage is lent to the Bonneville Power Administration (located on the U.S. side of the Pacific Northwest) outside of the treaty and that this becomes available in 2024 to firm and shape wind and solar.

On both sides of the border I have been asked what happens next. I don’t believe economists make good political forecasters; however, in this case I think the BCUC has given Premier Horgan the right facts to make a good decision.

One of the other major concerns with cancelling Site C has been the $2 billion already spent on the project, causing many people to feel the project is past the point of no return. The facts show this is not the case. In fact, there is a name for this: the sunk cost fallacy. It is never a good idea to throw good money after bad. Our calculations put the Site C termination dividend at between $2 billion and $3.6 billion – approximately $1,000 for each adult in British Columbia. The alternatives are commercially viable and cost-effective – something already recognized from Quebec to California.

With these economic considerations in mind, the way forward seems clear: cancellation. The billions saved can be put to good use in education, infrastructure and the creation of long-term jobs, including far more lifelong high-paying careers for many more workers than the Site C project would provide in its lifetime. The facts have now been set out in a coherent, well-written document for everyone to see. The BCUC took on a momentous challenge and delivered admirably. 

Robert McCullough is principal of McCullough Research and for over 37 years has advised governments, utilities and Aboriginal groups on energy, metals, paper and chemical issues.


Case provides an expensive lesson in performance management

Performance management of an underperforming employee is one of the more challenging human resources tasks for employers.

There are multiple steps in the process, which can be long and drawn out, and often neither the manager nor the employee is a willing participant.

In Cottrill vs. Utopia Day Spas and Salons Ltd. 2017 BCSC 704 (“Cottrill”), the BC Supreme Court has provided a timely reminder about the perils of getting performance management wrong, highlighting how difficult it can be for an employer to terminate an employee for just cause based on poor performance.

Ms. Cottrill was a skin-care therapist who had worked for a spa for approximately 11 years when she was terminated for what the employer said was a bad attitude and a failure to meet performance targets for sales and customers. Cottrill had received some warnings and client complaints over the years, but it was not until her direct supervisor left the company and senior management reviewed her record that these performance issues were brought forward.

The company gave Cottrill three months to improve her performance or lose her job. During these three months, Cottrill was to receive monthly hour-long “coaching” sessions with a manager.

Although Cottrill substantially increased her performance over the three months, she fell slightly short of some targets, and the CEO remained convinced of her attitude problem. She was ultimately terminated for cause for these performance issues.

Cottrill filed a lawsuit in BC Supreme Court for wrongful dismissal. It alleged that her employer did not have just cause and sought aggravated damages for the manner in which the employer handled her dismissal.

The trial judge agreed with Cottrill and found that the company did not have just cause to terminate her employment. The employer was ordered to pay Cottrill notice in accordance with her employment contract, as well as her legal costs and aggravated damages. It was not a good day in court for the employer.

What lessons can other employers learn from this case?

The court provided some clear guidance on what a good performance management process looks like:

•At the beginning of any performance management process, the employer must set reasonable, objective standards of performance.

•The objectives of the process (including the performance standards to be met) must be clearly explained to the employee.

•The employee must be clearly warned of the consequences of failure (generally dismissal for cause).

•The employee should be given a reasonable amount of time to meet the standards and must be supported in meeting those standards (e.g. with coaching and training).

•Throughout the process, the employee must be kept informed of his or her progress, including with warnings if he or she is failing to meet expectations.

•Any determination that the employee has failed to meet the standards should be objectively reasonable and supported by evidence. Employers who rely on subjective assessments will likely fail to meet any challenge to their decision.

When comparing the above steps with the process followed by the employer in Cottrill, it is obvious there were significant failings. For example, Cottrill was not informed at the outset of the standards she was expected to meet. Also, the employer had not provided ongoing feedback to her, so she was not aware that she was falling short of the expected standards. Finally, the termination decision was based largely on the impressions of the manager who conducted the monthly coaching sessions and was not objectively reasonable. Thus it was very easy for the trial judge to find that the legal test for a performance-based dismissal had not been met.

Cottrill is a useful example of how not to conduct performance management. But even more so, it provides a road map for a good performance management process. It is crucial that the entire process be properly carried out and be seen to be fair and reasonable. An employer who implements a process that sets the employee up for failure will have a very difficult time arguing it had just cause even if the employee fails to improve his or her performance. 

Danny Bernstein and Julia Bell are Roper Greyell LLP associates. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.