Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Letter to Supporters: Friends of Soccer Campaign to Go National

Dear Whitecaps Stadium Supporters,

For the past 15 months, all of us have been quietly supportive of the Vancouver Whitecaps as they engaged in good faith negotiations with the Vancouver Port Authority for the land they need to build the new Whitecaps Stadium. Unfortunately, last week a Port official leaked details of the confidential talks and damaged public confidence in this open process. It has since become clear that the Port has little intention of restoring our faith that they will proceed in the best interests of the Citizens of Vancouver.

The time for us to be quiet on the Whitecaps stadium has ended.

As the Whitecaps have already mentioned, media reports that they offered $1 for the vacant parking lot needed to build the stadium are an outright lie. The Whitecaps have offered 30,000 square meters of prime railyard land in exchange for the 10,000 square meter parking lot needed to complete the stadium. This 3 to 1 land exchange is not only fair, but generous to the Port, as they've long needed better access to the railway yards to fulfill its mandate.

The land the Whitecaps are asking for provides nothing more for the Port than parking, small offices and a Helijet pad, which is likely to be relocated to the new transit hub. It cannot become a space for new container cranes or other Port facilities. The Port also claims the stadium may impede their operations. Yet, this does not seem to be a problem if the Whitecaps pay a $35 million fee for the exact same land. The Port Authority's attempts to squeeze additional cash and land out of the Whitecaps is shameless to say the least. To do so in a way that undermines the public interest is completely unacceptable.

Despite being a Crown Corporation, the Port Authority believes it can be completely unaccountable to the Citizens of Vancouver. It's here where we need to come together once again and prove them wrong. We already know from our past stadium battles that 70% of Vancouverites want the stadium built on the Waterfront...and they wanted it finished yesterday! We also know that we can shake the foundations of our politicians when they know that thousands of citizens who play, coach or enjoy sport take notice of the issues.

Our politicians know that many of us aren't regularly involved in politics, and they become concerned when we speak out. They also know that when we get involved, we may not march, or hold noisy protests. But they know all too well that we can go quietly enmasse into a voting booth and defeat their government.

That is the clear message we must get through to them. We have to give them that message like never before.

As the stadium benefits all of us who love soccer and rugby in Canada, the Friends of Soccer Campaign will begin to take a national focus. Over the days and weeks ahead, all Conservative and Liberal Members of Parliament will need to hear from us.

We will also have to seriously question the NDP's incomprehensible opposition to a stadium that will benefit so many of the working class families they claim to represent. While we have always strived to stay non-partisan in this debate, the attempts by NDP MP Libby Davies to undermine the stadium can no longer go unchallenged. The federal NDP must answer for her actions, and NDP members who truly love soccer must stand up for the majority of citizens.

We also need to especially hold to account any B.C. Politician who is opposed or apathetic to the Whitecaps Stadium. We need to make clear that we will no longer take "this isn't our jurisdiction...this is a federal matter...we have no say" as an answer. A provincial MLA is perfectly capable of calling or visiting Ottawa to push for action. A City Councilor, especially one who aspires to be mayor, needs to stand up for the best interests of its citizens, and not just sit around and hope for good things to happen. They need to do the work that would be expected of them if Vancouver were trying to land the Olympics or its first NHL team. After all, if they can't resolve a simple issue such as accepting a free stadium, how can we possibly believe they're capable of handling complex issues like transportation and homelessness?

In the near future, at my own expense, I will be traveling to Ontario to request a meeting with the Minister of Transportation, Lawrence Cannon. I am also willing to meet with any M.P. or Senator who wants to champion our cause. Somehow, I know, I will not be alone in doing this.

The effort we'll need from Canada's soccer and rugby community is immense, but it begins with a simple action that you can take. If you can write or call a Member of Parliament, that's a start. If you play on or coach a team, encourage your teammates to get involved. If you volunteer for a minor soccer or rugby organization, tell other parents about the stadium they're trying to build in Vancouver, and bring them on board.. If you're involved in your Provincial Association, please get get your whole province involved.

And, above all else, we need the Canadian Soccer Association and Rugby Canada to become stronger proponents for the stadium. Their offices are in Ottawa and Toronto. They're closest to the ears of the decision makers. They have the ability to reach every single team and player in the country. They need to push harder than anyone.

We, as Canadians, should not have to do the work that we elect our leaders at every level to do. Yet we're faced with this situation today and for the weeks and months to come. We cannot become a true soccer nation until we have stadiums and top-flight teams in our largest cities. Rugby will not meet it's potential without stadiums as well. Once that happens, our sports will inevitably evolve and flourish across the country. By taking action today, you'll know someday that you played a role in building a solid foundation for soccer and rugby in Canada.

Yours in Sport,
Bill Currie
Friends of Soccer

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