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The Globe and Mail

B.C. government wanted Bollywood awards show held before election, official says

B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to the media after she held an emergency cabinet meeting in Vancouver, March 3, 2013.


A government team requested that a multimillion-dollar Bollywood awards show to be held in Vancouver and funded by the province take place before the election, according to an official with the company that owns and operates the event.

Sabbas Joseph, a spokesman for the International Indian Film Academy Awards, said provincial government officials made a "request that was almost a demand" that the glitzy awards take place ahead of the provincial election scheduled for May 14.

"We were very clear that it wouldn't happen before the election," Mr. Joseph, a founding director of Wizcraft International Entertainment, said in an interview from Mumbai.

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An official with the Premier's office denied that Ms. Clark or anyone from the Jobs Ministry asked that the International Indian awards take place before the election. The Premier was involved in discussions with academy officials during her 2011 trade mission to India, but did not engage "beyond those initial discussions," the official said. The province's International Indian bid was rejected because "it was not in line with the cash requirement," he added.

In Victoria, Thursday, the government released a report conducted by the Premier's deputy minister, John Dyble, on the ethnic voter outreach scandal. It found that senior officials breached the public service code of conduct and misused up to $70,000 worth of government resources for partisan purposes in a scheme to attract ethnic voters to the B.C. Liberal Party.

In response to the report, Ms. Clark said her party was repaying the money to the province and that the former minister for multiculturalism, John Yap, would not return to cabinet. Three officials connected to the scandal have left the government so far.

Mr. Joseph said that when the International Indian Film Academy refused to shift the timing of its annual event – which is widely regarded as the world's premier international Bollywood awards show – from its usual date in June, the province offered just $5-million in funding. When the International Indian Film Academy event was held in Toronto in 2011, the cost to the Ontario government was $12-million.

In B.C., the provincial government subsequently agreed to host the inaugural edition of the rival Times of India Film Awards, which will receive $9.5-million in government funding and will be staged in Vancouver during the weekend of April 6. The Times of India group was "responsible for the timeline," for its awards, according to the Premier's office and an official with the event.

According to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail as well as accounts from Mr. Joseph and provincial government bureaucrats, officials from the Ministry of Jobs held talks with International Indian organizers as early as the summer of 2011, ahead of a trip by the Premier to India in November, 2011. A draft version of a memo of understanding between the province and Wizcraft indicates that the International Indian event would take place in June and the government would provide $15-million in funding.

Mr. Joseph said both sides were close to an agreement on most points with the exception of funding, "when the push began for April."

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When Wizcraft held firm that the International Indian date would not change, he said "that's when the funding fell. And then from a high level of interest, it became a low level of interest … It was apparent that they wanted us to reject it."

Mr. Joseph said the government never explicitly said it wanted to hold a Bollywood awards event to gain support from the South Asian community, but "they wanted to clearly celebrate the South Asian community, which is … the same thing as wanting to woo the South Asian community."

However, a government bureaucrat, familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Times of India event was chosen over the International Indian event, "because the timing was more applicable for the government's agenda. They didn't want to have an event that was after the election."

The bureaucrat said this "was documented in e-mails. Direction was given from above to the negotiating team that they wanted the IIFA awards moved to a date in April."

Vivek Savkur, the president of the B.C. chapter of the Canada-India Business Council, who helped broker the deal between the province and the Times of India awards, after previously attempting to broker a deal between International Indian and the province, said the government chose the timing of the Times of India event.

"We said we can do it any time," Mr. Savkur said in an interview.

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Editor's note: A Friday news article and headline incorrectly said that B.C. Premier Christy Clark asked that a Bollywood awards show be held before a provincial election. In fact, a spokesman for the show, the International Indian Film Academy Awards, said a government team made the request. The awards spokesman did not say Christy Clark either led or was part of the negotiating team which made the request as to timing. The B.C. government subsequently agreed to host a rival awards show which will receive $9.5-million. The article incorrectly put the figure at $11-million which is a total for the show and related projects.

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