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Legality of Abbotsford Heat contract up to courts, not government: Chong

It appears the provincial government will not be entering into a debate regarding the legality of the Abbotsford Heat supply fee agreement with the city.

In November of 2011, then council candidate Vince Dimanno obtained a legal opinion on the controversial 10-year deal from lawyer Andrew Rebane of the law firm Yearwood & Company in Port Kells. Rebane had reviewed the city’s 10-year supply fee agreement with the hockey squad and determined that it was in contravention of the Community Charter.

According to Rebane, the city should have asked for permission from the electorate before signing the agreement because the contract was for a duration of more than five years and it incurred a liability.

Dimanno sent the legal opinion to Premier Christy Clark, the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, asking them to review it and uphold the charter.

But a letter addressed to Dimanno from Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, indicates it is up to the courts, not the province, to decide legal issues.

“The only way for this to be determined for certain is by a decision of the courts,” wrote Chong on behalf of the premier.

“If the province of British Columbia  were to decide legal issues involving  local governments, people could view the process  as potentially biased because the province  is responsible for establishing and supporting the local government system.”

The letter does not indicate any further action will be taken.

Dimanno said he plans to continue with his challenge. His first move will be to send an official request to Attorney General Shirley Bond to bring it before the courts. If her office declines, he plans to take it to court himself.

“The challenge there is, it will cost money ... it’s going to take me a fair bit of time to process that kind of money through my personal life,” said Dimanno.

He said he doesn’t agree with Mayor Bruce Banman’s recent appeal to the public to forgive the mistakes of the past and support the hockey squad.

“It’s not helpful. It’s kind of like saying please ignore the fact that we have, allegedly, let’s include that word, that we’ve allegedly broken the law, and come out and buy a ticket anyway,” said Dimanno.

During last week’s appeal, Banman briefly addressed the legality issue.

“It is legal. We went and got a legal opinion. The problem with a legal opinion is if you get 10 lawyers in a room, you’re going to get 15 different legal opinions ... the only way to truly find out if anything is legal is you have to go to court,” Banman said.

Even then, the mayor suggested a judge’s ruling would likely be appealed by one of the parties involved and could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

“The contract will probably expire by the time we were doing that and Lord knows how much money we’d end up spending. I don’t think that’s in the taxpayers’ best interest. We have good legal opinion and it’s valid,” said Banman.

The Heat supply fee agreements guarantees the club break-even revenue, up to  $5.7 million per year. If the team falls short, the city makes up the difference. The deal also states the first $200,000 profit made after $5.7 million is reached goes directly to the city. Any money made over that amount is split 60/40 between the Heat and the city.

In the first two years of the team, the city has paid the club approximately $1.7 million.

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