Legal opinion claims Abbotsford Heat deal not in compliance with Community Charter

The question of whether the city’s contract with the Abbotsford Heat is legal has been asked before, but on the eve of the civic election

The question of whether the city’s contract with the Abbotsford Heat is legal has been asked before, but on the eve of the civic election, it has resurfaced.

Abbotsford council candidate Vince Dimanno hired the legal firm of Yearwood & Company, located in Port Kells,  to perform a review of the agreement. Lawyer Andrew Rebane has produced a legal opinion stating the Heat deal is in contravention of the Community Charter.

“It is my view that the contract does not comply with the requirements of the Community Charter, simply because the city failed to get approval from the electorate before entering into the contract,” said Rebane.

“It’s my argument that they incurred a liability. And in order to incur a liability under an agreement that exceeds a term of five years, they have to get the approval of the electorate.”

The Heat contract with the City of Abbotsford is a 10-year deal. The contract guarantees the Heat will reach a break even point of $5.7 million each season. If the team does not reach the break-even point, the city pays the difference. The city has had to pay the hockey team close to $1.8 million in its first two seasons of play.

The contract includes a review clause at the five-year point.

“I know there is a five-year review clause, but the parties both have to agree to it, so I don’t see that as being a true review clause if both parties have to agree,” said Rebane.

Now that the legal opinion is complete, Rebane said the next move is up to his client.

“My feeling is that a private citizen could take it to court to get it declared invalid.”

Rebane said the financial scenarios are considerable.

“Can Fraser Valley Sports and Entertainment (the Heat) sue the city, or would the city be able to demand the funds back … That’s opening up the Pandora’s Box, so to speak.”

Dimanno has sent a copy of the legal opinion and an accompanying letter to B.C. Premiere Christy Clark, the attorney general, the solicitor general, and the minister of community development, requesting the province review the information and uphold the charter.

“It’s my contention that the province created the Community Charter so it’s up to them to enforce it,” said Dimanno.

“I don’t think it’s my responsibility to bring this before a judge – it’s the province’s responsibility.”

He knows that bringing this issue up on the eve of a civic election may be questionable in some people’s view, but makes no apologies.

“People are paying attention now, people are reading the newspapers. This is the time that the electorate pay attention.”

Dimanno said he will now wait until he gets a reply from the province.

City manager Frank Pizzuto said it‘s old news.

“This is information that has come out before, We’ve done our due diligence on this situation and we feel that we’re well within the bounds of the Community Charter. So, we’re not concerned about it. It really is electioneering at its best,” he said.

Pizzuto said the Heat contract is in the public domain and there have been allegations made in the past. However, since a legal firm has been engaged, “we’ll let the lawyers take care of it.”

Ryan Walter, president of the Abbotsford Heat, said he wouldn’t comment on what has gone on before he arrived. But he does think AHL hockey is good for Abbotsford.

“I’m very thankful to be part of this community and I think long-term this, not only the building but the team, is going to be a great community asset …  We out here want to be the city in the country, and to be that we need professional-style organizations and buildings.“