Did anyone miss TimberFest?

Had COVID-19 not appeared, this past weekend might have seen an event called TimberFest wrapping up in Qualicum Beach on May 31, displacing Family Day celebrations traditionally held on the last Sunday in May. Timberwhaaaat???

Down, but maybe not out for good, this $50,000 TimberFest elephant is still in the room, and is likely to come looking for QB taxpayer money again. What is it, why does it exist and where did it come from? Timberfest has all the elements of a good mystery novel or horror movie, and curiosity led us to review a pivotal Qualicum Beach Council meeting for answers.

The Minutes of the Council meeting held January 15, 2020 state that, as a scheduled Delegation, “Ryan Cochran appeared before Council regarding the proposed TimberFest event, requesting approval to host the event in May 2020 in Qualicum Beach, and requesting financial support.”

Let’s start there, looking for answers like: Who would own and who would profit from this TimberFest event? What value would this event be to QB, relative to other events that currently exist or might be proposed? Who is the event manager? What experience do they have that would instil confidence of a successful event? Would the community support funding this kind of event?

From the video recording of Mr. Cochran’s presentation to Council, we learn that his company BigList Media Inc. would own the event and would also be the event manager. BigList Media appears to be primarily a promoter of other people’s events, mostly on Vancouver Island, largely through an advertising website known as HarbourLiving.ca.

By its own admission, BigList Media Inc. has zero experience in organizing and managing events of the kind he was proposing to Council. This was confirmed by Mr. Cochran who stated that: “We’ve been planning for a couple of years to hold an event of our own.” Later, when asked by Councillor Adam Walker to speak to their experience managing an event of this size, Mr. Cochrane replied: “This is our first annual. As for specifically holding a $140,000 event, we have never done that before.” Kudos for honesty, but not exactly a confidence-builder.

Does Qualicum Beach want to be known as just another Vancouver Island logging town, happy to celebrate Mosaic’s exports of raw logs?

Another red flag should have gone up when Mr. Cochran mentioned to Council: “Back in November [2019], when we were looking at switching venues…”. Whoa, switching venues?? Strangely, not one Council member asked the obvious questions: What other communities did you approach before coming to Qualicum Beach? Why did those other communities not support your TimberFest idea?

Later in the same meeting, Council reviewed the staff recommendations submitted by Haylee Gould, the Town’s Deputy Corporate Administrator, with the concurrence of Daniel Sailland, Town CAO. Ms. Gould’s three-page report was a whole-hearted endorsement, cheerleading the proposed event. She recommended that the Town pay a $49,240 fee-for-service, as well as provide another few grand worth of in-kind services for the event like parking control, garbage pick-up, free use of the QB Civic Centre, tents, fencing and other assets owned by the Town.

Where would most of the $50,000 in taxpayer money go? To pay appearance fees and cash prizes to professional chainsaw wood carvers who apparently travel an international circuit of such events. Also included in Ms. Gould’s report was a recommendation that $10,000, which had already been allocated to the 2020 Family Day event, be withdrawn, effectively burying Family Day.

Ms. Gould’s document is exceptional and disturbing for what it doesn’t contain. Her report makes no mention of the event promoter’s experience, or lack thereof. No mention of why the promoter would own the event, which should belong to the Town or at least to a local not-for-profit if it is intended to be an annual undertaking. No mention of why a Request for Proposal (RFP) process was not used to identify qualified event managers, as is consistent with public sector procurement standards. And no mention of any potential downsides, much less any full, professional risk management assessment of this untested venture wanting to consume Town money.

If this TimberFest elephant doesn’t come lumbering back looking for QB taxpayer support again, perhaps some other player will waltz into Town saying “have I got a deal for you!” If any event is promoted as a big draw of visitors to our Town, then it stands to reason that the private commercial sector (lodging, restaurants and retailers) ought to be fully invested in the event’s success, with their own money, and with local ownership and proprietary title to the event. No evidence of such support or commitment for TimberFest was apparent.

But perhaps another more fundamental question ought to be asked: Does Qualicum Beach want to be known as just another Vancouver Island logging town, eager to celebrate Mosaic’s exports of raw logs?

[Council’s deliberation of the TimberFest proposal begins around the 1 hr 15 min mark of the January 15, 2020 archived video meeting record, if you would like to hear their arguments for and against BigList Media’s presentation. Ms. Gould’s report to Council is available on-line there as an attachment to the Council meeting agenda.]