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Slightly Corked

The White Elephant Centre

As any small town mayor will tell you, it’s all about attracting tourists. That’s why our small coastal town of Nanaimo invested $75 million on a spiffy convention center that no one uses and $25 million on a cruise ship terminal that sees a ship about twice a year, usually in an emergency, say they should run out of beer.
As with any project involving government funds, proper due diligence was performed. This involved a couple of city councilors going down to Florida where it was decided to build the convention centre first, then if no one showed up, proceed with the cruise ship facility, because, what the heck, it’s only money. Other important details, like whether or not they were wearing Bermuda shorts at the time, or distinguished themselves at the karaoke lounge remain undisclosed.
Result: We built it; they didn’t come. Not to be deterred, it’s on to project number three, rebuilding the E&N railroad from Nanaimo to Victoria. This is a good project because if we plan carefully and whine loud enough, we can easily drop $200 million dollars on it, getting in return a cute little Budd Car running up and down the island with upwards of ten passengers aboard. As far as these things go, a good return on our investment.
But I say we’re victims of shortsightedness. We’re not going far enough. If we want a return for our wasted tax dollar, we’ve got to waste far more of them. I’m proposing we lasso the convention center, drag it over to the cruise ship terminal, which we’ll make the terminus of our newly refurbished railroad.
Now for the clever part, we turn the place into a museum, tourists love museums, but not just any museum, one that celebrates government ineptitude, a shrine for wasted tax dollars. We’ll call it the White Elephant Center, and since we’ve got the land and the dock, all we’ll need is a few gargantuan buildings with solid gold plumbing fixtures and we’re off to the races.
Our first step is to reacquire the three fast cat ferries that we sold to the Saudis. Remember them, the three hot rod aluminum ferries that then Premier Glen Clark said were going to cost $210 million right down to the toilet paper, but toilet paper turned out to be a lot more expensive than he figured, so the total cost was $460 million of which we netted $20 million dollars when we sold them a few years later. Exactly the kind of performance we demand from White Elephant participants.
So, assuming the Saudis haven’t melted them down to make aluminum camels, we buy them back but at the full $460 million price, which is the way it’s done at a museum that celebrates taxpayer waste. Though the fast cats were fun while they lasted– wasn’t it a hoot taking out those rich guys docks with the wake–the project was ill conceived. For that kind of money we could have lined up cans of beer, shoulder to shoulder, all the way from Vancouver to Calgary and back, to promote beer tourism.
The cats will of course require extensive renovation, which will start with a name change. None of this Pacificat Explorer nonsense, we’ll give them real names, names a tourist will remember, like the Pacificat Curly, Larry and Moe. Next we get rid of those bloody uncomfortable seats and replace them with equally uncomfortable beds. That’s right, we turn the ships into floating hotels, what our convention centre is missing.
But not the Pacificat Curly, for the Curly we have a special mission, that of coastal marauder. Curly will be equipped with special tourist nets, and with her shallow draft will cruise Vancouver beaches for tourists, who can be shanghaied and brought back to Nanaimo where they can stay on the Moe and Larry, enjoy the museum, and if they get into the spirit of things, waste a lot of money.
Like any museum we will have visiting exhibitors. Sara Palin, a woman of vision, could bring down a model of her megaproject that didn’t quite make it, a monstrous bridge, locally known as the bridge to nowhere. Taxpayers revolted when it came out the “locked and loaded” price was 398 million. “Get serious,” they said. “Even British Columbia spent 460 million on ferries they gave away. We can at least top them.” As consolation prize, Sarah was given 25 million to build a road to nowhere, which worked out fine, as hardly anyone used it.
Sara will be a big draw, but so undoubtedly will other exhibits, like the Royal Flush for instance, where an attractive washroom attendant will flush a $10 bill down the toilet every 60 seconds, explaining to the enthralled public that in order to lose the $440 million we did on the fast cats, we’ll be flushing, every minute, for the next 84 years.
Of course Glen Clark must be recognized. I was thinking about a Madam Tussauds quality wax figure, him seated on one of Moe’s toilet stalls, pants around his ankles, reaching for the toilet paper with a sheepish look on his face. The annoying part about Glen Clark is, after spending $440 million bucks on his education, the guy drops out of politics and uses his taxpayer funded education to make Jim Pattison richer.
But hey, that’s the way things go at the White Elephant Centre. Now all we need is a mission statement to get started. Funny thing that. Fifteen years ago no one had ever heard of a mission statement, except maybe the guys from NASA (To determine once and for all that the moon is made of blue cheese.) Now your kid can’t cross the road without one. My wine merchant buddies who used to “flog product,” now must strive for excellence, realize potential, exploit opportunity, as well as bamboozle buyers into that tired old chardonnay they’re flogging.
And speaking about wine… Poggio Al Tufo, a $20 Italian red, get some.

Delbert Horrocks is a co-proprietor at Mahle House Restaurant. Follow him at


About the author: Angie