03/13/2012 03:55 EDT | Updated 05/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Province offers yet another reason to explain failure of deal to rename BC Place

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's Liberal government has offered yet another excuse to explain the failure of a deal to give Telus (TSX:T) the naming rights to Vancouver's BC Place stadium: the negotiations were hurting the province's relationship with the telecom giant.

It was the latest in a series of constantly shifting explanations for why the 20-year, $40-million deal fell apart last week, ranging from vague assertions that the agreement was somehow bad for taxpayers, nostalgia over the stadium's current name, and the size of a sign Telus planned to erect at the site.

On Tuesday, Tourism Minister Pat Bell suggested the deal was killed because negotiations were hurting the province's relationship with Telus, and it was better to bow out now than damage that partnership further.

Premier Christy Clark rejected the suggestion her government was changing its story.

"It was a complicated deal," she said. "There was a number of elements in it that didn't make it the best deal for taxpayers, so I think when you talk about (the size of the sign), it's an example of" why it was a bad deal, Clark told reporters at an unrelated announcement in North Vancouver.

"We didn't accept this deal because it wasn't the best deal for taxpayers. It wasn't the best deal for taxpayers a week ago when I answered those questions, it wasn't the best deal for taxpayers on Friday when I answered those questions, and it's not the best deal for taxpayers today."

Bell, whose cabinet portfolio includes BC Place, announced last week that the province had scrapped a deal to give Telus the naming rights to the stadium.

The proposal included $35 million over 20 years, as well as $5 million of in-kind contributions from Telus. The deal also would have included the value of telecommunications infrastructure already installed at BC Place, where $400 million in renovations to replace its roof were completed last year.

Initially, Bell said the proposal "did not provide best value for taxpayers," without explaining what that meant.

He added fondness for the current name, which the stadium has had since it opened in the early 1980s, may have been the deciding factor: "It came down to the final principle of retaining the name 'BC Place,'" he said last Wednesday.

This week, the government suggested the deal fell apart because Telus planned to install signs outside the stadium that were too large, before suggesting the bill was sacrificed to save his government's relationship with the company.

Neither Bell nor Clark has ever explained why the deal was bad for taxpayers, aside from the size of the sign, or why the negotiations were so fraught.

Last week, Telus president Darren Entwistle said the company was "deeply disappointed with this decision," which he described as "regrettable."

On Tuesday, a Telus spokesman, speaking on background, said the company was flexible in negotiations, particularly when it came to the sign. The spokesman said the company agreed to reduce the size of the sign without changing the value of the sponsorship.

The Opposition New Democrats have hammered away at the failed BC Place deal to criticize the Liberals' business acumen.

"It's incompetence at every level," NDP Leader Adrian Dix told reporters in Victoria.

"They asked Telus to get involved in this. They strung them around for two years. They have a different explanation every day. ... Treating a business that does business everywhere in this province this way doesn't make sense to the economy."