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Halifax professor's response to NDP MPs' position on Convention Centre

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Minister of Defence Peter MacKay announced yesterday a federal contribution of $51.4 million to the proposed Halifax Convention Centre. image: Save the View
Minister of Defence Peter MacKay announced yesterday a federal contribution of $51.4 million to the proposed Halifax Convention Centre. image: Save the View
Rank Inc holds the contract for the more than $159 million (they won't say how much more) proposed Halifax Convention Centre. Proponents of the Centre say it will revitalize a dying downtown core. image: Rank Inc.
Rank Inc holds the contract for the more than $159 million (they won't say how much more) proposed Halifax Convention Centre. Proponents of the Centre say it will revitalize a dying downtown core. image: Rank Inc.

At a breakfast meeting yesterday in Halifax, Defense Minister Peter MacKay announced that the federal government was "in" on the proposed--and locally controversial--convention centre to be built in downtown Halifax. The Canadian government confirmed it would kick in $51.4 million to the $156 million--and growing--project.

The following letter from Halifax MP Megan Leslie responds to constituents' concerns about the Convention Centre. Following the letter, St. Mary's University business professor Judy Haiven articulates the problem with this federal hands-off response to a local project--one spearheaded by municipal politicians & city bureaucrats with highly-publicized sketchy backgrounds.

Both letters have been lightly edited for clarity.

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Friends,

You are all receiving this email because you have taken the time to write to me voicing your thoughts and concerns surrounding the proposed HRM Convention Centre. 

For many of you, this is not the first time that you have written to me about this issue. I have heard from countless members of the community, both for and against the convention centre.

When considering the issue of the Convention Centre, it is essential that I look at the issue through the lens of being a federally elected representative.  Whenever any new issue emerges, the first question I ask myself is how this fits into the federal realm, and I try hard to take a principled position.  I strongly believe that any public position that I do take on this issue should be situated within my role as an MP and within the context of the federal NDP’s position on these kinds of infrastructure projects.

This past spring Mr. Chisholm, Mr. Stoffer and I were asked to clarify our position on the convention centre. I have struggled with a principled position to take in my role as a federally elected official. I believe that it is my duty to ensure that any federally funded project reflects the needs of the community.  I have been reluctant to simply pick a side on this issue, and just state my opinion either for or against. Because of this I have deliberately sought feedback from constituents about their thoughts, ideas and opinions. The feedback I received was robust, but not unanimous.  There are some who were very much opposed to the centre, some very much in favour, community groups who would like to hold meetings in the centre, others who think our community needs more public space incorporated, and so on.

The NDP has always stood for the principle of local and provincial control over decisions with local scope: a position I very much agree with.  If a community decides to invest infrastructure funds in a facility that benefits their community, then it is the role of federal government to support that decision. These are important local decisions that should be made in an open and transparent way.

A letter was written to the Prime Minister by my colleagues and I stating that New Democrats take the position that the federal government should support local decision making on community projects such as this. With respect to the convention centre, it is our understanding that the proposal would allow for public consultation on the design, which is something that we regard as essential to ensure the project meets the needs of the local community and the region.

Thank you very much for contacting me with your thoughts, ideas and opinions. The work that I do to represent this wonderful riding in Parliament is only as strong as the feedback and conversations I have with members of our community.

Best,

Megan

Megan Leslie

Member of Parliament for Halifax

NDP Environment Critic

774 Confederation Building, House of Commons

Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Ph: (613) 995-7614 / E-mail: megan.leslie@parl.gc.ca

Twitter: http://twitter.com/MeganLeslieMP

Website: www.meganleslie.ca

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Rather than looking at

a) the lack of a business case for a new Convention Centre

b) concerns around the environment or sustainability

c) the question of long term employment in quality jobs--for women and men

as well as other important issues, the Three Musketeers (the three NDP MPs) decided that they as federal politicians should take a hands-off attitude toward the proposed Convention Centre. This is not the first time I’ve heard the attitude “who are we to interfere with municipal political affairs?”  I have heard the same thing from our local NDP MLAs, so it must have been a line crafted for them.

The attitude that the provincial and federal politicians have no right to speak is political cowardice. After all, the province is already on the hook for close to $100 million for the new P3 Convention Centre.  And the federal government has been asked for nearly $50 million for this project and may still give it. [Note $51.5 million pledged yesterday.]

Isn't that something to concern our federal Three Musketeers? It seems not - instead they call for "public consultation" about the design of the Convention Centre. Unfortunately, as we all know, these two towers of 14 and 18 stories have already been approved by HRM Council and the province - lock, stock and barrel.  And the Convention Centre part will be located on a few levels in the basement  bunker of one tower.

What is more outrageous is that this latest letter, see below and dated [July 7, 2011], makes absolutely no mention of the current near crisis situation in Halifax.  Many of the city politicians and Trade Centre Limited (TCL) officials have been indicted (at least in the court of public opinion) for dishonest conduct and wheeling and dealing with public funds, and unethical behaviour on a rather large scale.  This is breath-taking:  In the letter, the 3 NDP MPs want to “support local decision-making on community projects such as this.”  But we have a situation in HRM in which the "local" decision-makers and Convention Centre boosters include Mayor Peter Kelly, TCL CEO Scott Ferguson, former TCL president Fred MacGillivray, former city CAO Wayne Anstey and others who have been singled out and condemned by Larry Munroe, the Municipal Auditor General in a huge financial scandal now known as "Concertgate."

These are the kinds of people the provincial NDP government is backing. Indeed, the Minister for Economic Development Percy Paris has stated publicly that he has "great confidence in Scott Ferguson." This is after Ferguson wrote at least two completely unauthorised cheques worth more than $300,000 to a concert promoter.  Ferguson also more than doubled his own consultants' already inflated figures on expected attendance and anticipated revenues for the new Convention Centre in order to “sell” it to HRM Council.

I wonder if the 3 MPs have been following either Tim Bousquet's excellent columns in The Coast over the last two months, or have even bothered to look at the Auditor General's report. Reputable professional insiders who opposed Concertgate have been interviewed on CBC's Main Street over the last several weeks. And conscientious  journalists such as Bruce Wark and Ralph Surette have also explored the very weak and misleading business case for a new Convention Centre.  Chris Majka published an in-depth critique of the Convention Centre proposal with the respected Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

But it seems the three MPs have never set eyes on any of this. Nothing about these serious financial and ethical matters are mentioned in the letter below. To my knowledge not one of our NDP MPs have waded into the matter at all--except to issue tepid endorsements.

So our Three Musketeer MPs are backing not just the municipality's but clearly the provincial government's support of a terrible financial gamble, with politicians and their powerful friends who are still trying to justify bilking the public.   

Judy Haiven

 

 

 

 


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