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Morally bankrupt 

The convention centre announcement shows what really matters to the city's business and political class, and, more importantly, what doesn't.

click to enlarge GRAHAM PILSWORTH

Last Thursday morning was a crystalizing moment for my understanding of Halifax. A crowd of more than 300 people, overwhelmingly male and exclusively white, besuited in the attire of folks who consider themselves movers and shakers, had gathered at the Neptune Theatre on Argyle Street for a masturbatory celebration of the imminent construction of a new convention centre in the rubbled lots kitty-corner from the theatre.

There was no new information provided at the wankfest---developer Joe Ramia "announced" that the first tenant of his Nova Centre would be...drumroll...the convention centre, which everyone knew anyway. But the crowd gave him a standing ovation all the same.

I expected that. The political and business classes in this town are convinced the convention centre will bring untold wealth, and so Ramia will be forever feted, whatever the reality of Halifax's economic future.

Next at the podium was defence minister Peter MacKay. You'll recall that last year, when he announced $51.4 million in federal funding for the convention centre, MacKay said that it would "take the 'no' out of Nova Scotia." Thursday, he doubled down on the rhetorical stupid, telling us that "When we build it, they will come." He was rewarded with a standing ovation too.

Then came premier Darrell Dexter, who mumbled some unremarkable words that no one could recall 10 seconds later, but what the hey, after the feds' contribution, the province is ponying up half the convention centre costs, so Dexter got a standing ovation too.

Finally Halifax mayor Peter Kelly rose. As he spoke, I wondered: would he also be rewarded with a standing ovation?

Kelly was, after all, complicit in the concert scandal. In violation of the city charter and the accounting principles, democratic rules and transparency that the business class supposedly values above all else, Kelly improperly loaned $5.4 million in taxpayer money for a dubious scheme to back up a failed concert promoter. Taxpayers lost about $400,000 in the process.

Moreover, all on his lonesome, Kelly had transferred over $160,000 from a dead woman's bank account, to accounts he and his sons controlled privately. In September, a judge will begin to decide just how improper that was, and what should happen to Kelly. But surely the business class of Halifax wants their own estates to be handled in a legal and ethical manner, and must be worried that papering over Kelly's involvement in the Mary Thibeault estate would set horrible precedent.

After Kelly wound up his remarks Thursday, there was a brief moment---half of a second, maybe---of hesitation. But first MacKay, then Dexter rose to applaud, and the rest of the 300 followed suit, making their mark in history.

It is now etched in stone: The business and political class of Halifax will forgive any transgression, overlook any crime, so long as the perpetuator pushes public money in their direction.

We can argue over whether or not the convention centre will make us economically bankrupt, but thanks to the standing ovation our business and political leaders gave Peter Kelly, there's no debating that this town is morally bankrupt.

As for the economic side of the convention centre, it's apparent that the city will lose at least $3 million a year, while $5 million is likely, and it's not out of the question that the actual number will be as high as $8 million. That's "affordable" in the sense it won't actually bankrupt the city, but that's $3- or $5- or $8 million that won't be spent on cops or firefighters, on transit or recreation, on parks or potholes.

It's harder to calculate the cost to the province, but whatever it is, it's money that won't be going to those on social assistance, who aren't getting the sort of increases that would keep up with inflation. It's money that won't go to re-hiring the youth mental health workers who were just laid off for lack of funds. It's money not going to fund housing for those living on the streets, or to clear the three-year waiting list for addiction services.

Like our decisions about giving standing ovations, our decisions about spending public money demonstrate an ugly truth about this town: Halifax is morally bankrupt.

click to enlarge GRAHAM PILSWORTH

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