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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Publicly funded Trade Centre investing in partisan politics

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 3:01 PM

Two years ago this week, Coast senior feature writer Stephen Kimber called out Trade Centre Limited for donating $6,691.12 to the provincial Progressive Conservative party:

But you won't believe what TCL has done now. Here's how Kimber described it in 2007:

But perhaps the most intriguing and under-reported political contribution in 2004 came from Trade Centre Ltd., the operators of the Halifax Metro Centre—-where the Tory convention was booked—-the World Trade and Convention Centre and assorted other convention and meeting venues. Its $6,691.12 donation was the second largest single donation the Tories received that year.

But isn't Trade Centre Ltd. a crown corporation, you ask?

It is.

That means the government owns it, right?

Right again.

And appoints most of its board of directors?

You're on a roll.

And aren't most of the directors prominent Tories?

Uh huh.

So: what's a publicly owned and operated enterprise like Trade Centre Ltd. doing contributing money to a political party, let alone being the second-biggest donor to the party whose government controls it?

I thought you'd never ask. Hardly anyone else has.

Not that Fred MacGillivray doesn't have an answer. MacGillivray, the president and CEO of the Trade Centre, says the money went to purchase tables at two party fund-raising dinnersa PCNS Fund Annual Dinner held in October 2003 and a federal Progressive Conservative leaders dinner, also in the fall of 2003.

Which explains the what, but not the why.

We buy tables all the time, MacGillivray explains. Groups that rent out Trade Centre facilities are always asking us to cut their bill, or make a donation or whatever. We choose to buy tables. We do it for them all. We do it to be part of our community, to support charities and non profits

But political parties arent charities or non-profits.

MacGillivray concedes that its a fine line, but adds that Trade Centre has bought tables at Liberal events too. Wed do the same for the NDP but they havent used our facilities. (Trade Centre Ltd. does show up in the Liberal donor column three times in the last 10 years, but the total amount Trade Centre donated to the Liberals over those years is barely a third of what it gave to the Conservatives in 2004 alone.)

Does it concern you, I ask, that Trade Centre Ltd. is essentially giving money to a political party whose government controls it? And that some of that money was funneled through an organization called the PCNS Fund, whose chairHalifax lawyer Stewart McInnes also happens to be the chair of the board of directors of Trade Centre Ltd.? Which is to say Fred MacGillivrays boss.

No question it would be simpler if he wasnt, MacGillivray allows, but wed do it anyway whether he was the chair or not. Its just the way it is.

MacGillivray insists that hes the one who makes such decisions and that members of the boardwhose provincial appointees, besides McInnes, include other prominent Tories like former cabinet minister George Moody, Peter Bryson and Dave Chisholmnever discussed the decision to buy the tables.

So who does get to dine on the Trade Centresourdime at these functions?

Sometimes, MacGillivray explains, the Centre will offer the tickets to its customers. Sometimes staff get to attend. Occasionally, board members themselves might express an interest in going to the function.

The PCNS dinner? MacGillivray says he cant remember who sat at the Trade Centre tables. But I can tell you one thing, he is quick to add. I wasnt there.

MacGillivray is equally quick to make the point that he understands why Im interested in the details. I would be too if I was in your position, he says.

I would have thought that the simple embarrassment of being called on the carpet for a clearly unethical, and perhaps illegal, donation of public funds to a partisan political organization would have caused some reaction at Trade Centre Limited, at the very least a new policy disallowing similar donations in the future.

But, no.

I've been spending the last couple of days poring over Form 40s and Form 41s. These are the campaign contribution reports that all candidates for city council and mayoral races in the October election had to file with City Hall. The deadline for filing the forms was in December, long past the election, but I figured there might be some newsworthy nuggets in them—-and indeed there are.

I have a more thorough analysis in the works, but right now I want to highlight a small donation—- just $130— from Trade Centre Limited to mayor Peter Kelly's re-election campaign.

I'm the first to admit: It's not a big amount. Didn't swing the election. Wouldn't make any difference at all in Kelly's decision-making process, and he probably didn't even write a thank-you note.

Still, there's a principle involved here. A quite large, and important, principle.

Simply put: once again Fred MacGillivray has demonstrated his contempt for the democratic process.

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