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Friday, July 20, 2012

No amount of spin can hide ticket scandal facts

Auditor general's report is definitive, despite officials playing pass-the-blame game.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 11:06 AM

It's now cover your ass time, as everyone connected to the ticket scandal attempts to shift blame off themselves and put it on someone else.

Fred MacGillivray says its Scott Ferguson's fault.

Scott Ferguson says it's Fred MacGillivray's fault.

Darrell Dexter says it's the city's fault.

Peter Kelly says no way is it the city's fault.

This is all very silly. Auditor general Larry Munroe's report on the ticket scandal clearly lays out the evidence, and assigns blame in exactly the right measure. To wit:

1. The Metro Box Office was a city-owned asset worth many millions of dollars.

2. With no authority to do so, Trade Centre Limited lifted the operation from the city and incorporated it into TCL.

3. There was never a council vote authorizing the transfer.

4. When the transfer happened, Fred MacGillivray was president of Trade Centre Limited, and so ultimately responsible for everything that happened within the organization.

That's just the facts of it. So the primary blame rests with Fred MacGillivray, full stop.

click to enlarge Fred MacGillivray, former Trade Centre Limited president, claims he wasn't running the show when TCL seized the Metro Centre's ticket business.
  • Fred MacGillivray, former Trade Centre Limited president, claims he wasn't running the show when TCL seized the Metro Centre's ticket business.

There is a secondary level of blame, but it does not change any of the above. As Munroe's report illustrates, many months after the fact of the transfer, an unnamed city staffer alerted then-CAO Dan English to the change in ownership, and besides writing a couple of emails to MacGillivray loosely complaining about it, English took no substantive action. Certainly English should be faulted for letting a very valuable piece of city property get taken away without doing anything about it.

But we live in "the buck stops somewhere else" time. People like MacGillivray and English were supposedly hired because they're effective managers who can turn entire bureaucracies around and get results. Their abilities were so valued they were given huge salaries and in MacGillivray's case, a bonus million dollar pension. Yet when something goes wrong, these very same super managers say they aren't accountable, there's someone else to blame, they can't possibly control those unmanageable bureaucracies under them.

I've come to expect this sort of blame-shifting from chief executives, but even I was surprised by Darrell Dexter's comments:

Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly and three regional councillors sit on the Trade Centre board, including when the transfer was completed in 2006.

“As a result of any kind of commercial transaction, the various parties bear their own responsibility for the agreements they enter into, one way or another,” Dexter said after a cabinet meeting Thursday.

Dexter is completely, 100 percent, utterly, wrong.

Look, let's cut through the crap about who knew what when. It simply doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if Peter Kelly knew about the transfer. It doesn't matter if the three councillors on the TCL board knew about it. It doesn't even matter if Kelly and the three councillors voted in favour of the transfer, at the TCL board.

The simple fact is that even if they knew, and even if they voted in favour of it, Kelly and the three councillors had no authority to shift a multi-million dollar city asset to someone else's control. The TCL board didn't have that authority. Fred MacGillivray didn't have that authority. Scott Ferguson didn't have that authority. Dan English didn't have that authority.

The only body with the authority to transfer a multi-million dollar city asset away from the city was and remains the full city council, with a duly recorded vote, and with a duly sworn deed executing the transfer. There is no other legal way for that transfer to happen. None.

And council never voted on it. It's not enough to say, "hey, Peter Kelly knew," or "those three councillors knew" or even "everyone on council knew and were cool with it." That's not enough. There needs to be an official vote, made in public, in a legal manner. Which, again, never happened.

Look, I'm just a douchebag newspaper reporter, not some high-faluting corporate CEO worthy of a million dollar pension. But even I know this basic fact of governance: you can't just take shit away from the city without going through the proper legal mechanism. And yet, that's exactly what Fred MacGillivray did.

I don't know why people are trying to obscure the simple fact of the improperness of this. I especially don't know why the premier is trying to confuse the issue.

Dexter should stop spouting this nonsense. And the rest of us should refuse to be hoodwinked by the calculated confusion being sown.

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