Peter's pants on fire

Halifax's mayor has lost all creditability when he pleads ignorance. It's time for Peter Kelly to quit.

Mayor Peter Kelly is a liar. Which isn't necessarily a dealbreaker. In his profession, being flexible with the truth is akin to a basketball player being tall or an undertaker being creepy. What matters in our politicians is whether they're lying for us or to us. Kelly has long been an expert at keeping the majority on his side, but the report into the concert-funding scandal reveals the mayor standing practically alone. On behalf of a tiny group of men, including himself, Kelly lied, over and over again, to everyone else in Halifax. The facts in the report are clear: Kelly knew he was doing the wrong thing. His role in the funding scheme is incontrovertible. He should resign.

I'm not the first person to call for his resignation, or the last. Roy Salmon, a former auditor general for the province, felt compelled to add his voice to the chorus after reading the report from city auditor general Larry Monroe. The "Peter Kelly---Resign Now!" Facebook group is growing steadily, and is hosting a Step Down Kelly Rally this Tuesday, June 28, at 5:30 in Victoria Park.

The rally's size will be an indicator of how many regular citizens have read the report. Following the report's June 7 release, Kelly has dismissed criticism, saying voters can decide his fate in next year's election, and his supporters on council have voted down efforts from other councillors to reprimand Kelly. But the more the facts sink in, the less support he's going to have.

We now know fishy stuff was happening with concerts on the Common as far back as October 2007. Before that, the city was simply involved as the owner of the Common venue. A constituent emailed Kelly after the 2006 Rolling Stones show to say the city shouldn't have to pay "a cent" for concerts---the risk should lie with the promoter---and Kelly wrote back allaying concerns: "HRM is not actually going into the promotions business." But the auditor general found October 2007 documents in which the city had committed money and was indeed in the business of making concerts happen. And in this case, "the city" is mayor Kelly and chief administrative officer Wayne Anstey. They were backing promoter Harold MacKay. Soon this trio was joined by Trade Centre Limited's Scott Ferguson.

These four built a Ponzi scheme. Working together---having meetings, emailing, sending contracts back and forth---they started covering one concert's losses with ticket sales from the next concert. Violating all sorts of business standards and city regulations, Kelly and Anstey funnelled money to MacKay through the Ferguson-controlled Metro Centre and Ticket Atlantic. Out of sight of the city's finance people and city council.

As losses mounted, they desperately tried digging themselves out of the hole. To keep the concerts coming, MacKay was given money, supposedly from advance ticket buys, before tickets even went on sale. Kelly dressed in KISS makeup to get people interested in that concert. All they needed to catch up was one big show. But after only 26,564 people paid to see Paul McCartney, how could they think Kid Rock would be a 40,000-ticket jackpot?

After the scheme collapsed, in March 2011, the city was left holding a bill for $359,550. Not big money compared to some of the risks they'd taken over the years---on July 19, 2009 they had $7.7 million of taxpayers' money on the line---but too much to sweep under the rug. That's when the scandal became public. Anstey had the good graces to resign. Kelly immediately claimed ignorance, blaming city lawyers for not doing due diligence in concert-related contracts they asked him to sign. He was lying. He signed most of the contracts before city lawyers ever saw them.

When the auditor general's report came out, Kelly did an interview with Stephanie Domet, host of CBC Radio's Mainstreet. The interview is on the Mainstreet site, and it makes for great listening if only because it includes what must be the clearest answer Kelly has given on any subject, anywhere. Domet asks: "Did you do anything directly or indirectly to authorize or facilitate those cash payments to concert promoters?" Kelly answers: "No." What a liar.

About The Author

Kyle Shaw

Kyle is the editor of The Coast. He was a founding member of the newspaper in 1993 and was the paper’s first publisher. Kyle occasionally teaches creative nonfiction writing (think magazine-style #longreads) and copy editing at the University of King’s College School of Journalism.

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