1. Scott Ferguson
“Trade Centre Limited (TCL) today, May 24, announced that Scott Ferguson, president and CEO is leaving to take on a new opportunity as CEO of the World Trade Centers Association in New York,” TCL announced in a press release yesterday.
The World Trade Centers Association began when construction of the World Trade Center in New York was completed in 1973. (The buildings were of course destroyed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.) The idea of the Association was to brand similar office complexes around the world as World Trade Centers and then facilitate trading missions between the various WTCs to promote international trade and make everyone rich, rich, rich. It was, in short, an early vehicle for the globalization that defined late 20th-century capitalism.
World Trade Centers popped up, well, all over the world. I remember one opened in my hometown of Norfolk, Virginia, when I was in high school in the ’70s. Now there are World Trade Centers in a few dozen American cities; in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal; in scores of cities across South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia; even Havana, Cuba is getting in on the symbolic expression of triumphant capitalism.
In Halifax, the World Trade Centre was built in the early 1980s as part of a larger complex that included the Metro Centre and the convention centre, all of it managed by the newly created Trade Centre Limited (TCL). (The Metro Centre was and is owned by the city, but managed by TCL; the World Trade Centre and the convention centre are owned by the province.) The convention centre was in the basement of the World Trade Centre, and so the building was naturally enough called the World Trade and Convention Centre (WTCC). For that branding, TCL pays the World Trade Center Association annual dues, now set at US$10,000.
For many years, TCL was the local organizer for WTCA trade junkets and supposed “training” courses for local businesses. For example, TCL’s 2007/08 annual report says:
World Trade Centre Atlantic Canada (WTCAC) puts the “trade” in Trade Centre Limited, providing export and import training for businesses. Export training courses marked record participation and revenue numbers last year, almost doubling from 2006–07.
Our export programs keep growing. Long-term opportunities include providing export training to other World Trade Centres and building business activities and fostering relationships in conjunction with events such as the IIHF World Hockey Championship. We expect even higher levels of participation in 2008–09.
International contacts through the World Trade Centers Association open doors for Nova Scotians. For example, our WTCAC member, Stark Oil, signed a contract with Michelin after we linked them with the South Carolina World Trade Center.
But, for whatever reason, the business development side of TCL was shifted over to Nova Scotia Business Inc some years ago, and so the “World Trade” part of the World Trade and Convention Centre doesn’t have any meaning except for the actual name of the place. So even though TCL isn’t doing any world trading, it has continued to pay the US$10,000 every year, just to keep the trademarked name. That’s why the new convention centre is being rebranded as “Halifax Convention Centre,” and Trade Centre Limited is being reformed as the “Halifax Convention Centre Corporation.”
Sure, the new convention centre is costing us $161 million upfront and then a gazillion dollars a year to operate, but at least we’re saving that US$10,000 annual trademark fee, eh?.
And weirdly, so far as I know, Halifax will be the only city to have ever dropped out of the 100+ member World Trade Center Association.
Anyway, what’s Ferguson’s legacy in Halifax?
Ferguson inherited his position — it was never advertised, and there was no search for a better qualified candidate — from Fred MacGillivray, who seems to have been pushed into retirement after the Commonwealth Games fiasco.
MacGillivray, a former grocery store manager, must have had some dirt on someone or had some other special connection in order to get the job. Under MacGillivray, operations were freewheeling: for example, he simply stole the Metro Centre box office from the city, forming Ticket Atlantic without the approval of either the city or his own board of directors. I’ve heard tales of the son of one TCL exec handing out Metro Centre drink and meal tickets to his buddies at a comp box seat. And financial reports seem to have been made up on the fly.
So give Ferguson some credit: he oversaw TCL as it evolved into a tighter, better managed corporation. But of course that evolution was helped along by probing auditor general reviews and increasingly stringent oversight by provincial authorities.
Still, Ferguson is primarily responsible for the concert scandal. Sure, Wayne Anstey was the scapegoat, forced into retirement. And Peter Kelly came out of the scandal as the bumbling fool (an unfair portrayal, in my opinion: Kelly knew exactly what he was doing). But it was Ferguson who initiated the improper loan scheme that underlay the scandal. As I’ve explained before:
Scott Ferguson was president of Trade Centre Limited in 2012, when then-auditor general Jacques Lapointe reviewed TCL. Lapointe zeroed in on several issues, but the one that concerns us here involves advances to promoters from ticket sales before an event was held. Wrote Lapointe:
No reconciliations were completed of the advanced ticket sales general ledger account to the system which records ticket sales.
Of the control weaknesses identified by the OAG, TCL comments that many of these relate to lack of documented evidence such as sign off as it relates to review or approval of certain processes, although it would be management’s position that appropriate review did take place. TCL is not in agreement with the OAG’s assessment of control weaknesses associated with accuracy of promoter rebates and reconciliation of advanced ticket sales.
Some years before Lapointe’s review, TCL changed its policy with regard to advance ticket sales:
Promoter advances – Trade Centre Limited has a new policy concerning advances paid to promoters. It is designed to limit the risk of loss to Trade Centre Limited. The policy states that the promoter must agree in writing to assume all risks for funds disbursed and repay the funds in full if the event does not proceed. The request must be signed by two Trade Centre Limited staff. We tested two events in which an advance was made after the new policy came into effect. In one instance, the promoter did not agree to assume the risk for the funds disbursed. Neither advance had two signatures by Trade Centre Limited employees as required. In both cases, the amounts involved were not significant.
What this hides is that before the auditor general’s review, and before there was a change in policy, there was an advance to a promoter that was significant. I don’t know the dollar amount of the advance to the promoter, but what got Lapointe’s attention was TCL’s advance to World Championship Canada for hosting the 2008 IIHF World Championship at the Metro Centre.
In 2010, two years after the hockey championship, Halifax CAO Wayne Anstey asked Ferguson to advance concert promoter Harold MacKay $500,000 from advance ticket sales for two concerts planned for the Halifax Common. As I explained in my investigation into the concert scandal:
On March 17,  someone — again, presumably MacKay, although the name is redacted — asked Anstey for a loan contract for the Halifax Rocks show, with the amount raised from a previously agreed $400,000 to $500,000. On March 23, the same person again writes Anstey to suggest that the Black Eyed Peas concert be announced publicly, and “get tickets on sale right away [so] Scott [Ferguson at TCL] would have enough cash on hand to be able to assist us with the second night a couple of weeks later.”
That is, the plan was to use Black Eyed Peas ticket sales to pay Kid Rock’s advance fee. This is madness, because had either act cancelled, there would be no money with which to refund ticket holders.
Neither was there money in the Metro Centre account to lend MacKay. Through March, MacKay was being advanced money for both the country and the rock shows, and the city’s account was being bled dry. Anstey was signing authorizations for $400,000 one day, $200,000 a few days later, and promising more should the account get topped up. But MacKay still couldn’t pay Kid Rock’s upfront fee. (The documents don’t say what the upfront fee was.)
“My problem is I don’t have any more money to cover the advances with,” wrote Anstey on Saturday, March 27, 2010, at 2:13pm. “To make this work, Ticket Atlantic is going to have to take on 300K of risk on the Country show, thereby freeing up 300K of Metro Centre money for this show or alternatively take on 300K of the risk for this show. Overall, HRM will be carrying two-thirds of the risk with virtually no return, whereas Ticket Atlantic will only carry one-third with at least the opportunity to make some money.
“What do you say, Scott. Can’t we work together to make this work?”
At 8:14pm, Ferguson wrote back to Anstey, saying that “the auditor general has already put us on record regarding risk as a result of the past world events we hosted. I am not permitted to do so again.”
Evidently, Ferguson had used an advance-on-ticket-sales scheme for the world hockey tournament held at the Metro Centre, and was reprimanded for it. But that didn’t stop him from recommending the exact same scheme to the city.
“I could advance the funds from hmc if it was approved from your end,” writes Ferguson, seemingly suggesting that the money come not from the city’s Metro Centre surplus fund, which was depleted, but rather from Metro Centre’s operating funds. “The risk would only be short term as I expect the additional 300K would be returned within a week of the onsale.”
Eleven minutes later, at 8:25pm, Anstey wrote back to the redacted person. “Scott has agreed to the funding. I’ll get the paperwork to you on Monday morning.” [emphasis added]
So Ferguson had been told directly by the auditor general that advances to promoters from ticket sales were inappropriate, and yet recommended and facilitated an advance scheme for the city — with the new wrinkle that the loans would come not from actual advance ticket sales but from expected advance ticket sales.
It’s inappropriate to lend a promoter money from advance ticket sales because if the event is cancelled, ticket buyers will demand their money back, and there will be no money left to repay the loan. The promoter then walks away, and TCL or the city winds up holding the bag. At one point in the loan scheme, the city’s liability exceeded $6 million. And sure enough, Kid Rock demanded an upfront fee the city or MacKay couldn’t meet, so the show was cancelled; the Black Eyed Peas show had disastrous ticket sales, and so the whole arrangement came tumbling down, with the city eating nearly $400,000.
Sure, Anstey and mayor Peter Kelly also knew that the loan scheme violated financial controls and acted on the advice, but the idea originated with Ferguson, who, again, knew it was wrong.
And now Feguson is taking that ethical mindset to the World Trade Centers Association. Talk about failing upwards.
Back at TCL, CFO Carrie Cussons has been named acting president and CEO. We’ll see if she has to actually compete for the permanent position.
2. Fishermen to ask court to stop tidal project
“A Bay of Fundy fishermen’s group will seek a court injunction to halt the installation of tidal energy turbines in waters near Parrsboro starting next month,” reports Joann Alberstat for Local Xpress:
Members of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association decided during a meeting Sunday night in Digby to launch the court challenge. The group represents over 150 fishermen who catch lobster and fin fish.
[Association spokesperson Colin] Sproul, a fifth-generation lobster and long-line fisherman from Digby County, said fishermen have environmental concerns about the impact turbines will have on fish stocks and the Bay of Fundy ecosystem. In addition, fishermen outside of the Parrsboro area haven’t been properly consulted about industry development, he added.
The injunction will be sought against the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy, the non-profit group that operates a turbine demonstration site in the Minas Passage. The action will also involve Cape Sharp Tidal, the partnership between Halifax-based Emera Inc. and French-owned OpenHydro, as well as the province.
Halifax city council yesterday decided to hold off re-tendering the Bloomfield project until the set of planning regulations called the Centre Plan is adopted (supposedly in December). The thinking was that coming up with a revised Bloomfield Master Plan would take more time than simply letting the new regulations prevail for the site.
4. Yarmouth ferry
Bay Ferries has signed a lease agreement for the Town of Yarmouth’s ferry terminal, reports Tina Comeau for the Yarmouth Vanguard. Comeau goes on to discuss how the Alakai/Puerto Rico/Cat is making its way to Yarmouth:
Since April 1 the ship has had two dry-docking periods in South Carolina and a period in between where work was done while the vessel was afloat.
When the vessel comes out of dry dock there are some smaller items of work to be completed, to be followed by a series of dock and sea trials. The goal is to have the Cat moving north by June 1.
“Once she moves north there are a series of coast guard drills on both sides and safety drills that we have to do,” [Bay Ferries president Mark] MacDonald said.
The ferry may or may not start sailing on June 15:
“It’s only set in stone when the ship leaves on June 15,” MacDonald said. “It would be wrong to say that there couldn’t be something happen between now and June 15.”
“A Nova Scotia car collector who has a hearse parked in his Bridgewater driveway says he thinks it’s a work of art and he’s hurt that his landlord has asked him to move it,” reports Kristen Brown for the CBC:
In the week since Michael Nelson parked his 1990 Cadillac Brougham hearse in his driveway, his landlord told him she’s received complaints about the vehicle. She asked that it be moved.
“There’s a lot of old people that live on the street and she said the old people said that it reminded them of death,” said Nelson, who has been collecting cars since he was 17 years old.
Nelson’s white hearse is covered in airbrush paintings with the words Final Destiny on the back.
1. Transit for people with low incomes
“Why isn’t the province buying transit passes for our poorest residents?” asks Erica Butler, who goes on to suggest a sensible solution: as university students do, the provincial Social Service department purchase buss passes in bulk at a reduced cost for all its clients.
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Community Design Advisory Committee (11:30am, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
Grants Committee (1pm, City Hall) — various grants.
Heritage Advisory Committee (3pm, City Hall) — now that the Wedding Cake House has been torn down, the committee will discuss protecting it. Here’s the staff report:
On April 5th heritage staff received an application requesting heritage registration for a property located at 851 Young Avenue. The application was not made by the owner, and it is unclear if the property owner is aware that the application has been made.
On April 18th heritage staff attended a public meeting organized by the area Councillor to discuss residents’ concerns with the redevelopment of this property, but also relative to concerns about possible redevelopment of other properties on Young Avenue.
It is unusual that someone other than the owner has made a request to register, however the Heritage Property Act does not preclude it. The Act requires that all registered owners be given notice of their opportunity to speak to Council on the matter at the time that Council makes a decision. In the interests of due diligence staff will notify the owner that the application has been made.
Presently there are three other heritage registration requests scheduled to proceed ahead of this application. Additionally, there are other reports and projects which require staff resource. Therefore, it is anticipated that heritage staff could have a report before the HAC over the summer months. This report would include background history for the property, and the Evaluation Criteria, so the HAC may evaluate the request for registration. HAC is required to review the historical background information as an aid to scoring the property using the Evaluation Criteria.
No public meetings.
Kiss Me Deadly (8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — the 1955 film directed by Robert Aldrich:
Mickey Spillane’s delirious detective story takes Noir towards its stylistic endgame in this luridly directed classic by Robert Aldrich. The story is simple: a mystery box has been stolen….what’s in the box? Don’t open the box!
In the harbour
6am: ZIM New York, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
3:30pm: Freemantle Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport to sea
4:30pm: ZIM New York, container ship, sails from Pier 42 to sea
10pm: Atlantic Star, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 1pm.
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