Trade Centre Limited president Scott Furgeson assured us that the new convention centre will be bold. Photo: Halifax Examiner
Mi Trade Centre Limited president Scott Ferguson assured us that the new convention centre will be bold. Photo: Halifax Examiner

This morning I went to the Building our Future breakfast sponsored by Greater Halifax Partnership at the Delta Halifax. I have been critical of the entire “Bold Halifax” campaign from the start, but I went with something of an open mind—I didn’t think I would change my opinion of the campaign, but I thought I might better understand where the organizers were coming from. Maybe I would learn something.

Alas, no.

Chronicle Herald president Mark Lever boldly laid off a quarter of his newsroom. Photo: Halifax Examiner

One problem was obvious from the start: it was a self-selecting group. I think most everyone there was there on someone else’s dime—the $50 fee ($40 for GHP “investors”) was paid for by a government, a corporation, a college. I wrote off my $50 ticket as a business expense, too. It’s possible some of the Fusion members paid their own discounted $20 entry fee, but even so, there wasn’t much diversity in the room—I saw exactly two visible minorities, for instance. The room was a sea of people in business suits. Panel member Danny Graham commented on the lack of diversity, noting that a lot of people wouldn’t be at the breakfast because they were out working, “trying to survive.”

But the bigger problem was that I never found out, exactly, what “bold” is. And there was a basic contradiction at work: The entire premise of the breakfast was to encourage people to become bold, implying that boldness is a quality we lack but need to attain. But nearly every speaker told us that they were already bold.

“I’m all about being bold,” said GHP president Michele McKenzie. Photo: Halifax Examiner
“I’m all about being bold,” said GHP president Michele McKenzie. Photo: Halifax Examiner

For instance, Chronicle Herald president Mark Lever told us that his company had become bold when it decided to “stop looking at the past” and trying instead to innovate, even if that meant a few failures (that was an interesting spin coming just weeks after laying off a quarter of its newsroom). The fellow from RBC (sorry, didn’t catch his name) told us that the bank was being bold by opening storefront banks with iPads and using Facebook. Colette O’Hara, of the Red Balloon PR firm, said she has demonstrated her boldness by “breaking rank” and hugging people when they expected a handshake. Adam Hayter, of Fusion, said he boldly stayed in Halifax instead of moving out west after college. Graham told us that Tim Merry’s public consultations for the library were bold. Phil Otto of the Revolve PR firm said amalgamation was bold. An audience member said the city’s Solar City program was bold. Gloria McCluskey said Francis Fares is bold. “I’m all about being bold,” said the new GHP president Michele McKenzie. Deciding to build the new convention centre was bold, said Trade Centre Limited president Scott Ferguson.

So as I understand it, Halifax is woefully lacking in boldness as a collective, and it’s something we should aspire to, but everyone you ask is already bold individually. This is akin to the social dance swingers go through when meeting new people: Everyone is privately bold, but you can’t have the bold orgy until it’s out in the open.

Colette O’Hara discusses the difficult lives of Sherpas. Photo: Halifax Examiner
Colette O’Hara discusses the difficult lives of Sherpas. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Early on, moderator Fred Morley told us that Halifax has a lot of great things going for it: the universities, the hospitals, the scenery, etc. (he left out my favourite, the time zone). But, continued Morley, “the missing ingredient seems to be the right attitude.” Boldness, then, must be a mindset. This encouraged a stream of psychobabble from O’Hara, who mentioned a Buddhist parable about 1,000 paths leading to the summit, and it doesn’t matter which one you’re on, so long as you’re on one—boldness, then, is whatever we want it to be, so long as it’s going up. Of course then we’ve got to define what “up” means in the context of breakfast encouragement, so we’re stuck in a sort of analogical drift, the mountain analogy replacing the bold analogy, but bringing us no closer to understanding. We’re just as omless as when we started.

Nevertheless, O’Hara told us the “we shouldn’t be down at the bottom yelling at people, telling them that they’re on the wrong path.” Mayor Mike Savage echoed the sentiment, saying that “it’s not positive to call other people negative.” “Being bold is not about silencing criticism, but having solutions,” agreed Morley. But then Phil Otto ruined the moment by saying if Haligonians didn’t get on page, we’d end up “looking like New Minas,” which was very definitely a negative assessment of that valley town.

As the breakfast proceeded—and for 50 bucks, couldn’t we have had some table service?—I couldn’t stop wondering what the point of the exercise was. No one was writing anything down. There were no flow charts scrawled on butcher paper, no sticky notes, no plan, no strategy, to get from Point A boldlessness to Point B boldness.

The breakfast felt a bit like those cheerleading competitions where’s there’s not a team to cheer for, except the cheerleading squad itself. Now imagine a competition of the people cheering on the cheerleading squads, and you’ve got the experience in a nutshell.

And if there’s anything substantively different between this morning’s breakfast and a similar gathering a decade ago, I don’t know what it would be. Oh, that reminds me of this wonderful video of many of Halifax’s business community who attended the Tony Robbins event at the Metro Centre in 2008:

Some things never change.

Undoubtedly I’ll be accused of “negativity” and worse for writing this post, but I honestly can’t see the point of the bold exercise, unless it’s simply to transfer cash to a couple of PR firms.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. “Colette O’Hara, of the Red Balloon PR firm, said she has demonstrated her boldness by “breaking rank” and hugging people when they expected a handshake.” On her website she says, “I’m known for: being a restriction-less hugger.” Plus she identifies herself as a “Myers Briggs type: ENFJ”.

    I guess a woman in public relations can get away with giving people unwanted hugs but is there a whif of sexual aggression in this boldness that could be problematic if it catches on?

    Just imagine if the dudes at the Bold conference took the idea of “restriction-less” hugging to heart and started turning handshakes into hugs, especially if the object of dude boldness was female!
    Plus Myers Briggs is a popular way to get people to adopt a simplistic view of themselves and others in a corporate environment. It’s been described as a “ridiculously limited and simplified view of human personality.”

    Maybe the bold thing is just an attempt to colonize the mind of the individual citizen. If people can be manipulated into believing in the idea of “boldness” then they may well accept anything that is messaged as bold, from fracking primeaval land to trade agreements that restrict local behavior.

  2. “Adam Hayter, of Fusion, said he boldly stayed in Halifax instead of moving out west after college.” That probably was bold, indeed.

    As for the timezone, it is actually one of the reasons Halifax still is my place of business (and thus home). It is not the provincial income tax regime, nor the airfares, I can guarantee you.

    I have to admit that I had not been aware of the Bold campaign. That means they couldn’t have spent a lot of money on it, could they? (err….) The idea reminds me of the “ships start here” campaign. That one had no discernable merit either.

    Having said that, I do see room for improvement in the MBA (median business attitude) in Nova Scotia. Nowhere else have I experienced such a massive number of businesses not adhering to their own posted opening hours: Closing early, opening late, or not being open for business at all with zero explanation. Cancelled indoor events due to “bad weather” are symbolic of the problem.

    Many times a year do I experience businesses hiding from me wwe have tat induhen I threaten to spend my money there. Since the GDP mostly depends on how many times a year the same Dollars change hands, every delay in a business transaction usually is lost GDP.

    Of course, there is nothing bold about being open for business 9 to 5 when you say you will be open 9 to 5. So the campaign is definitely not attacking that issue.

    There are bold things that would help our economy:

    – legalize raw milk
    – legalize direct sales of milk and milk products from farmers to consumers
    – lift monopolies (alcohol and electricity sales, to start with)
    – allow direct to consumer sales of locally assembled automobiles (we don’t have that industry now)
    – legalize pot (that is an industry we have)
    – legalize sex work and its procurement (another one we have)
    – reduce regulation in people transportation (coach lines, party buses, etc.)
    – outlaw chicken cages
    – remove the requirement for a license for each chicken at free range chicken farms
    – make it easier to sell things on the side of roads (other than flowers and art)
    – more but smaller schools, closer to home
    – etc.

  3. The whole tone of this campaign leaves something of a bad taste in my mouth. I do think that we need to Be Bold as a city, but Boldness means being unafraid to question the status quo, asking questions of our leaders, and taking an interest in how our government is spending our money.

    The current “Be Bold” campaign seems to stand more for not questioning authority, and blindly supporting anything that we’re told to.

    I guess it’s easy to be sarcastic about it, but if I was getting money from the public purse at the same rate that many of these guys were, I’d quite happily spend my time standing around with my fellow beneficiaries in a circle jerk of self-congratulation. Good on us for being so Bold.

  4. I suppose it’s ‘bold’ to stand at (near) the top and yell down at the people that don’t agree with you, accuse them of being negative for attempting to approach things critically, without a ‘yes-man’ attitude? It’s bold to attack rightful criticism with ‘jokes’ about deportation?

    Yes, Halifax needs to grow, change and adapt. But to do that Halifax needs new, diverse leaders who aren’t scared of really shaking things up and making real change that benefits more than just the change-makers and their friends. What we don’t need is a bunch of privileged asshats telling us that signing up for their sugar-coated, feel-good ‘bold’ pledge (that seems to be more about shutting up and being ‘positive’ and towing the line than anything actually to actually being ‘bold’) is what’s going to provide the change we need.

    I’m disgusted.

    1. I agree.
      And instead of the top always telling people they are negative maybe they should ask why people are negative? And then fix the reason why from the top down.
      That would be bold.
      We are past the point of the top telling the bottom to be more agreeable (be bold) and having them listen. We need more than that.

  5. “We’re just as omless as when we started”.
    At least an occasion for a wonderfully witty piece!

  6. This is the most poignant part:

    Panel member Danny Graham commented on the lack of diversity, noting that a lot of people wouldn’t be at the breakfast because they were out working, “trying to survive.”

    So true in Halifax.

  7. All these Buzz words being thrown around are ridiculous. We do have things to be proud of in Halifax. How ever we do have things we can improve on. Are we on the verge of collapse? No but I feel if we don’t get realistic, have sensible plans that we actually follow and do our best to come together cohesively that will “be bold” It is easy to get caught up in Buzz word hype but solid plans will carry us forward. Its ok to dream and we need to but dreams need to be made goals.

  8. The first rule of Bold Club is: You do not talk about Bold Club. The second rule of Bold Club is: You do not TALK about Bold Club.

  9. Control ‘b’ is the keyboard function to make a word’s typeface ‘bold’. Considering all the important civic issues that abound, the breakfast function was, in my opinion, pretty much like that.

  10. Bold is the single mom who gets up every day and laughs with her kids.

    Bold is the homeless kid, fighting addiction panhandling on Spring Garden Road.

    How about the Dawgfather? Now that’s capital B Bold : – o

    1. Bold is fighting a bunch of power-hungry petty bureaucrats to save the life of your dog, who never bit a person and never actually got a bite out of a dog either. Bold is telling the truth about it – which Halifax’s lawyers and politicos will never do.

  11. I much prefer Victoria’s vision: “Be Old”. I can understand it, I can see the path to get there, there’s a plan, a strategy. The city does not spend money on rebranding, because everyone knows what Victoria is all about. Be Old!

    Oh, Halifax, why are you making it so easy for me not to miss you?

    1. Not the Halifax of unique, charming, take-you-to-their-bosom folks, Liz, nor our array of wonderful institutions; rather the hack governance, both civic and political, with which we’ve been burdened. They’ve nurtured a toxic, self-serving, often corrupt environment, but it’s changing, too slowly perhaps, but increasingly, there are more visionary, courageous, smart members of City Council unafraid to speak up and out. With folks like yourself watching and commenting, and a more stringent era of accountability at hand, we’ll take back control. Kudos to Tim and Halifax Examiner. His/its authentic independence play a huge role.

  12. I was willing to keep an open mind until I got to the part about no notes, no follow-up, no strategy. Ugh.

  13. Marge: But Main Street’s still all cracked and broken…
    Bart: Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!
    All: Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

    [Substitute “Marge” and “Mom” with “Tim”, “Bart” with “Mayor Savage,” and “Monorail” with “be bold.”]