1. Scott Ferguson
To no one’s surprise, the provincial Department of Business announced yesterday the makeup of the new Halifax Convention Centre board of directors and its CEO:
Progress continues to be made on establishing the leadership team for the Halifax Convention Centre Corporation.
Government announced today, April 4, that the Halifax Convention Centre Act has been proclaimed. The act, appoints Deputy Minister of Business Murray Coolican, and acting Halifax CAO John Traves as the corporation’s acting board of directors.
Minister of Business Mark Furey and Mr. Traves have designated current Trade Centre Limited (TCL) president and CEO Scott Ferguson as the president and CEO of the new convention centre corporation. The terms of Mr. Ferguson’s contract remain the same.
“The appointment of Mr. Ferguson ensures the new convention centre corporation will have the experience and continuity of leadership we need at this important time,” said Mr. Coolican.
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 promoters 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 is because if the event cancels, 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.
For his role in the concert scandal, Ferguson has been rewarded with ever-increasing pay raises, and now, presidency of the newly created Halifax Convention Centre. The HCC job wasn’t advertised. There was no search for a president; no one besides Ferguson was considered.
I asked Business Department spokesperson Toby Koffman yesterday how much Ferguson will be paid for his new job. “Same as before. $174,000,” he said in an email. But wait, I replied, according to the Public Employee Compensation Report for TCL, last year Ferguson made $183,184. “Right you are,” Koffman shot back. “184,222 for this year.”
Nice work if you can get it.
2. Beer garden
Bar Stillwell has filed an application to open a beer garden at the former Zibi’s Auto Repair location across North Park Street from The Oval.
Stillwell owners Chris Reynolds and Laura MacDonald have proven to be responsible managers, both at their Barrington Street bar and last year at the waterfront beer garden. “I live pretty darn close to there myself and I don’t think I’d want something that’s like a million people at two in the morning every single night, a never-ending summer rave,” Reynolds tells Metro. And yet, there’s the predictable neighbourhood response:
Jennifer Watts, municipal councillor for the area, said the idea of a beer garden near the Common is being met with mixed reactions.
“I have heard from some folks in my district that are concerned about having the open air beer garden type environment in the neighbourhood for the noise, the accessibility,” she said.
“It’s by the Common, it’s by the oval, it’s a very public place, there are lots of kids walking back and forth to school, and having this type of open air setting is in their view not appropriate for the area.”
We should get over these prohibition-era attitudes. There’s a new drinking culture arising, especially around beer. It values quality products and quality experiences, both of which Stillwell provides in spades.
This isn’t anything new. I’ve travelled in Germany, where beer gardens are found in residential neighbourhoods and become a community focus, helping to define the neighbourhood and bring people together. One beer garden I visited in Berlin had a playground in it. The kiddies would go play on the swings and jungle gym, with the parents close by, drinking beer. All very civilized.
Besides all that, however, how’d I miss that Zibi’s closed?
3. Cogswell Roundabout
The map above shows a 6,154 square-foot parcel that was acquired by the city in order to create the Cogswell Roundabout. Today, city council will agree to buy the property retroactively. Explains the staff report:
At the Cogswell Street intersection, detailed designs showed that the existing six leg intersection could be converted into an effective four leg roundabout. This is done by moving Ahern Avenue closer to Trollope Street and disconnecting Rainnie Drive from the intersection. The design has shown that Rainnie Drive is not required to carry vehicular traffic. This is consistent with other downtown traffic studies. Decision making in the roundabout will then be much easier for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
By realigning Ahern Avenue, a property acquisition is required from the provincially-owned Citadel High School property for right-of-way purposes. A Restricted Early Access Agreement was negotiated and executed with NSTIR [Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal] in May 2014 to provide HRM with early access to the Citadel High property to construct the roundabout.
Whenever a property purchase or sale comes before city council, the issue is automatically dealt with in secret. This usually makes sense: council doesn’t want the other party in a real estate deal to know what price it is willing to pay or sell for before the deal is signed. Fair enough. But in this case, we’re dealing with two levels of government that already have an agreed-on price, so council secrecy makes no sense at all.
But there is a hint to the price. The next line in the staff report:
As per the 2002 Corporate Real Estate Transaction Policy, the subject purchase price exceeds the CAO delegated authority and requires the approval of Regional Council.
That Corporate Real Estate Transaction Policy says that the CAO does not have the authority to agree to a real estate purchase costing more than $200,000.
This puny piece of land never cost anyone any money. It was stolen from the Mi’kmaq, then made part of the Common, then conveyed to the school board. But now, suddenly, the city has to pay at least $200,000 for it.
Bloodworm harvestors want to start digging in Minas Basin, reports Tina Comeau for the Yarmouth Vanguard. The harvesters need new territory because there are no longer worms in the mud flats around Yarmouth:
David Fevens, an owner of G&B Fisheries in Yarmouth County, says licensed harvesters from this area need access to more mudflats because many flats around here have changed, and they’re not sure why.
“Something has happened in the flats, not all, but most,” Fevens says. “The mud has gone black and gooey. There’s no sand fleas, there’s no worms, there’s no clams, there’s nothing.”
The harvesters say it’s not a case of overdigging, something else at play. Whatever it is, Fevens says, it has decreased the areas bloodworms can be harvested in.
1. Marie Henein schools Peter Mansbridge
“I was left dumbstruck by [Peter] Mansbridge’s absurd ‘Facebook Post-A-Rama,’” writes Evelyn C. White of the broadcaster’s interview with Jian Ghomeshi’s lawyer. “I’ve now watched the CBC ‘exclusive’ several times and my verdict remains the same. In less than 20 minutes, Marie Henein showed viewers exactly why Peter Mansbridge should make his way to the exit door.”
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2. Liberal budget
When Justin Trudeau visited Halifax last weekend, the federal budget was barely mentioned, notes Richard Starr:
The most likely explanation for the low profile is that Trudeau did not want to confuse the Liberal faithful and embarrass the McNeil government. After all, the provincial Liberals have made austerity their main – and some would say only – policy imperative. Trudeau’s first budget and its $30 billion deficit is a glaring contradiction, if not an outright repudiation of 2 ½ years of Liberal rule in Nova Scotia.
Starr has been rightly banging the drum for a reversal of Stephen Harper’s rejigging of equalization payments. He explains:
Those nasty old Harperites changed the funding formula to the Maritimes’ great disadvantage in order to appease their western base and balance the budget. The Liberals have no western base and they’ve consigned balancing the books to Never Never Land, but the $30 billion deficit notwithstanding, the budget gave no indication that fixing health transfers is in the offing. So for 2016-17 at least, Nova Scotia’s transfers from Ottawa remain basically flat.
According to several media reports, McNeil took advantage of Trudeau’s visit to discuss some form of federal help to replace the Victoria General Hospital. One wonders whether McNeil thought to point out that we wouldn’t need to ask for a special hospital deal if the Liberals would simply reverse the Harper government’s inequitable transfer formula.
3. Cranky letter of the day
I have been traveling the old highway between Amherst and Springhill for many years. Every day at this time of the year as I travel past the blind corner at the entrance to the maple sugar woods in Fenwick I wonder how long it will be before there is a serious accident on this corner.
I have seen at times a quarter mile of cars down both sides of the road.
Drivers stopped in the lane waiting to squeeze in a parking spot when others are leaving.
Car doors open into the highway and children playing on the road after getting out of a parked vehicle.
Then there is the vehicle trying to exit the wood road from the camps and the driver can’t see past all the parked vehicles.
All this happening while cars, trucks, tractor trailers, and garbage trucks come around this corner at 90 km/h or faster. I know there have been no parking signs posted in the area but this is not the answer.
The shoulder of a busy highway on a blind turn, on a hill shouldn’t be used as a shopping area parking lot. Maybe it is time the land owners who are attracting visitors, and selling maple products from their sugar camps in this area work together and clear a couple of acres of land and build a parking lot. Prohibit parking along the road completely.
This is a small price to pay for a life. Yes I said landowners not the government. Of course the DOT should prohibit parking on this corner completely. After an accident happens it will be too late to say we should have done this or that.
Dean MacDonald, Amherst
City council (1pm, City Hall) — as usual, I’ll be live-blogging the meeting via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer.
Community Services (1pm, One Government Place) — Jean Coleman, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, will be questioned.
Block Designs and Gray Codes (9am, Colloquium Room #319, Chase Building) —David Pike, from Memorial University of Newfoundland, will speak. The abstract:
A v-set V together with a collection B of k-subsets of V is known as a balanced
incomplete block design (abbreviated as BIBD) with parameters (v, k, lambda)
if each each 2-subset of V occurs in precisely lambda of the k-subsets that comprise
B. The elements of B are known as the blocks of the design. A kappa-intersecting
Gray code for a BIBD is equivalent to a sequential listing of the blocks of B such
that consecutive blocks contain exactly kappa points in common; the code is cyclic
if, additionally, the last and first block also share exactly kappa points. We will
describe some potential applications, give a review of previous results, and discuss
some recent work concerning the existence (or nonexistence) of such codes for
(v, 3, 2)-BIBDs. Recent advances include joint work with Aras Erzurumluoglu.
In the harbour
Tiger, car carrier, Southhampton, England to Pier 31 at 10pm, then moves to Autoport at 5am Wednesday
Elka Elefsis moves from the Bedford Basin Anchorage to Imperial Oil at 8am
Jan Van Gent sails from Pier 9 to sea at 2:30pm