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Concert loan scandal report out tomorrow

The context: Halifax can't be Orlando North.

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As expected, the city's auditor general's report on the concert loan scandal has been agendized for Tuesday, soon after the 10am start of city council's meeting (item 9.3.1). In public session, with reporters and TV cameras present, auditor general Larry Munroe will make what will likely be a lengthy presentation to council; immediately afterwards paper versions of his full report will be given out, and an electronic version will be posted on the city's website. I'll be there live-blogging via Twitter (@twitcoast), and will report more later.

Munroe's report is titled A Review of Concerts Held on the North Common January 2006 – March 2011, which means that he looked back to the very beginning of the Common concert series, the September 23, 2006 Rolling Stones show. This is good, for several reasons.

First, and most simply, we've never been told the truth about the Rolling Stones show. To this day, we don't know how many people bought tickets for the concert, and if the city provided secret loans to the promoter, Montreal's Donald K. Donald. There's always been something odd about the Stones' show, in that DKD gave up on producing Common concerts after that single show: if The Stones show was really the success we were told it was, why didn't he return for more? DKD's exit made possible Harold MacKay's entrance. In any event, we know that officials straight up lied about the attendance at subsequent Common concerts---essentially allowing the public to believe that ticket sales were twice the real number---so why should we believe the published 50,000 figure for the Stones' attendance?

Second, it means that the report is exhaustive, with regards to the Common concerts. I know that Munroe interviewed dozens of people, including former CAO Dan English, former Trade Centre Limited president Fred MacGillivray, mayor Peter Kelly, promoter Harold MacKay and an assortment of staffers both at the city and at TCL, and that Munroe has obtained every document related to the loans, including the ones I've tried to get without success. I'm assuming that Munroe will tell us why officials thought the concerts were a good idea in the first place, and how the original funding formulas were arrived at. Then, he will tell us how they evolved, and how we got to the absurd point of the city floating the upfront money for a private developer, rather than simply cutting out the cashless middleman and putting on the shows itself.

Third, I don't see how such an exhaustive analysis can be made without examining the role of Trade Centre Limited, both in the formative stage and as manager of the city bank account through which the improper loans to MacKay were made. Munroe might be overly cautious here, but I'm hoping that his report gives details of the tangled TCL-HRM relationship. So far, TCL has managed to insulate itself from the worst of the scandal fallout by putting forward the rather remarkable claim that as manager of the city's money it had no responsibility to vet the appropriateness of any use made of that money. I think we'll see a couple of things in Munroe's report---he'll likely call bullshit on TCL's "We're not responsible" claim, and more important, he'll show that TCL was much, much more involved in the concert business than has been let on, right from the start. It's possible that Munroe will ask provincial auditor general Jacques Lapointe to specifically examine TCL's role in the concerts.

Still and all, Munroe's report is necessarily limited---"I needed a specific starting point," he told me a few weeks ago, explaining that he couldn't examine the entire history of TCL-HRM dealings, which date back to the old city of Halifax and the building of the Metro Centre in the 1980s [correction, 7 June: the Metro Centre was built in 1978; the operating agreement between the city and TCL was signed in 1982.]. I don't fault him here; he's an accountant, not a historian, political scientist or journalist, and he has a specific mandate to look at the concert loans.

But the concert loans should be understood in context of a much broader story about how Nova Scotia decided to become a tourism mecca. There's an elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, but there's a direct line from the Commonwealth Games fiasco to the Common concerts fiasco to the proposed convention centre.

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