Commonwealth Games supporters repeatedly cited public opinion polls that showed the public was solidly behind the Games effort. Those polls, however, asked incomplete questions and were conducted by a polling firm that has a business relationship with a design company that won nearly half a million dollars in Games-related contracts.
Corporate Research Associates is a public opinion and market research firm owned and operated by Don Mills, who was also one of the co-chairs (with his brother, Jim Mills) of Bring on the Games, a group dedicated to drumming up support for Halifax’s 2014 Commonwealth Games bid.
CRA conducted on-going polls around the Commonwealth Games issue, and found that Nova Scotians consistently supported the bid effort. For example, a poll conducted between November 9 and December 5, 2006, found that “nearly eight-in-ten Nova Scotians strongly (38 percent) or mostly (39 percent) support Halifax hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2014,” according to a CRA press release.
The single Commonwealth Games-related question for that poll read, in its entirety: “Halifax is the city chosen to represent Canada in competition with Glasgow, Scotland and Abuja, Nigeria to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Do you completely support, mostly support, mostly oppose, or completely oppose Halifax hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2014?”
Questioners did not inform respondents of the announced $785 million price tag of the Games, or that the bulk of the costs would be paid with their tax dollars. Nor was any mention made of any other potential economic benefits or costs of the Games. As far as uninformed respondents knew, the Games could cost nothing at all.
That didn’t stop Mills from celebrating great public support for the Games in the CRA press release. “Clearly, Nova Scotians are solidly behind Halifax’s bid for the 2014 Games and recognize the significant economic benefits that will accrue to the entire province,” he stated.
Games critic Bruce DeVenne and others accused Mills of bias—his prominent advocacy for Halifax 2014 call the poll results into question, DeVenne argued.
Mills disputes this characterization. “I had nothing to do with the questions,” he tells me. “The questions were drawn up by Peter McIntosh, our vice president of public affairs. I distanced myself from the poll.”
But beyond simple advocacy, Mills also has a relationship with Colour, a design firm that contracted with Halifax 2014 to perform work priced at nearly half a million dollars.
On August 2, 2006 Colour was awarded a $77,000 contract by Halifax 2014’s executive committee to produce materials for the international lobbying effort, including “a PowerPoint presentation, high quality ‘leave behind’ and a short video,” according to the meeting minutes. Additionally, on February 14, 2007 the committee approved a $400,000 contract for Colour to produce the actual “bid book” that would be delivered to the London, England-based Commonwealth Games Federation in May.
Mills’ firm, Corporate Research Associates, is associated with Colour as two of three companies collected as the CCL Group. Mills is vice-president of CCL.
“I have no financial stake at all in Colour—zip,” Mills told me. “CCL is not a holding company. It’s a loose group of three companies that share services—accounting, reception, and bulk purchasing. That’s it. In fact, we compete for some of the same business.”
But Steve Parker, CCL’s CEO, explains the group this way on CLL’s web site: “CCL Group is the hub which connects each of these strong operating companies to the other. Some of these connections are physical, embodied in shared facilities, systems and human resources. Some are metaphysical: like shared values for instance, and common purpose.”
The three companies that comprise CCL do, admits Mills, sometimes market themselves as a group.
Given CCL’s “common purpose” relationship, doesn’t Mills have an interest in the financial health of Colour?
“No,” Mills responds. “It makes no difference to my life one way or the other if Colour makes money.”
Mills tells me that he does not receive a salary as vice-president of CCL, and that although he was aware “near the end” that Colour did some work for Halifax 2014, he knew nothing of the particulars.
Mills continues to insist that the Commonwealth Games were a worthy pursuit and that “the media isn’t telling the whole story.” He points to a more recent poll that found 52 percent of Nova Scotians either completely or mostly agree that the provincial government “acted prematurely in its decision to withdraw from the 2014 Commonwealth Games bid.”
As with earlier CRA polls, respondents to that poll were not informed of projected Games costs, or that those costs would be paid mostly with tax money.