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The Savage truth

Leading mayoral candidate Mike Savage is failing to address the most important issue facing the city he wants to run.


Leading mayoral candidate Mike Savage is failing to address the most important issue facing the city he wants to run.

A single tweet from mayoral candidate Mike Savage's Twitter account (@MikeSavageHRM) has got me immensely worried about Halifax's future. It reads: "Part of an appreciative crowd at a Tribute to Fred MacGillivray..put on by St. Pauls church. Fred & Joanne..great leaders."

Fred MacGillivray is a former grocery chain executive who went on to become president of provincial crown corporation Trade Centre Limited, where he worked to grow the TCL empire. MacGillivray retired in 2009 with, in addition to his normal public employee pension, a supplemental pension recently valued at $1,000,821.

MacGillivray's sins are multiple, but let's talk about three.

First, the Commonwealth Games fiasco, marshalled by MacGillivray as chair of the Halifax 2014 Bid Committee. The committee burned through $8.5 million of public money (including $3 million from the city) mostly on overseas travel, hosting lavish dinners for foreign dignitaries and making "donations" that look a lot like bribes to Commonwealth Games Associations in the developing world.

Worse, MacGillivray and the bid committee were told to develop plans for a "right-sized Games" costing $785 million, but secretly drew up a Games plan costing over $2 billion. Only when the escalating costs leaked, did then-premier Rodney MacDonald abort the effort.

Second is the concert scandal, which has its roots in MacGillivray's empire-building at TCL. As a report by city auditor general Larry Munroe explains, in 2006 MacGillivray, with no authority to do so, simply lifted the city-owned Metro Box Office, which sold tickets for Metro Centre events, and made it part of TCL. Munroe goes on to explain that the Metro Box Office bank account, a city-owned asset that was managed by TCL, was the conduit for the improper concert loans, an idea first put forward by MacGillivray's successor, current TCL president Scott Ferguson, even though, as Munroe documented, Ferguson had been specifically warned by an auditor not to make such loans.

Munroe will soon publish a report looking in detail at the Metro Box Office issue---possibly even this week. I have no idea what the report will contain, but it will be one of the biggest firecracker issues facing the city council and mayor elected in October.

Third, in case no one has noticed, there's a garbage-strewn, rat-infested pit in the exact centre of downtown Halifax, the supposed home of the new convention centre, which is MacGillivray's wet dream, and was to be the feather in the cap of his TCL empire. Taxpayers are committed to paying $383.9 million over the next 25 years for the thing, if it ever gets built. My guess is that should developer Joe Ramia eventually move forward with the convention centre, he'll come back to the three levels of government and ask for more money---probably right after the October city elections. Already, the city's potential liability is unlimited---besides being obligated to pay $166.25 million towards construction and operation of the convention centre, the city will be responsible for half of its losses, up to infinity---but it's possible that the city will be asked to be held accountable for infinity plus whatever more money Ramia demands, and Savage is a supporter of the convention centre---"I believe [the convention centre is] good for business & downtown. It's time to get moving," Savage recently told me via Twitter.

This is a small town. It doesn't surprise me that Savage and MacGillivray are in the same social and church circles. I'm told that the MacGillivrays have contributed considerably to the church's various charitable efforts, but it's not particularly difficult for MacGillivray to be magnanimous when he's collecting a $1 million bonus pension. More to the point, the current ethically disgraced mayor, Peter Kelly, is also big in the church circuit---that's how the cynical get ahead in Nova Scotia.

The city's troubled relationship with TCL will come front and centre, just after the election. And Savage, the presumptive next mayor, celebrates MacGillivray as a "great leader"---the man responsible for much of the city's past and potential liability brought by TCL. This doesn't bode well for the city treasury. Unless Savage strongly demands a new relationship with TCL, or one of his competitors gets traction with the issue, we're doomed to more of the same-old ol' boy governance we've had for decades. a

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