CFL Stadium Redux– don’t say no one knew

A year ago, nine Halifax Regional councillors and the mayor – after a positive report from HRM’s Corporate Services staff — committed $20 million to help build a CFL stadium for HRM. A private company, Schooner Sports and Entertainment (SSE), proposed a 24,000 seat stadium. Many economists have warned that the impact of these projects on communities is minimal, and are often a real obstacle to sensible — and useful — development in local neighbourhoods. In fact, regardless of how you look at it, there is little to no evidence that public investments in stadiums generate net economic benefits. “NFL stadiums do not generate significant local economic growth, and the incremental tax revenue is not sufficient to cover any significant financial contribution by the city,” said Roger Noll, an economist and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

One year later, Covid has delayed financing and building the stadium, and much more. As for the $20 million agreement by Halifax Regional Council, last year’s council was largely swept aside in this year’s election. Five of the ten councillors who voted for the stadium are no longer on council. The four men and one woman who voted yes to the stadium, have been replaced by five women councillors – who are unlikely to endorse using taxpayers’ money to build a CFL stadium.
At least that is how it looks now, in late December 2020.

Architects’ sketch of the proposed new stadium, published in the Halifax Examiner

So how is it, a mere two days after Christmas 2020, that Gary Drummond, a founding partner of SSE, is aggressively talking up the stadium to have it ready for games in 2022. “We’re more optimistic than we’ve ever been, probably on the stadium itself,” Drummond confidently told a CBC reporter.

How is it after a Christmas season that flagged Nova Scotia: with the third highest rate of child poverty in the country (and the highest in Atlantic Canada); as the province with an increasingly high reliance on food banks to feed thousands; as a place with growing homelessness, and a capital city — Halifax — with hundreds who have no homes and an urgent need for affordable housing — neither the mayor nor anyone in power is seriously connecting the dots? Christmas 2020 saw the rate of child poverty in NS increase by almost 2% from last year. In fact in NS, nearly one in four children live in poverty, while one in two children, who live in lone-parent homes, live in poverty. How is it that Gary Drummond and his cronies still think the public purse should spend one penny toward their stadium?

David Fleming, Canadian economist, insists that using public money for stadiums helps

“billionaires pay less for a service they can afford.…[a stadium] is an unnecessary privilege rather than a necessity.”

David Fleming

Can anybody honestly say that in the wake of the world changing due to Covid, thousands of jobs disappearing possibly forever, and poverty nipping at the heels of many in Halifax that no better use of $20 million could be found? Wouldn’t improved city infrastructure, affordable housing, accessible mental health services benefit local people more?

Haligonians learned something when Canada’s bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Halifax was abruptly withdrawn in 2007. The provincial government blinked when presented with a $1 billion plus price tag for the games. Though three levels of government at first agreed to share the cost, when NS’s then-Tory government bailed, the bid was dropped.

Pickets outside on opening day of the Hfx Convention Centre, Dec. 2017

Have we learned nothing from the construction of the recent biggest white elephant– the Nova Centre? Three levels of government ponied up more than $169.2 million to build the new Convention Centre which was sparsely booked even before Covid, and now stands empty. But taxpayers must continue to bail it out — this year to tune of $11.1 million. Can we not face the fact the city “fathers” – in their rush to assist their developer and ‘downtown’ business buddies — made an outrageous error that will cost Nova Scotians – from cleaning ladies to lawyers — hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 25 years?

Don’t say the politicians were not warned then, and don’t say they are not warned now.

Featured Image: Bentwood Box by B.C. Coast Salish artist Luke Marston. He was asked by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission  to fashion a box as a tribute to residential school survivors. The “Bentwood Box” was made out of one piece of red cedar, its panels carved to represent the cultures of Inuit, Metis and First Nations peoples.

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