Note: This article was published in the September 25, 2006 issue of the Chronicle Herald on the Op/Ed page.
As the mud on the North Common slowly dries under the warm fall sun, you can hear the whirling sound of government, industry and media spinning rapidly and heartily. They spin to ensure that the only message heard after the Rolling Stones concert is overwhelmingly, ridiculously positive.
On the face of it, the concert was a success. Lots of people had a good time. There was an endearing, festival like atmosphere in the streets around the site. People enjoyed themselves. No one died.
It was a great concert, well produced, in the heart of the city. It took place at the very same time as a sold out show at the Cohn, a sold out NHL exhibition game at the Metro Centre, the closing Gala of the Atlantic Film Festival. Halifax has proven that it can handle 65,000 people converging on downtown, and that is a real achievement.
While all these things are true, it does not mention the truly astonishing number of lies and miss direction by government, their agencies, the promoters and local industry in order to get the concert underway in the first place.
A lie by omission is still a lie. On Monday, September 18, the Provincial government was outed by allnovascotia.com as having made a secret contribution of $140,000 to the support the Stones show. On Tuesday, September 19, Premier Rodney MacDonald announced/acknowledged the ‘investment’ at a press conference. While the money was sent via an indirect route through Event Halifax, the province basically gave $140,000 to a private business, something it will not do for local private businesses. Where was the question: “Mr Premier, was this a hidden investment made some time ago, or a last minute bail out for a failing concert”
While the final sales numbers are not yet available, the concert sold no more than 50,000 tickets, probably closer to 47,000. This is a huge number for most bands, but it just is not very impressive for the Rolling Stones. God forbid we are reminded that Halifax was only able to draw slightly more than half the number of people that went to Moncton. If the goal was to prove that Halifax is “just as good” as Moncton, these numbers don’t do it. Promoters worldwide will be aware of this huge difference in sales.
Speaking about Moncton, they have a site at Magnetic Hill that is a permenant, large scale facility, with stage and site power, a stage bathrooms, concert pads to put portapotties and other infrastructure. Moncton has a comprehensive strategy around the multi-attraction Magnetic Hill amusement park/concert site/zoo. We have senior bureaucrats who, upset that they were upstage by Moncton, decided to “do a show” with no supporting strategy or policy framework. Ad hoc and seat of your pants, they did it because they could.
Many people inside of both the municipal and provincial government have commented privately about the large redeployment of resources inside of departments like Police, Fire, Public Works and Rec to cover costs related to this show. There will be less money to build parks and fight graffiti and send out foot patrols because of hundreds of thousands of dollars in unacknowledged costs.
These costs will never be acknowledged. The fact that there is a Halifax Common Plan, that was created after the Moosehead Grand Prix debacle, that stated that ticketed events have no place on the Common has been ignored. HRM just chose to ignore it, despite the public meetings and written input that went into creating this plan.
Most upsetting and concerning is how CTV, CBC, the Herald and all the Halifax media seemed to be hypnotized into unconditionally supporting the show. Maybe all the News Directors in town are Stone’s fans, or old boys, or both. There was no chance of a critical eye being cast on this event. Lazy and irresponsible journalism meant that a week before the show the acknowledged cost of the event to taxpayers grew from $100,000 to $240,000, with barely media ripple.
The people behind the Stones are also behind the Commonwealth games bid. Using the same math, maybe our $750 million dollar games might balloon to $1.8 billion. We have every reason to be concerned.
MORE CONCERT & STADIUM ARTICLES