Bid failure leaves lessons to be learned.

As the dream of a “world class” Commonwealth Games slips from the 2014 Bid Committee’s grasp, it is time to examine the root of many citizens mistrust and fear, and the politics behind the bid.

There was palpable panic and frustration coming from Scott Logan — the bid’s head honcho — last week. Over the weekend fellow bid city Glasgow’s paper the Scotsman had run a well-written and researched news report on how our games bid was in “disarray”. Logan kicked the damage-control into high gear, claiming “The media frenzy here, the constant striving to find some kind of dirt or blood or something wrong here . . . to find scandal in everything we do, has made it very difficult on the politicians and made it very challenging on the bid committee,” in the Monday March 5th Herald.

To blame the media for reporting on the actual documented comments and concerns of elected officials if obviously ludicrous; to blame the politicians for having doubts and responding to their constituents concerns is not acceptable.

The unease and mistrust directed at the bid committee reveals the deep concerns that most Nova Scotians have about our government. Fear replaced trust in the Commonwealth Games bid process.

This province has a huge problem that crosses all departments and agencies of government – we do not have transparent, accountable and public decision making processes around funding and policy creation.

Because of the inscrutable and politically driven way in which essential programs, capital programs, and maintenance funding is decided, it is hard to get excited about something like the Games. It is hard because one is left to wonder how many of these essential services, which have to fight for funding each and every budget, will be sacrificed in order to finance the bid.

An example of this is public education funding. Specifically the funding of renovation, repair and replacement of our public schools. There ought to be be a series of formulas that are applied to this issue: a percentage of the real capital value of all buildings had to be set aside for yearly, and a multi year per-capita funding amount for renovation or replacement of buildings. A system like this would allow for sensible steady maintenance and repair or replacement of buildings, and encourage real and meaningful capital planning.

This is not the way it plays out. Instead, school boards, municipalities, MLAs and old boys bicker, intimidate and jockey for position, each trying to get the governing party to support their requests. About every two years, usually right before an election, the Cabinet approves new construction, and the Minister announces the decision to build, often in politically sensitive ridings that need that extra boost to ensure “a good election result.”

This kind of political decision making is not just an education problem. Arts funding, museums, community services, low income housing, and joint funding for municipal projects are all victims of this kind of politicization, and have been for decades.

Which brings us back to the issue of public mistrust, and fear.

The fear is that the Games, be they $800 million or $1.7 billion, would put such tremendous pressure on the finances of the province that it would become impossible to be assured that programs that currently struggle for funding to would ever get what they need to succeed. The mistrust is that current programs would suffer financially to fund the Games.

Many of pro-Games supporters are disappointed and angry today. They say things like “we need to grow up” and “we look stupid internationally” and “we need to stop being so small town.”

There is nothing more “small town” in Nova Scotia today then the politics around essential core and capital funding from the Province. Arts, municipalities, schools and museums deserve more. The public deserves more. Old style politics has to stop.

Trust will come from an engaged public developing and supporting a transparent and fair policy framework that guides how multi-year public funding is determined in all of these areas.

Nova Scotia needs a change, or we will continue to fear change… and often, with good reason.


Waye Mason is music and festival promoter, business consultant and education activist in Halifax, Nova Scotia


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  • Gary Drummond

    You’re right. I moved here from Manitoba in 2001 (after a 25 yr absence). This province is politically immature . I really see no difference between the Liberals and PCs. Governments here seem to lack vision, and do as little as possible – which coincides with the expectations of the public.

    I love this place, the scenery, the climate….my ancestors came here in 1760. But health care is poor, the roads are bad, people are backward and see nothing wrong with dumping their garbage in the woods. The government allows clear cutting, strip mining, and quarries in ecologically sensitive areas. Then it wonders about tourism being down. It stands in the way of energy deregulation, renewable energy, open government.

    Museums would help tourism, and I am with you there. This province has beauty that rivals Ireland, but just look at how immature our tourism industry is.

    The province will fill up with seniors and depopulate unless something is done to haul it out of the 1970s and into this century. I just don’t see the public will.

    I was impressed to see a bit of common sense prevail over these Commonwealth Games today.

    Thats my rant. Nice blog.

  • Gary Drummond

    You’re right. I moved here from Manitoba in 2001 (after a 25 yr absence). This province is politically immature . I really see no difference between the Liberals and PCs. Governments here seem to lack vision, and do as little as possible – which coincides with the expectations of the public.

    I love this place, the scenery, the climate….my ancestors came here in 1760. But health care is poor, the roads are bad, people are backward and see nothing wrong with dumping their garbage in the woods. The government allows clear cutting, strip mining, and quarries in ecologically sensitive areas. Then it wonders about tourism being down. It stands in the way of energy deregulation, renewable energy, open government.

    Museums would help tourism, and I am with you there. This province has beauty that rivals Ireland, but just look at how immature our tourism industry is.

    The province will fill up with seniors and depopulate unless something is done to haul it out of the 1970s and into this century. I just don’t see the public will.

    I was impressed to see a bit of common sense prevail over these Commonwealth Games today.

    Thats my rant. Nice blog.

  • I really honest to god think we can change it. It is time for the Nova Scotia quiet revolution… cultural, economic, political change has to happen. Money is no longer an issue, its just a matter of will!

    Thanks for the comment!

  • I really honest to god think we can change it. It is time for the Nova Scotia quiet revolution… cultural, economic, political change has to happen. Money is no longer an issue, its just a matter of will!

    Thanks for the comment!

  • Charlene

    Don’t forget the environment, and other lowly non-profit led issues like poverty!

    It’s true–the last government I remember thinking were truly visionary about anything, to the point of sacrificing themselves politically for real gain in NS, were the Savage Liberals. With Ron Stewart leading, they were able to accomplish huge gains in health care… at what cost? The Liberals are still recovering. They got called arrogant, because they set out as if they were working in the long term, and made solid action.

    What party leader now would have the guts to do that? The problem is, as constituents, we are fickle and instead of seeking true understanding of the issues and consensus, we complain about the weather. We wait for the gov’t to do something, and then react to it by criticizing. There is not a proactive citizenry in NS, in the central area anyway. I am suspicious that further from core, there are very active little belts of rural residents arranging their communities how they want em to run and working around the gov’t instead of with it, because they have to.

    Where was I going with that? Oh yes… more long term vision, dammit. Nowhere is this lack more apparent than in environment. We’re trying to fight climate change, hundreds of years in the making (our accelerated part, anyway) with six month and one year fundings. Enough for a pilot project. No core funding, no monies to develop capacity or encourage staff training. Every staff turnover means starting over to some degree… projects rarely get beyond the pilot stage, and there is never enough to tackle really large, meaningful projects. And then the funders–mostly government–demand more measurable outcomes. Just like in education, more time reporting and measuring is less time doing.

    Does any of this have to do with the games? I feel only a tiny bit bad for the Bid committee, who were so wrapped up in their external audience, the international judges, that they SEVERELY misjudged the home crowd, who turned ugly.

    Great rant, Mr. Mason!

  • Charlene

    Don’t forget the environment, and other lowly non-profit led issues like poverty!

    It’s true–the last government I remember thinking were truly visionary about anything, to the point of sacrificing themselves politically for real gain in NS, were the Savage Liberals. With Ron Stewart leading, they were able to accomplish huge gains in health care… at what cost? The Liberals are still recovering. They got called arrogant, because they set out as if they were working in the long term, and made solid action.

    What party leader now would have the guts to do that? The problem is, as constituents, we are fickle and instead of seeking true understanding of the issues and consensus, we complain about the weather. We wait for the gov’t to do something, and then react to it by criticizing. There is not a proactive citizenry in NS, in the central area anyway. I am suspicious that further from core, there are very active little belts of rural residents arranging their communities how they want em to run and working around the gov’t instead of with it, because they have to.

    Where was I going with that? Oh yes… more long term vision, dammit. Nowhere is this lack more apparent than in environment. We’re trying to fight climate change, hundreds of years in the making (our accelerated part, anyway) with six month and one year fundings. Enough for a pilot project. No core funding, no monies to develop capacity or encourage staff training. Every staff turnover means starting over to some degree… projects rarely get beyond the pilot stage, and there is never enough to tackle really large, meaningful projects. And then the funders–mostly government–demand more measurable outcomes. Just like in education, more time reporting and measuring is less time doing.

    Does any of this have to do with the games? I feel only a tiny bit bad for the Bid committee, who were so wrapped up in their external audience, the international judges, that they SEVERELY misjudged the home crowd, who turned ugly.

    Great rant, Mr. Mason!

  • Hey Waye, I sent this into Z103.5 (don’t laugh), but they read it pretty much verbatim..

    Hi Shane, Jeff and Nikki,

    Been listening all morning and I can’t believe people’s responses. I hope you can find time to read some of this e-mail. I tend to put my words in order better when it’s in an e-mail..

    The government’s decision to cancel the Games bid was the most intelligent thing this provincial and municipal governments have ever done.

    When the budget was $850 Million, it was fine. The federal government was to pitch in $400 million and the province, another $300 million.

    Those numbers wouldn’t change regardless of the final cost. So now the “estimate” is $1.7 billion. That leaves the city of Halifax with a bill of $1 billion. Say that again…. $1 billion.

    Where does that money end up coming from? Taxpayers pockets.. and it doesn’t end up going to services that really need the money.. roads, transit, schools.

    The overrun cost would bankrupt the city.. for the long term.

    Had they said from the beginning that the cost would be so high, then there could have been some discussion on it.. But the secrecy, the hidden agendas that are now clear, are the real embarrassment. When the “international community” looks back and tries to understand what happened to our bid, they’ll be smart enough to realize the real culprits are the organizations who were so busy trying to push this through without any accountability.

    This was the best possible result for this city. I just hope that all the moneyt raised so far, will now go to homeless shelters, or another noble cause.

    Regards,

    Ian Daye

  • Hey Waye, I sent this into Z103.5 (don’t laugh), but they read it pretty much verbatim..

    Hi Shane, Jeff and Nikki,

    Been listening all morning and I can’t believe people’s responses. I hope you can find time to read some of this e-mail. I tend to put my words in order better when it’s in an e-mail..

    The government’s decision to cancel the Games bid was the most intelligent thing this provincial and municipal governments have ever done.

    When the budget was $850 Million, it was fine. The federal government was to pitch in $400 million and the province, another $300 million.

    Those numbers wouldn’t change regardless of the final cost. So now the “estimate” is $1.7 billion. That leaves the city of Halifax with a bill of $1 billion. Say that again…. $1 billion.

    Where does that money end up coming from? Taxpayers pockets.. and it doesn’t end up going to services that really need the money.. roads, transit, schools.

    The overrun cost would bankrupt the city.. for the long term.

    Had they said from the beginning that the cost would be so high, then there could have been some discussion on it.. But the secrecy, the hidden agendas that are now clear, are the real embarrassment. When the “international community” looks back and tries to understand what happened to our bid, they’ll be smart enough to realize the real culprits are the organizations who were so busy trying to push this through without any accountability.

    This was the best possible result for this city. I just hope that all the moneyt raised so far, will now go to homeless shelters, or another noble cause.

    Regards,

    Ian Daye

  • Charlene

    I think the Commonwealth Committee’s biggest sin was not knowing their at-home audience. The talk of “elite athletes” (switched yesterday to “high performance” athletes, I notice) does little to assure the average Nova Scotian that they have something to gain from the games. Especially with Fred M leading it (and I respect the man enormously), it seemed to wear the face of an event to benefit a few at a great cost to the many. The benefits of all NS were NOT adequately communicated and reaffirmed.

  • Charlene

    I think the Commonwealth Committee’s biggest sin was not knowing their at-home audience. The talk of “elite athletes” (switched yesterday to “high performance” athletes, I notice) does little to assure the average Nova Scotian that they have something to gain from the games. Especially with Fred M leading it (and I respect the man enormously), it seemed to wear the face of an event to benefit a few at a great cost to the many. The benefits of all NS were NOT adequately communicated and reaffirmed.

  • Gary Drummond

    It would have been nice to see the athletes and games lobby exercise a little bit of common sense when the true cost came to light. Instead they resorted to name calling, etc.

    Where do they think the money is going to come from? Is it fair to burden successive GENERATIONS of Nova Scotians with a billion dollar (or more) debt for the sake of a sporting event? Meanwhile, it was reported on the news today that over 100,000 Nova Scotians live in poverty. A lot of us can’t find a family doctor….. Enough said.

  • Gary Drummond

    It would have been nice to see the athletes and games lobby exercise a little bit of common sense when the true cost came to light. Instead they resorted to name calling, etc.

    Where do they think the money is going to come from? Is it fair to burden successive GENERATIONS of Nova Scotians with a billion dollar (or more) debt for the sake of a sporting event? Meanwhile, it was reported on the news today that over 100,000 Nova Scotians live in poverty. A lot of us can’t find a family doctor….. Enough said.

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