CBC Radio Mainstreet host Stephanie Domet had an interesting conversation last week with Liberal MP Scott Brison and former provincial PC leadership candidate Bill Black.

The topic: Taming Nova Scotia’s debt woes.

While Black in particular had many thoughtful things to say, I was intrigued by his answer to one question. Does it really make sense for a debt-saddled province to commit $163.5 million over 25 years to construct a new convention centre?


Black had clearly examined the numbers behind convention centre proponents’ better-than-sliced-bread claims and pronounced them “inflated.” Despite that, he concluded we would probably look back in 20 years and say building the centre was money well spent.

That’s curious. Forget what the research says because we know it lies, but don’t worry. It will work out. Be happy.

But could that $163.5 million not be invested as well — if not better — in improving support for the 4,000, often under-achieving black students in our school system?

More education. Higher skills. Better paying jobs. More provincial taxes…

Education Minister Marilyn More last week “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with all 68 recommendations in a 2009 report on helping African-Nova Scotian students. But she didn’t put a penny toward that goal.

Instead, the government anted up $163.5 million for a convention centre, most of whose ongoing jobs will likely be part time and low paying.

Investing in a convention centre is a choice — with consequences.

Unsurprisingly, many who want governments to sink public money into a convention centre also advocate spending and tax cuts designed to limit even more public opportunities to invest in better-educated, more-qualified citizens.

Take the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. After last week’s convention announcement, president Valerie Payn gushed “she could feel the positive vibes already” from the decision to pour public money into a convention bunker we won’t own.

Three months earlier, she was bleating the provincial budget didn’t reduce the small business tax rate as much as the chamber wanted and increased the hated HST by two per cent.

“Our members have told us they wanted the province to look for spending cuts,” she said.

Oh, yes, and a convention centre.

Beware those who conflate private with public interest.

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