So Darrell Dexter’s government has decided to gamble $163.5 million of our tax dollars over the next 25 years on a spiffy new, super-sized, half-billion-dollar downtown-convention-centre-bunker-hotel-and-office-tower complex we may or may not be able to fill five years from now.
That reckoning—conveniently and perhaps not coincidentally—will coincide nicely with when the bills actually begin to come due and—even more conveniently—after the next provincial election.
During last week’s funding announcement in front of a fawning group of convention centre boosters and self-interested lobbyists, the premier emphasized the development’s big-league-making proportions—“one of the largest building projects to take place in our city’s history”—and, of course, the centre’s “potential” to generate “far-reaching… spin offs” along with its “potential to create tremendous economic opportunities for the entire province.”
Far too much about this new convention centre is based on its hope-and-prayer “potential,” its smoke-and-mirror benefits and its too many unquestioned assumptions.
For starters, of course, there is the question of whether it can succeed. There has been an ongoing, North America-wide decline in the number of larger conventions this centre is designed to attract at a time when many other cities are already building similar facilities to compete for that shrinking market.
Potential benefits? Jobs? Twelve thousand, says Estabrooks; 27,000 over 10 years boasts Trade Centre Ltd. B.S., counters anyone who can count. Even the consultants the Trade Centre hired to come up with positive numbers don’t claim that.
There is also the question of whether this is really just another suspect public-private partnership in which taxpayers get fleeced while developers count profits? Remember P-3 schools? The $50-plus million the auditor general says we’re currently spending unnecessarily on them?
Infrastructure Minister Bill Estabrooks insists this isn’t a dreaded P-3 project. But taxpayers are putting up the cash to build it. And the developer will own it. Sounds like P-3 to me.
And so it goes.
But the larger question of whether the convention centre makes sense isn’t really the government’s worry. It’s more concerned about hard hats on the construction site come election day and bills that don’t have to be paid until after.
Perhaps not such a gamble after all.