The Halifax Convention Centre – a bottomless money pit?

December 13, 2010

HALIFAX, NS – The proposed new convention centre has the potential to be a bottomless money pit, cautions a new report being released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives–Nova Scotia. Entitled Convention Centre in Nova Scotia: Economic Wellspring or Bottomless Pit, report author, Christopher Majka, has dug deep into the business case for the proposed new convention centre for Halifax.

He has examined its finances and the assumptions that underlie them, to provide a critical analysis of its potential costs, benefits, and associated risks.  This was no small endeavour as he had to comb through all of the various consultants reports and other documents to present an independent analysis of the project.

According to Majka, “Even factoring in wider economic impacts and spinoffs that have the potential to generate tax revenues, there is no scenario under which the project as a whole can even break even. Prudent and conservative numbers derived from the various studies of the centre itself indicate that it will lose in excess of $200 million over 25 years.”

The report reveals that the business case weighs straightforward immediate costs, against potential very long term (25 year) benefits mainly from the economic spinoffs.  Yes, it will create some jobs, and there will be some benefit to private business (notably to the developers of the Nova Center project). These “benefits” can hardly justify such a large expenditure of public funds, particularly in a project in which there is no resulting public equity for the very sizeable public investment required. And, one in which there will actually be no net gain for citizens of this province.

Recognizing that all development projects have some risks attached, as the author details them, the benefits of this project are almost entirely dependent on uncontrollable variables such as social, environmental, technological, and macroeconomic forces. Revenues of the project are highly predicated on attracting increasing numbers of high-spending national and international delegates, and converting them while here into equally high-spending tourists, and enticing them to return in the future.

This report should give us all pause for a number of reasons. The provincial government needs to be held accountable for its decision to support this project. This report points out all of the various vulnerabilities that exist in the business case that cannot be denied based on the official documentation available to everyone who wants to read them. 

Also, complicated as the results of the analysis presented in this report may necessarily be, they are at least several orders of magnitude easier to understand than any attempt to comprehend the many dense, complicated, sometimes contradictory, and often incomplete reports that make up the convention centre “proposal” as it presently stands. As the author also points out, “It is a disservice to the public to present a case for a publicly-funded project such as this convention centre project in such a fragmented, incomplete, and complicated way that there is next to no possibility that an elected decision maker, or journalist – or indeed average citizen – can actually understand it.”

Finally, neither opponents nor proponents desire a city mired in stagnant status quo. However, the corollary is not to leap at any and every development proposal.

In the interests of stepping back from the polarized debate, we hope that this report further advances a critical democratic dialogue about the business case for the centre, as well as (and perhaps more importantly) wider debates about social and economic development within Nova Scotia.

This report does not address whether this is the best use of public money given other options, as is detailed in a CCPA-NS editorial on this issue, wherein the CCPA-NS Director Christine Saulnier concludes: “Surely, less risky projects do not require us to subsidize a private developer and wait patiently for a dubious trickle-down effect that many Nova Scotian families and individuals will never feel.”


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To download a free copy of the full report Convention Centre in Nova Scotia: Economic Wellspring or Bottomless Pit, and the editorial (what economic development policy requires a convention centre?), go to

For media interviews, please contact Christopher Majka at 425-3725 or <[email protected]>.