Send in the Centre

An unconventional take on the promise conventions could bring

Adrian Lee, Opinions contributor


It’s unconventional wisdom—and it’s perhaps an unconventional way to make this argument—but the proposed convention centre is such a good maybe-bad idea, that Halifax needs to accept it.

Halifax has been mired in an identity crisis for years.  It’s a city that will criticize its mayor Peter Kelly for imposing a small-town mentality—then re-elect him in 2008. It’s an Atlantic outpost that’s the largest city in Canada east of Montreal. Depending on the day, Halifax might see itself as a town with a city feel, desiring a back-to-basics local approach, or as a city with a town feel, a cog in the Canadian milieu.

But Halifax is fading. And worse, Moncton is rallying, trying to wrest our crown. They’ve swiped a major university football tournament—one that was named after a late Halifax deputy mayor, no less. MoneySense named Moncton the fifth best place to live in Canada; Halifax languishes at 14th. Big names in music are heading that way, from U2 to… well, U2. As Nova Scotia’s offshore oil reserves, the foundation of its economy, dry up, Moncton has one of the top ten fastest growth rates in Canada, the fastest growing urban area east of Toronto. Their slogan even signals their growing cajones—“Our Tide is Rising”—and they are laying claim to Halifax trademarks, describing themselves as “Canada’s most polite and honest city”.

We need action. And what better plan do we have on the table?

I’ll admit, it’s not a great argument. There are a lot of limbs in the province that need to be tended to, where an infusion of money would undeniably help.

The fact is, it’s all conjecture. We can guess at whether or not that funding would instantly improve the province if it sunk it into health or education. We can read the reports and make predictions. But no one knows categorically whether the convention centre will succeed or fail.

The plans have evolved through the process to match public opinion, with the proposal of a city-centre structure lined by a sunny row of Argyle Street restaurants attractive to a writer who hasn’t given up on downtown Halifax, even though municipal representation shows that city hall might have (only one of the 23 councillors represents downtown). None of us can see the future, to all of our dismay. So then why are we standing in the way of a sharp-knifed stab in the dark?

Frankly, not knowing is tough. Sure, we have our estimations: that in 10 years, we’ll have 29 conferences in there every year. But we know that this year, our current convention centre played host to seven. That number is impressive, considering both the Centre’s age and the fact that the characterless eyesore doesn’t allow “multiple, large-scaled events” according to Nina Kressler, a Trade Centre Limited vice-president. We can ask what if the conference market is growing. What if it’s shrinking? What if? What if?

But not knowing isn’t necessarily an excuse for inaction. Because the most important “what if” to me is: what if the convention centre works?

It’s a chance we should take for badly-needed energy. The Canada Games and the Oval it brought with it don’t just represent valiant efforts: they’re a clear demonstration that Halifax still wants to be considered a destination. It’s the sort of show of strength that vitalizes and unites a city.

The stakes are absolutely high. But I’m waiting to see Halifax take a stand for what it wants to stand for.

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