Banning developer cash: methinks thou dost protest a bit too much

Well, Brad Johns certainly kicked over a few hornets’ houses.


The Sackville municipal councilor had the temerity last month to suggest “individuals or businesses directly involved with the development industry” be banned from contributing to local candidates’ elections.

Within days, prominent Halifax developer Wadih Fares was demanding an apology. “Who does he think we are? A bunch of Mafia,” he asked Fares, a Progress magazine 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year, owns and manages more than 600 local properties and is currently developing the $30-million Trillium condo project on South Park Street.

Letters of support—“well done!”—flowed into the website, which is popular among the city’s business elite.

Chronicle-Herald columnist Marilla Stephenson punctuated her report on Johns’ motion with an appalled: “Get this.”

Johns’ fellow councilor Debbie Hum had “great concerns. There are a whole lot of implications.”

Uh… why is everyone so knicker-knotted?

By Johns own rough calculations, 30 per cent of council decisions involve development of one sort or another—from home renovations, to suburban subdivisions, to $150-million-plus projects like the whatever-happened-to the Twisted Sisters towers to public-private partnerships like the proposed $500-million convention centre complex. Late last year, Dalhousie’s Planning and Design Centre produced a map showing 23 approved downtown projects. Total cost for the 17 that included price tags: more than $1.4 billion.

That’s a lot of money, a lot of reasons for a developer to try to nudge a bureaucrat’s recommendation or a politician’s vote.

Not to suggest this has ever, ever happened in Halifax, of course.

But in cities with greater transparency and/or a more curious press, such things do sometimes happen.

In Vancouver in 2008, for example, council secretly approved—shades of Concertgate—a $100 million loan to the developer of the Olympic village. In Montreal, Maclean’s reported in 2009 that “the city’s real estate corporation, run by [the mayor’s] former chief of staff, was found to have made a sweetheart land deal to a well-connected developer.”

Although Johns has wisely now expanded his motion to include all corporations and unions, I’m still curious to know why so many people seem to have such difficulty with Johns’ simple desire to “remove the ability to make an accusation.”


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