New Docs In Halifax Scandal

Halifax, Nova Scotia’s misadventures in concert promotion have been widely reported for several years, but the true extent of local officials’ stumbles is just now coming to light.

New documents obtained in a Freedom of Information request from the city’s The Coast uncovered a pattern of misrepresentation, cover-ups and poor decisions on the parts of city officials in their drive to put Halifax on the map as a concert destination.

For starters, the Coast found that beginning in 2007, officials pursued many superstar acts for concerts on the Halifax Commons including Eagles, U2, Dave Matthews Band and Bruce Springsteen, to no avail. But it now appears that the city’s allegiance to one promoter in particular – Harold MacKay of the now-defunct Power Promotional Events – may have had something to do with it.

In January 2008, MacKay and an agent operating on his behalf were deep in negotiations to “bring [the] Eagles issue to a head,” according to an email from Halifax’s then-Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Anstey to a provincial official. “They are also carrying on some discussions regarding the Dave Matthews Band and U2 (both huge).”

One month later, however, Anstey wrote that it seemed “pretty certain” the Eagles would be flying instead to Moncton, New Brunswick, and that MacKay and Co. had switched gears and were putting their efforts toward securing a Paul McCartney date around the same time.

“The hope is that if we are successful and are able to make an announcement before Moncton, it will kill the Eagles concert,” Anstey added.

Unfortunately, what killed the Eagles concert may very well have been MacKay’s involvement as Events Halifax, the city’s marketing division, had been in negotiations at the same time to secure the Eagles through Donald K Donald, a Montreal firm associated with Live Nation.

Upon hearing the news, Anstey fired off an email to a person whose name was redacted, but the Coast infers was MacKay.

“[Events Halifax] are apparently saying that they and DKD have been in negotiations for 11 months to get the Eagles for Halifax,” he wrote. “Did you ever hear anything about DKD trying to get the Eagles before their recent efforts on behalf of Moncton? … Have you been asked about their claim that you drove up the price?”

Surprisingly, the incident didn’t seem to tarnish MacKay’s relationship with Anstey or other officials. PPE continued to promote a number of failed concerts on the Commons and received a number of increasingly large unauthorized cash advances ranging from “$300,000 to over $3,850,000” to put on the shows.

Meanwhile, city officials were misrepresenting the true costs of concerts, the Coast notes, as “public perception was that the city was prepared to spend $100,000 per show,” for “in kind” grants to promoters, but in reality, “the city was preparing to spend $300,000 per show, with $150,000 of that to be backed by the province.”

That tactic would prove fatal after provincial policies regarding concert funding changed. When a pair of concerts in July 2010 suffered low ticket sales and MacKay was unable to repay advances, the city was left on the hook for $359,550 and PPE went out of business.

Perhaps the most blatant example of Halifax’s allegiance to PPE (before the company went bust, of course) was an instance in early 2010 when the city was contacted by Gillett Entertainment Group (now Evenko) regarding a potential Rush concert on the Commons that July.

But because PPE had announced plans to host the 2010 Halifax Rocks concert in July featuring Kid Rock and Black Eyed Peas, Anstey turned down Gillett’s offer, the Coast said.

“We are not prepared to deliver up the Common site for your show this year,” Anstey wrote. “I hope that this decision does not impair the possibility of future ventures in Halifax.”

Hours later, Anstey reportedly received an email that noted plans for Halifax Rocks were “close to being final and I would like to meet with you to discuss this and seek your advice on our plans to approach Prov Gov’t.” MacKay sought several loans in the leadup to the show to cover Kid Rock’s advance before the artist eventually pulled out, and an additional, $600,000 loan after, according to the Coast.

“That [redacted] will cover refunds when we cancel (very confidentially next week the Kid Rock night,” an email said. “It is our plan to offer KR holders to use their ticket for BEP which should mean a lot less refunds.”

Anstey retired from his position as CAO earlier this year and linked the decision to the secret payments that he’d authorized to MacKay’s company. But the promoter apparently was still in the city’s good graces as recently as this summer.

MacKay Entertainment, a company owned by MacKay’s wife, promoted a Metallica concert in July and, at the time, the city released a statement that “all costs for the provision of municipal services will be fully recovered from the event organizer, as per our normal practice for concerts.”