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A surfer takes to the waves at Lawrencetown Beach, east of Halifax, on Dec.30, 2001. (ANDREW VAUGHAN/CP)
A surfer takes to the waves at Lawrencetown Beach, east of Halifax, on Dec.30, 2001. (ANDREW VAUGHAN/CP)

Letter from N.S.

Halifax's 'sucker record' extends to sponsored surfing competition Add to ...

Fresh off scandalous revelations of taxpayer money being slipped to a concert promoter, Halifax city council has run into controversy by voting this week to support a surfing competition.

The scheduled local stop in September by the O'Neill Cold Water Classic series, which is expected to attract to the city scores of high-level surfers, is being funded in part by $145,000 from city coffers.

One councillor, splitting hairs, said the funds were coming from a hotel levy and thus not directly from the pockets of taxpayers. But the decision is raising eyebrows about fiscal prudence.

The surfing series' headline sponsor is a company that sells, among other things, gear necessary for riding the sort of chilly waves found here. There are also practical concerns about the variable ocean conditions at Cow Bay, near Halifax. And the event is getting a wait-and-see reaction from the people who might have been expected to be most excited.

"At this stage, [the Surfing Association of Nova Scotia's]main concern is that the very people that will be the most impacted ... the local surfers and local residents, must have a voice," the group said in a statement. "So far that hasn't been the case."

The group asked Mayor Peter Kelly and city council to defer a decision on funding. The municipal politicians instead chose to go ahead with a vote Tuesday and approved the money unanimously.

Mr. Kelly is unlikely to be hurt by the ruffled feathers of the small local surfing community. But any handing of public money to private promoters is fraught in light of the recent concert fiasco. In that scandal, public money was secretly funneled to a music promoter and paid back out of ticket sales. The arrangement came to light when the promoter went bankrupt, leaving the city on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Local columnist Tim Bousquet dismissed a city staff notion that it was Halifax's reputation for hosting events that had attracted the surfing tournament's organizers.

"Yep, our fair city's sucker record is attracting firms from around the world looking for handouts," he wrote for the weekly The Coast. "The application for city funds has all the hallmarks of past scandals and problematic city grants."

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