Group wants Kelly out

With the mayor mired in a controversy over cash advances to concert promoters, one ad-hoc group of protesters has taken to Facebook to call for his resignation.

The unorganized, grassroots movement popped up in the latter part of last week under the banner “PETER KELLY – RESIGN NOW.”

Halifax City Hall (Justin Ling Photo)

By Justin Ling

With the mayor mired in a controversy over cash advances to concert promoters, one ad-hoc group of protesters has taken to Facebook to call for his resignation.

The unorganized, grassroots movement popped up in the latter part of last week under the banner “PETER KELLY – RESIGN NOW.”

Russell Gragg, one of the early administrators of the group, says the membership of the group exploded within several days. He says the group doesn’t belong to any political party or organization, and that the members just want the mayor out.

Gragg criticized what he calls contradictions in the mayor’s story.

The mayor’s first statement on the embroglio was that he was unaware of the issue. He then admitted to knowing about the loans that were transferred but not authorizing them. A day later, he stated that he authorized the loans be given to promoter Harold MacKay, but that he was unaware they were against policy.

“This would not be a tiny, obscure policy,” Gragg says. “You don’t give out grants to for-profit companies without approval of city council.”

The city lost more than $350,000 when the company went under in October. The money was transferred through Trade Centre Ltd. on the authority of then-acting chief administrative officer Wayne Anstey. Antsey resigned last week because of the scandal. The province also lost $300,000.

The concerts in question brought The Black Eyed Peas, KISS, Keith Urban and Paul McCartney to the Halifax Commons.

“We all knew in our guts that there was something fishy about the concerts in general,” says Gragg. “This has been going on for years.”

“It calls a lot of his term of mayor into question.”

Gragg says the right thing for Kelly to do is step down but he’s not sure if he will.

“If the public pressure continues, that would certainly affect his decision.” Gragg said.

He says he hopes to organize letter writing campaigns and protests at city hall. “Next week it will be very interesting to see what happens at the grassroots level.”

While the group previously believed it would be impossible to force Kelly from office, AllNovaScotia.com reported Sunday that it might be doable. The site reported that both the province and city council have the ability to dump the mayor, though it may be a complicated process.

Gragg noted, with a sense of hyperbole, “If they can overthrow Mubarak (using Facebook and Twitter) it’s not inconceivable to think that we could force out a mayor.”

Gragg has lived in several cities across the country, including Calgary when Al Duerr was the mayor. Gragg says Duerr and Kelly are a lot alike. He says their styles are largely managerial and focused on cutting ribbons and kissing babies.

“(Duerr) got credit for not letting the city burn down.” Gragg says.

Calgary recently elected Canada’s first Muslim mayor, Naheed Nenshi, on a wave of grassroots support led by social media.

Asked if Halifax is capable of the same sort of shake-up, Gragg responded,

“Yes, absolutely.”