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Small businesses doubt economic impact of Halifax International Security Forum

'It doesn't do anything,' one business owner says of these types of events

3 min read
caption Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan greets another participant in the hotel lobby
Halifax Int'l Security Forum
caption Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan greets another participant in the hotel lobby of the Westin.
Halifax Int'l Security Forum

From Nov. 17 to Nov. 19, the Westin Nova Scotian hotel was closed to the public for the Halifax International Security Forum. This year it boasts more than 1,800 hotel reservations and a restaurant full of conference delegates. But outside, some local businesses barely notice.

Since 2009, the forum has seen more than 300 participants from 91 democratic countries and their international delegations come to Halifax. Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan travelled to Nova Scotia to host this year’s event.

Former Canadian defence minister Peter MacKay said it’s a boon for the community of Halifax.

“People who probably wouldn’t be coming to this city otherwise, you have a weekend where the hotel is full, taxi cabs are being used, restaurants are being used,” he said in an interview Friday. 

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Halifax impact

Glenn Bowie, area director of sales and marketing at the Westin, agreed with MacKay that the security forum has an impact on the local economy.

He said last year rooms were booked at 12 different hotels for the weekend. This year, 20 private planes refuel at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, pilots and crew book hotel rooms for the weekend, tables are reserved at 21 restaurants and more than 20 vehicles are chartered for moving delegates from one place to the next.

“It’s so good for our city and a lot of (other) cities would love to have it,” said Bowie.

Ally Milne, general manager of Piatto restaurant on Hollis Street, said she does see extra customers coming from the Westin over the weekend. She identifies security forum delegates from the lanyards around their necks.

But Tracy Stevens said it doesn’t make much difference to his business, Trident Cafe, which is near the hotel. He notices forum participants by the way they look when they walk in. He said one of his customers on Friday had an earpiece.

Stevens is doubtful that this and similar events are beneficial to small businesses. He said some of the regulars at his cafe choose not to go downtown if they hear about tourists coming in.

“What’s typical of all of those schemes downtown — the buskers’ festival and all that stuff — is that it doesn’t do anything,” he said. 

Kristine Jagoe has been working at Layers bakery on Barrington Street for five years. She said she’s heard of the security forum but she never noticed participants coming from there.

The forum is paid for by a public-private partnership, including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the Department of National Defence. The defence department allotted $3.3 million for this year’s forum, while ACOA contributed $250,000.

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