Canada PM Harper: If we buy Quebec an arena, everyone will want one

Even as Quebec elected officials were donning Quebec Nordiques jerseys to push for government funding of an arena that could lead to the return of an NHL team to that city, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper edged away from committing to provide federal money for an arena, as local officials have requested. The problem, he says, is that it would risk opening the floodgates:

“You know, in terms of financing any of these things going forward, we’re going to have to respect the precedents we had in the past and be sure any treatment we’re prepared to give to one major city we’re prepared to give to all,” he said. “Obviously we’ll be looking at our options in that context.”

Beyond funding the Quebec City arena, Harper is facing questions about whether he will provide money to build a new stadium for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“Whatever we do in these two cities, we have to be prepared to do everywhere,” Harper said. “Ultimately, professional sports teams themselves have to be sound business propositions.”

That’s all pretty vague and noncommittal, obviously, but the simplest way of reading the tea leaves is that Harper wants to find a way to keep his Quebec MPs happy, but is wary of busting the budget to do so. Some observers have suggested that he could allow provinces to take federal infrastructure money that they’re already set to receive and use it for sports facilities; that would leave the provinces short of money for actual infrastructure, but at least it’d make it their problem, not his.

In any case, if Harper does move ahead with some sort of subsidy plan, it would make for a huge shift in Canadian sports stadium financing, which has traditionally relied mostly on private money. This is one that bears watching closely, on both sides of the border.

7 comments on “Canada PM Harper: If we buy Quebec an arena, everyone will want one

  1. Err…, Neil, I think you meant to title this post “If we buy Quebec City an arena, everyone will want one” — no?.

    The Federal government did, in fact, chip in $6 million (of $226 million) for Ottawa’s arena way back when — but the present controversy (front page news across Canada, number one story on the G&M site yesterday) is that they are considering footing a much larger portion of the proposed Quebec Arena.

    However, for an outsider to really appreciate what is going on here, you’d have to brush up on the delicate nuances of Canadian constitutional history. This has less to do with hockey than it does to with historical regional resentments (ever heard of the “Crow rate”?), Separatism, “Western alienation” and Harper’s betrayal of the founding principals of the “Canadian Reform Alliance Party” (Yes! It’s true. They actually named themselves “CRAP”, until everyone started giggling). Believe it or not, this is all exciting stuff if you are a political junkie like myself with a side interest in the political economy of sports.

  2. Oy — yes, dumb typo, apologies. As the item should make clear, I knew this was about Quebec City, but my headline-typing fingers had idas of their own…

  3. “Didn’t BMO Field already use federal funds? or was that provincial funds?”

    Both federal and provincial including the city of Toronto which has the ownership of stadium.

  4. From what I understand (and this is what I’ve heard on the radio, I don’t have a link) Quebec City is going to get their financing by placing the arena at Laval University. This is why BMO Field got the cash it did from the Feds; it was built on the campus of University of Toronto where the government has little problem pumping money into (unless you’re a student looking for help with food and books).

    So while the government won’t subsidize private business and their infrastructure they will (conveniently enough) subsidize improvements and necessary infrastructure at Universities across Canada which can be then used by private interests.

    But the government knows enough that there would be an outrage in Western Canada if Quebec City got a fully paid for arena and the two cities in Alberta were left out. Especially with a potential election looming. So apparently cash will be found for Edmonton and Calgary for their new buildings.

  5. Just to keep the record straight, BMO Field is not located on — or near — the campus of the University of Toronto. It is located on (in?) the Canadian Exhibition Place grounds — which are owned by the city of Toronto (U of T plays in the venerable Varsity Stadium). The new soccer stadium is located on the former site of Exhibition Stadium (in fact BMO Field is the 5th Stadium to be built on that site since 1879).

    The Federal government contributed $27 million to the $62 million cost of construction (Quebec City is looking for somewhere in the neighbourhood of a $400 million contribution). “Canada’s National Soccer stadium” (now BMO Field) was built as part of Canada’s successful bid for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup. It is this junior World Cup bid that was the justification for a federal contribution — not university infrastructure. Similarly, the federal government has contributed to the building of sport infrastructure for the Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan-Am games in other cities. Thus, you now see Quebec City pushing the possibility of a Winter Olympic bid as a means of justifying federal funding of the arena. Kinda putting the cart before the horse, but worth a shot from their perspective I suppose.