Canadian sports subsidies less likely after Harper kills Edmonton Expo

The prospect of Canadian federal subsidies for stadium and arena projects got murkier again this week. Though Prime Minister Stephen Harper still officially remains mum on the possibility, professional tea leaf readers agreed that Harper’s decision to reject federal funding of Edmonton’s plans for a 2017 Expo sends a signal that he won’t, as previously tea-leaf-read, come up with some kind of subsidy plan to placate Quebec hockey advocates, and then more money to placate those in other Canadian cities who’d be jealous if Quebec got money and they didn’t.

As a result, all the Canadian sports teams with their hands out are scrambling to come up with new funding strategies, or at least new attempts at spin:

  • Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume immediately declared that he’s “always said I have a plan B” and “will implement that plan if necessary.” He didn’t say what the plan B was, though, and said he still hoped for federal funding for a new hockey arena.
  • Saskatchewan provincial cabinet minister Ken Cheveldayoff insisted that “I don’t think there’s any parallels that can be drawn” between the Edmonton Expo plans and his province’s plans for a new Roughriders stadium in Regina, and that he still hopes for about $100 million in federal funding. Saskatchewan is asking for money from the federal P3 Canada Fund, which subsidies public-private partnerships — but which also specifically excludes “facilities used primarily by professional athletes.” To get around this, the province is arguing that it would be building a $431 million domed stadium primarily as a “community recreation and entertainment facility,” and that the Roughriders playing there wouldn’t be its primary use.

Now word yet that I can find on how the Harper move is likely to affect the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Blue Bombers funding battles, but I’m sure that’s coming soon.

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6 comments on “Canadian sports subsidies less likely after Harper kills Edmonton Expo

  1. This is the first reasonable decision Stephen Harper has taken as prime minister (er… non-decision). Fits better than that horrible blue sweater.

    And yes, I made this comment just for the opportunity to play the quaint and earnest “take a decision” card.

  2. I would imagine Labeaume’s plan B looks very much like his plan A: demand money from the Feds “or else” (IE: a strategy meeting w Quebec separatists).

    I am far from a Harper supporter (can’t stand the greasy stooge), but I do think the decision (err, well…) to deny funding to Edm Expo is a good one. Pretty much everything they said about the ‘bid’ (which was heavily dependent, as these things are wont to be, on financial contributions from others) is true. I wish I could fund some of my projects by saying “I’ll put up 10% and I expect others to pay the remaining 90”. This is a sound plan and will be great (“trust me”, being implied, I guess).

    But as far as stadium/arena projects, Neil, I’m not sure this has any bearing. The Gov’t desperately needs votes. If they can buy them from sports fans, they will. As I’ve said before, I’m fine with limited public funding for quasi-public facilities, but not blank checks for buildings that will essentially be owned by private sports businesses. If there is a public component to the funding, there had better be one to the use of the building.

  3. Interesting take, John.

    I’m curious – assume I am a mayor of a “major league” city and my local pro-sports team is spouting off that they need a new arena or stadium that needs public subsidies despite their record profits.

    If I say “no” and they leave what are my chances at re-election?

    If I say “yes” what are my chances at re-election?

  4. That’s a good question, Andrew. Logic would dictate that the “no” option, which in most markets tends to be the one most arm’s-length voters align with, should be the winning decision as regards reelection.

    I think you’ll find, though, that the sports lobby reaches far and wide. I can’t claim to have any research in this area at hand, but I believe anecdotal evidence suggests that mayors who do NOT funnel public money to private sports businesses tend to be voted out at the next election. Whether this happens for ‘unrelated’ reasons (IE: they are lousy mayors, the city is falling ever further into debt and taxes increase), or simply because of the heavy (negative) PR spending that the disappointed sports teams are able to muster, I don’t know.

    Your thoughts?

  5. My sense is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, how a mayor acted on a sports stadium deal doesn’t affect their re-election chances one way or another. There are so many issues influencing how people vote that a stadium controversy is likely to get lost in the shuffle, unless it happens immediately in the runup to an election — and how many mayors are going to be stupid enough to vote on a stadium package during an election year?

    I haven’t done a serious study, mind you. This would actually be a fun research project for some enterprising poli sci student.

  6. Public money should not be spent on professional sports and sports arenas for the following reasons:
    Only a small proportion of the population uses the facilities.
    Pro sports are rolling in money. There are many other things more deserving of subsidy.
    The poor who cannot afford tickets end up susidising the rich who can.
    It is a frill. We should not be spending on frills when necessities go begging.
    Pro sports should be compensating cities for the cost of the riots their trigger, not the reverse.

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