Some Calgary council members want Mayor Nenshi out of Flames arena talks, because he’s not “gung ho” enough

This article from the Toronto Star is really weird and convoluted and lede-burying, but if I get the gist of it, it’s that some members of the Calgary city council are trying to find a way to freeze Mayor Naheed Nenshi out of future negotiations with the Flames over a new arena, because he’s been too good at not giving away the store. The evidence on hand:

At least 10 councillors are directly involved in or aware of recent meetings in which elected officials have discussed drafting a notice of motion calling on council to strike a new committee — one that may exclude past brokers from both parties.

“Initially, it should be new blood that’s on it to give it a different perspective than we’re getting now,” said Coun. Ray Jones.

“The longer we leave it, the more it just kind of goes away,” he explained. “Everybody right now is gung ho to get going on it, and I think we should take advantage of that.”


In addition to Jones, councillors Ward Sutherland, George Chahal, Sean Chu, Shane Keating, Peter Demong, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Joe Magliocca, Evan Woolley and Jeff Davison are directly involved in or aware of discussions to restart talks and form a new committee.

“We’ve got to get a few oars in the water here and moving in the same direction before we really can make any headway with it,” said Davison, who is leading the charge.

“Overall, you’re just seeing a different makeup on council,” he said. “There’s a lot of us that are new, and sometimes some of the ideas that failed in the past get rejuvenated.”


Lori Williams, associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, said councillors might be wary of voter backlash given many Calgarians supported Nenshi’s position.

“I suppose it does make sense to try to get new people to the negotiating table so that any animosities that may be lingering from the breakdown of negotiations in the past would not be part of this,” Williams said.

Okay, sure, “new blood” and “new ideas,” but otherwise this is just weird: The last round of negotiations “broke down” not because of any problems on the council side, but because Nenshi pointed out that the Flames owners’ plan could cost the city more than a billion dollars, and then the Flames walked away from the table and put all their energies into trying to defeat Nenshi in last fall’s mayoral election. When that didn’t work, they mostly sighed a lot about how now what were they gonna do with a mayor in power who didn’t want to give them lots of taxpayer money, and deployed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to say that the Flames will lose money without a new arena, when that’s patently not true.

While Nenshi has been possibly the most prominent city mayor anywhere in holding the line on sports subsidies, he’s always been limited by Calgary’s weak-mayor system, in which he’s only one vote on the 15-member council. Given that the Star report only talked to a couple of council members, it’s hard to say whether this is an actual major revolt or just some people trying to trash-talk the mayor into getting out of the way and letting them get down to the business of shoveling money at the Flames — one councillor, Shane Keating, is cited as having said of Nenshi, “I’ll never be as intelligent as you are, but I’ve been smarter than you many times,” which is described as a “stinging rebuke.” Maybe it sounds different in the original Canadian?

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10 comments on “Some Calgary council members want Mayor Nenshi out of Flames arena talks, because he’s not “gung ho” enough

  1. I can assure you the original Canadian does not make it sound like a stinging rebuke. Hopefully Nenshi is the one with the Canadian no-subsidy language that can be translated across the border (or up to Edmonton).

  2. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…

    Talk about your dirty politics. “one that may exclude past brokers from both parties.” is exactly the type of shit pulled during the French revolution that lead to extremism and terrible policy making. Truly the coward’s way.

    If you cannot beat them, exclude them!

  3. So… if this “new blood” is going to exclude past brokers…. can we expect that Ken King and co won’t be at the table lobbing booby trapped proposals at the new, unskilled and inexperienced councillors?

    Right. I thought not…

    The language used by these Flames’ double agents translates very easily: “We need to find a way to convince the Flames that they can have all the tax dollars they want, no matter what it costs us”.

    Disgraceful conduct. Clearly these people were elected to serve the interests of the Flames billionaire owner and millionaire managers… they are openly admitting as much.

  4. This is really disappointing to me as a Calgarian. It makes it seem as though the city was “in the wrong” with negotiations, when it was the Flames who have made completely unreasonable demands and walked away, while trying to influence an election.

    Neil, I have a question about ticket surcharges. The Flames have claimed in this negotiation that any ticket surcharge is a contribution from their side to the arena. The argument being that without the surcharge, the Flames would just charge that amount as part of their ticket prices, so this cuts into their revenue. But doesn’t a ticket surcharge only exist in the first place because a new arena has been built?

    Say for example that the city and Flames both contributed 50% to a new arena (which is not the case, despite what they Flames say they are proposing). And let’s say the ticket surcharge is $20 per game. This surcharge only exists because the city and the Flames went in 50/50 to build a new arena. So why isn’t $10 of that ticket surcharge then a “city contribution”?. Without 50% of the city’s contribution, the surcharge doesn’t exist.

    1. Ticket surcharges mostly come out of team owners’ pockets. I explained this at length here:

    2. Whether it exists because of the new arena or not is irrelevant. If a city built an arena and charged a one-time $500 million “stadium fee” to the team owners, that would still be a team expense, not a public one.

      1. The thing that bothers me the most about these arena deals, is that cities are expected to contribute to build the arena, but essentially have no means of recovering the money they put in. You would think that in any scenario where you invest money into something, you would be entitled to some of the potential revenue. But all of these arena deals now give owners 100% of all revenue.

        The way I was thinking about it is that if the city of Calgary contributes to the construction of an arena, they should be entitled to some of the revenue from the facility. If there is a ticket tax, the city receives less of their share of the revenue, just like the owners. But I guess this line of thinking doesn’t work because in no scenario would a city be permitted to receive any revenue from the arena, therefore the ticket tax can only apply to the owners, and therefore can only be an owner contribution.

        1. But that’s how capitalism is supposed to work!

          Seriously, though I agree with you. Were I ever in charge of a city, I would accept a request for stadium subsidies by offering to build a brand new shiny arena at city expense. And then charging fair market rent for the arena. Since the mythical “they” of the economics world say a person should pay between 25 and 33 percent of their income on rent, I’ll charge the team a third of their revenue in rent.

          1. That is more or less how things worked from the ’60s through the early ’80s, during the “concrete donut” era of multipurpose stadiums: Cities would put up the money up front, but teams would pay significant rent or share revenues. The Minneapolis Metrodome, for example, was 100% publicly funded, but the Twins and Vikings paid enough in shared parking and ad revenue that Minneapolis was made whole.

            That was the big innovation starting with the New Comiskey Park/Camden Yards era — not that public money was used to pay costs, but that the public didn’t receive any share of revenues. And with few exceptions, we haven’t gone back to the old model, because whenever someone does propose a revenue share, like in Calgary, team owners will have none of it.

  5. Can’t even win a playoff series and here is Vegas looking like western conference finalists. They don’t deserve one RED CENT!

    It’s only logical the team should be bottom-third in income considering 30 years of failure and mediocrity.

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