The Calgary city council approved around $200 million in subsidies for a new Flames arena earlier this month only eight days after releasing the proposal, meaning there was no time to tell how the public felt about the idea of using tax money to help pay for a billionaire’s new sports home. There’s plenty of time now that it’s too late for it to have any impact, though, and it turns out Calgarians — at least, those who wrote in to the council during those eight days — were not so crazy about the idea:
An analysis of more than 4,000 individual public submissions found about 55 per cent of those who wrote to the City Clerk’s office did not support the deal approved by city council in an 11-4 vote on July 30.
In particular, reports the Calgary Herald, which requested the public comments — apparently in Canada public records requests move a lot more quickly than in the U.S. — people were upset about the rushed timetable (“The fact that the Flames made the timeline so tight that it disallowed for meaningful public consultation shows an utter disdain for democratic norms and should have been an absolute non-starter”) and the fact that Calgary was approving arena funding at the same time it was cutting its operating budget for things like transit and fire services (“Do not let [Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corp.] bully you into spending money that could desperately be used elsewhere”).
Sometime sports subsidy apologist Mark Rosentraub told the Herald that allowing public input vs. deciding behind closed doors each “has its ups and its downs,” and that “if people are dissatisfied, then they should vote the scoundrels out.” That’s way easier said than done — people vote on a multitude of issues, so it’s tough to punish elected officials for a single decision, especially if their opponents would have done the same thing — but given that the council’s approval ratings were already in the toilet before the arena move, this certainly isn’t going to help. Unfortunately, the next elections aren’t until 2021, by which time it’s extremely likely there will be something fresher in voters’ minds to use as a basis for their ballots — and if you suspect that that’s yet another reason why the council wanted to vote as quickly as possible, you’re probably not far off.