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.