While there are many notable differences between Canadians and our American cousins, one interesting one has been that while the Americans have always been eager to throw hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into sports stadiums where millionaire athletes play for billionaire owners, in Canada we’d always expected pro-sports to pay its own way. It has been an interesting dichotomy, particularly given the stereotype of Canadian interventionists vs. American free-market worshipers.
This noteable difference, however, may soon evaporate, if special interests in Quebec get there way. Apparently Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau wants to bring the NHL’s Nordiques back to Quebec City. So does Quebec City’s mayor. And Jean Charest. So does Stephen Harper. Hell, so do I. I’m not sure many people would object to an NHL team in Quebec. Or Hamilton, Winnipeg or Saskatoon. Let’s give Halifax a team too, while we’re at it.
Of course, the odds of an NHL led by Gary Bettman ever doing this are astronomical. But that hasn’t stopped Quebec from channeling Field of Dreams and deciding if they build an arena, a team will come. But instead of the billionare Péladeau opening his wallet, Quebec wants the taxpayers to foot the bill. Fighting for his political life, Premier Jean Charest has promised to kick-in. And now they’re trying to hot the federal government up for a cool $175 million.
Sadly, the Harper Conservatives haven’t dismissed this asinine notion out of hand. Not when there are votes to be bought in the Quebec City region, the one part of the province they still have a shot. Their Quebec MPs are on board (except Maxime Bernier) and Harper is promising arenas for all, while out West his caucus seems aghast.
My Liberals are sadly mixed. Denis Coderre, who inexplicably again has a critic portfolio, is pressuring Harper to fund the arena. Other Liberal MPs, such as Keith Martin and Joyce Murray, have taken to Twitter to oppose the idea.
And then there’s newly-minted deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale who, unfortunately, told the media that if Quebec is getting $175 million, that’s cool, but he wants “over” $100 million for a football stadium in Regina.
No, no, NO! The Conservatives are wrong on this, and Liberals like Goodale and Coderre should not be egging them on. The government has no place subsidizing professional sports stadiums. And if you fund one, you’ll have to fund them all. It’s a dangerous precedent we can’t afford to set, particularly in today’s budgetary climate.
This isn’t investment we’re talking about here. It’s subsidy. We’ll never see this money back. If these are economically-viable projects, they wouldn’t need government funding. They would be financed by the private sector. If the private sector won’t fund it, then it’s not a viable project, and all the government funding in the world will only delay the inevitable business failure.
Now known as Rogers Place, Vancouver’s General Motors Place was built in $160 million in 1995 (gee, how’s that for inflation?) and was privately financed by the Griffiths family. Sure, Arthur Griffiths ended-up overleveraging himself by buying an NBA expansion franchise at the same time and ended-up losing it all to John McCaw, but point is he had an economically-viable project and he got it financed privately, without blackmailing the taxpayers for donations.
I hope the government comes to its senses and kills this thing in its infancy. And I hope the Liberal leadership brings the caucus together, gets everyone on the same page and says a firm No to taxpayer-funded stadiums, wherever they may be.