Published on September 3, 2008 10:06 PM by dbo.
Ottawa has refused changes to a Laval University sports complex proposal that would have allowed $37.5 million in federal funds of an $85 million project to be directed toward expanding the university’s football stadium. Federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon (apparently the Transport portfolio is responsible for sports, recreation and education funding) refused to accept a proposal to expand the stadium to meet CFL requirements in order to allow local investors to bid on a CFL franchise because Ottawa “was not in the business of subsidizing professional sports”.
According to Quebec lawyer Marc Bellemare, representing the investors, $20 million of a needed $40 million to expand the stadium to 25,000 seats has already been set aside with the other $20 million expected to come from other potential investors. Ottawa’s rejection of funding of such expansion, along with the Laval University head Denis Brière’s refusal to modify the project (theoretically to avoid losing federal money) have forced the investors to look at a plan B, which is a stadium on the outside of Quebec City costing between $75 and $125 million.
The Conservative government’s policy on this funding is off base. First, expanding a university stadium is not subsidizing professional sports, even if it does provide an opportunity for a CFL team to be granted to private citizens in Quebec City. Current Laval Rouge et Or attendance would show that the university would get plenty of use out of the stadium. Second, it is a poor use of this country’s capital to force these investors to build a separate stadium, when expansion of the existing university stadium could be done with much less expense with the help of the federal government. The public understands this and wants to see public and private money spent appropriately, not on ahead-of-their-time monstrosities that end up costing the pubic billions. Survey results conducted by the investors showed 85% of Quebec City residents felt an expanded University stadium was an appropriate location for CFL games. Canada has neglected much of its community infrastructure in the last 50 years, especially in centres other than Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Cities like Winnipeg and Quebec City ask for a public-private partnership to revitalize their infrastructure and the business-friendly government refuses on the grounds of not wanting to subsidize professional sports. Yet are they certain they are not subsidizing any other industries with their handouts? A city asking for $40 million every 50 years (less than $1 million per year) to pay for the third of a stadium’s cost is within the country’s interest, considering that $40 million will be paid back in taxes generated by the stadium over the next 50 years. Stephen Harper seems to believe CFL owners, who take on real risk, potentially earn only reasonable returns and pay back into their communities plenty, are wealthy billionaires who want the public to fund stadiums while they count their money like their American counterparts. That goes to show how out of touch Harper is with the Canadian reality.
With a federal election coming, Canadian citizens have an opportunity to let their feelings known to their elected officials. Let your candidates know your stance on seeing public money ($40 million or less) spent on something tangible like stadium partnerships rather than billions lost on scandals and the resulting inquiries and find out where the candidates stand as well. Then make your decision and be sure to vote.
This is the first real firm notice that there are investors in Quebec City looking to acquire a CFL franchise. Now that this scenario is out in the public, it will be interesting to see if a press release comes out of the CFL head office to address these opportunities. I look forward to commissioner Mark Cohon’s statement.
Postscript: The original globesports.com post had a much different take on the announcement as seen in this screen grab of the article from their mobile site. The post was soon pulled down and then reposted with the updated text and headline. The story was originally crafted with the expectation of the federal government approving the proposal, so apparently the government’s rejection came as a surprise, to the media anyway.