Stadium financing, Canuck-style

Federal funding for stadium construction? America said no, but is Canada saying yes?

Todd Korol / Reuters
A member of the Edmonton Eskimos cheer squad is airborne during the first half of their CFL football game against the Calgary Stampeders in Calgary, Alberta, on Sept. 6. CFL and NHL teams have lined up for new stadiums, now that the Canadian government is considering federal subsidies for them.

Phil Miller mentioned in passing the new $400 million arena proposal floating around Quebec City these days. Never mind that building a new arena without a tenant is a stupendously bad idea unless you like being the “rumored destination” for every franchise that wants to blackmail a new arena out of the local government. Never mind that the Nordiques didn’t set the world on fire when they were in Quebec. Up here in the great white north, we do things with a certain panache, a je ne sais quoi. In keeping with this tradition, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced last week that he was open to the idea of federal subsidies for sports facility construction projects.

Granted, the federal government in the US implicitly subsidizes the construction of sports facilities by allowing them to be financed with tax exempt bonds, forgoing the tax revenues that would be collected from the interest on those bonds. But no federal official, to my knowledge, has ever floated the idea of direct government subsidization of sport facility construction. In the US, such stupidity is reserved for state and local government officials.

Harper has been backpedaling furiously since he made the statement. Probably because of the long lineup of other team owners that appeared outside his office minutes after Harpers’ pronouncement. Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, and Halifax all want new facilities for their NHL or CFL teams (or to attract a team, in the case of Halifax). Here in Alberta, where the Oilers and Flames have been seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to replace Rexall Place and the Saddledome, which was built for the 1988 Olympics, Premier Ed Stelmach quickly announced that no provincial funds would be used for the construction of new sports facilities.

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