Say “no thanks” to federal funding of professional sports arenas

When the Nordiques left Quebec back in 1995 and moved to Denver to become the Avalanche, Quebecers were left to cheer for the Canadiens—which, for many, was simply blasphemous as the “Battle of Quebec” was dubbed as such for a reason. After reflection, however, one can only conclude that it was no fault of the NHL that the Nordiques left la belle province—lack of private investment available in the province at the time is widely regarded as the stake in the heart of the Nordiques.

Since then, many Quebecers have fantasized of the day when the Nordiques would stroll back into town; when players of the caliber of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Deadmarsh and even briefly Mats Sundin would light the lamps in the storied capital.

These Quebecers were overjoyed recently (which some speculate was reflected in recent poll numbers for the Conservatives in Quebec) when several members of the Quebec Conservative caucus were present at a photo-op after their meeting in Quebec City wearing Nordiques jerseys.

The incident sparked rumours that the federal government would financially support the construction of a new arena in Quebec City: a requisite for any prospects of luring a team to the area (but not a guarantee—see Winnipeg). Initially, the Prime Minister was rather equivocal with his response, asserting that professional sports are the primary domain of the private sector, that funds provided for such a regional initiative must be equally spread throughout the country and lastly that such a commitment must be affordable, especially given the nature of our current fiscal situation.

It is very hard to believe that Harper would ever venture into such a commitment given his convictions with such matters. However, this is a Prime Minister for whom many would have never fathomed extolling the virtues, let alone initiating in the first place fiscal stimulus in response to the economic crisis.

However, not all Conservative members of parliament (MPs) were at best ambiguous or at worst engaging in gimmicky politics. Maxime Bernier, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and self-proclaimed libertarian, emerged to clearly oppose the proposal. He asserted that providing funding for a professional hockey arena is not the domain of the federal government, and arguably not the domain of any government. While Bernier and I may disagree on many issues, we stand side by side here: the federal government should not subsidize the building of a professional hockey arena.

The argument that some purport, that Canada is a “hockey culture” and supporting such initiatives should be commonplace, is simply nonsense. Not all Canadians like hockey, but most importantly, Canadians should not be forced to support millionaire team owners who cannot effectively run their own affairs.

Moreover, there is no economic imperative to even reluctantly support the teams like was recently done with the “Big Three” automakers, because it is not as if these professional teams employ thousands of people with well-paying jobs that are scarcely found elsewhere.

The bottom line is, if a hockey team is meant to be in a certain location, the private sector will provide the investment to make sure it is established and succeeds. Professional hockey is not an essential service nor does it have the economic importance that the government should even consider committing Canadians’ tax dollars to them.

Furthermore, this sort of funding would simply fuel east-west tensions even more. There is no way that any politician would willingly open such a Pandora’s Box if they thought through this sufficiently.

This is why I think that the Prime Minister has actually dealt with this situation quite well in a political sense; he was dealt a bad hand but has managed to effectively quell, to this point, the expectation that funding is forthcoming without explicitly throwing his Quebec caucus under the bus. However, hopefully he, his caucus and the rest of the members in the House of Commons from all parties follow Maxime Bernier’s lead by being clear in opposition to the funding of professional sports arenas. I love my hockey, but much like the NHL regular season, this has gone on much longer than it ever should have.