Today is Tuesday December 28, 2010


If you build it, they will come. That seems to be the sentiment prevailing these days in Quebec City. If all levels of government build a new arena, to replace the old Colisee, the NHL will come begging to be allowed to return to La Belle Province’s capital whence it left under very murky circumstances a mere 15 years ago, and the Winter Olympics in the early 2020s will be sending gifts and flowers just to be invited to stage their worthless event in Quebec City, too.

The original quote reads: “If you build it, he will come."

It comes from one Shoeless Joe Jackson in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams, a display of a feverish screenwriter’s mind. The quote has placed in the 39th spot in the list of most popular movie quotes, as compiled by the American Film Institute.

First and foremost, the demographics of Quebec City haven’t changed THAT much since 1995 when then-owner Marcel Aubut decided his Nordiques just couldn’t cut it there. Instead, Mr. Aubut decided to cut his losses, selling his beloved club to the highest bidder who turned around, relocated the team to Denver, and it promptly went on to win its first Stanley Cup a year later.

What makes anybody think the median disposable income in Quebec City and environs has changed so much the new arena would be filled to overflowing night after night after night, isn’t clear. In any case, it is not obvious from a report put together by Ernst & Young. These are the consultants hired by the proponents of the government-funded spanking new arena. The consultants heap praise on the thought, but even they have to admit that, for the plan to take off, never mind fly, the government would have to commit to paying for maintenance and general upkeep of the facility for the next 40 years.

Talk about chutzpah.

City council in Quebec City, and the provincial government say they would be more than happy and pleased to join the endeavour. Join whom? There do not seem to be many private entrepreneurs coming out of the woodwork, willing to put their money in. So, it seems now, the only way to get the project up would be for the federal government to come up with $175 million.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been quoted extensively in recent days as saying the idea is interesting enough to be considered. He tempered it by adding that, of course, should Ottawa pour money into the new arena in Quebec City, it wouldn’t be able to then turn down requests for funding from other places (read: Edmonton and Calgary, potentially also Saskatchewan and Winnipeg). That would be the same Prime Minister Stephen Harper who, less than a year ago, was asked whether the federal government would be willing to take part in building a new arena in Quebec City. The PM answered then, very properly, that his government was not in the business of professional sports.

And now he hints he might do an about-face. You see, 11 seats in Quebec might decide whether he and his party do win an outright parliamentary majority in the next federal election, whenever that happens, after all. At least, that’s what it seems somebody must have whispered into the PM’s ear. The most interesting thing about this is that - if the federal government does eventually give the money (that isn’t theirs in the first place) to the future NHL club owners – the Tories might end up losing more than 11 seats elsewhere. And there goes your majority.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation reminded its former chief, Stephen Harper, that he had led the nation in opposition when then-Liberal government minister John Manley tried to demonstrate the nation’s support for the Ottawa Senators by sending over money he scrounged from public coffers. The outcry made Manley to turn around, saying it was all just one huge misunderstanding, and end the adventure forthwith. What makes Stephen Harper think that building a professional sports club’s arena with public money was any different?

A Tory MP, from Quebec, ironically, went public with his criticism. Of course, cynics might say it’s green grapes from Maxime Bernier, turfed as he had been from Harper’s cabinet for an ex-girlfriend’s indiscretion. Except Bernier makes a serious case against any use of any public money for any professional sports venture, period. If it indeed was such a perfect business proposition, the MP for Beauce, Quebec, says, entrepreneurs would be clamouring for a piece of the pie. None of them has been forthcoming yet, Bernier concluded, and that in itself should tell us something.

Alberta’s Premier Ed Stelmach is on the record as saying the province is philosophically (and economically) opposed to any participation in professional sports business. Good for him.

May be the Prime Minister should have a close look at Stelmach’s playbook, as well as peeking into his own history, to realize he’s skating on thin ice.



Your Comments

Alan S.

Adler, your further ignoring your debunked obvious ignorance with _specific_pertinence_in_Edmonton_ has not gone unnoticed.  You are coming across as a careless and irresponsible busybody outsider.

I see no reason at all to debate anything you actually spewed about funding arenas.

September 13, 2010
10:22 PM

I'm writting you from...Quebec City. Let's be honest with you. I think that this whole thing about building a new arena went a little bit too far. There is no reason to panic. This project (building a new arena) is not about paying a building to get a new hockey team, this is about having a building like any other museum, shows theater etc. It's about having something for our community, the people of QC city and it's region. It's about not always having to drive more than 2 hours to Montreal to see a Rock band because our building is too old and can't receive big shows.

We're not even sure yet to get the Nordiques back.. We just need a building for a city that deserve to be called our Capital.

September 13, 2010
9:00 PM

Harper won't fund a Quebec City arena, but he will definitely toy with the idea to win the hearts of Quebec. If "more" money is relocated, yes I said more, to Quebec for "another", yes another, sports arena it won't go unnoticed this time around.

Heck, I wonder why the best athletes in Canada always come from Quebec. If the Olympics are any indication, the French are already basking in the rest of Canada's money. This is a have not province that already needs plenty of funding, to ask for a government hand out to build an NHL arena is a slap in the face to all of Canada's intelligence.

September 13, 2010
4:42 PM

"It's not about a building it's about the future of the team in the city."

If the Oilers lose as much money as Katz would have us believe, I'd love to hear why he paid as much as he did for them.

Maybe the city would be better off buying the team from him and then debating whether to build a new arena where all the revenues would be collect by the city, rather than the existing option of building a new arena in order to beef up the the Katz Group's operating cash flow.

Or maybe we should simply call Katz bluff and wait for him to pony up the majority of the construction costs. The city has all the leverage in this negotiation. If Bettman won't let the Coyotes relocate, he sure as heck wouldn't allow the Oilers to leave Edmonton.

September 13, 2010
3:19 PM

The fundamental problem with this whole debate is the following:  We have a 56 billion dollar deficit, we need to tackle that before we start supporting sports stars and billionaire owners. Paying hockey stars to entertain people more money than a doctor that saves lives daily is wrong.  Don't get me wrong , I love sports, but if I have to choose between an heart surgeon having the appropriate support and tools to save lifes, and building a new arena so I can watch lady gaga or a sports team, I choose the healthcare professional everytime.  Hopefully, the feds and the province will let canadians know that they need to get back to basics, and focus on the real issues. If we were sitting on no deficit and our house was in order, it might be a different story. Wrong time, wrong focus for the tories to do something like this.

September 13, 2010
2:46 PM
David Staples

@Gord. I respect Peter Adler's take on things, and know that he also stirs up a lot of debate with his provocative ideas, so I'm always pleased to run his columns and posts.

September 13, 2010
2:25 PM

"I have a somewhat different take on the issue than Peter"

@ David Staples

You have been very consistent with your position on funding the arena.

It is impressive that you give someone with a different perspective on this contentious issue - that you give them space on your blog to post their column.


September 13, 2010
2:17 PM

"has anyone yet seen the vancouver olympic committee's books?"

@ peter adler

B.C. auditor-general "estimated the entire bill for the taxpayers – at the federal, provincial and municipal level - at $4.3-billion."


Plus from today's news...

September 13, 2010
1:54 PM

If any of you missed it, I have a somewhat different take on the issue than Peter, in that I think public funding  for an arena can do good for a city, so long if it's combined with private funding and excellent planning.

September 13, 2010
1:48 PM
peter adler

aaaaaaaarrrgggggghhh ... someone in here questioned whether i am a fan of sports, and entertainment in general ... while i do not know why i should be defending myself against ad hominem attacks (a.k.a. insults), i will reply: yes, absolutely ... still, this has got nothing to do with the public paying for professional sports facilities ... yes, there are quite a few who like to watch top-notch athletes perform their tradecraft ... i do, too, more often than would be healthy ... mind, not in all sports (baseball, to me, is the best non-toxic replacement for sleeping pills) but that's beside the point ... the point is that for professional sports organizations owners (and would-be owners) to demand public money to build their facilities reminds me of snake oil salesmen coming into town, telling the unsuspecting public to provide them with a tent, so they can bilk that same unsuspecting public of their hard-earned cash ... it is one of the basic rules of economics: you want to make money on something, you've got to invest in it, first ...

and yes, i DO detest the olympic movement as it works now ... it's perfectly hypocritical, that's all ... a bunch of professional athletes, all of them, using performance enhancements (it doesn't have to be drugs, btw) most of them, and all that using public money ... if you want to wax sentimental about the atmosphere you've experienced in vancouver, it's your choice to be had by the slickest pr in the business, but still: if you want olympics, you should be demanding olympics WITHOUT everybody else paying the piper ... and just as aside: has anyone yet seen the vancouver olympic committee's books?

to those who claim canadian olympians' achievements worked wonders for their national pride, my reply is simple: there are quite a few of other canadian achievements that should have made you proud even before you heard the word, olympics ... loving (and being proud of) your country just because somebody (not you) can do something better than others, well, that's known as skin-deep beauty, and it fades with time ...

September 13, 2010
12:58 PM

@ Alan S.

Change "It comes from" to "It became famous from" and the context is accurate.... Hundreds of millions of people know the quote from the movie - almost nobody had read the book printed seven years earlier.

But rather discuss the gist of Peter Adler's column, much easier to dismiss everything because of a technicality.

A column by Peter Adler that is completely accurate - if Harper already had his majority and/or did not need more seats in Quebec, subsidizing an arena in Quebec would not even be up for discussion...

@ Adam

If the only time we feel pride for our city (or our country) is when athletes win a prize; then our parents, our teachers & society as a whole have failed us...

Therefore I will keep going back to the issue. If professional athletes & entertainers were willing to take a smaller paycheck (leaving the difference in a "new arena" bank account).. If those who attended the events would pay a per seat surcharge (leaving the difference in a "new arena" bank account)...

If they were willing, then taxpayers who could never afford to go to the new arena would not be forced to subsidize millionaires & billionaires...

And I mean forced by politicians buying votes with money that is not theirs to give away...

September 13, 2010
12:13 PM

Say what? The government would be responsible for operational costs for the next 40 years. Lets get this straight. The taxpayers of Canada are going to pay operational costs as well as put up the capital costs of construction. First of all there is no assurance that Quebec would get the Olympics in 2020 and there certainly is no assurance that Quebecers would support an NHL team if it is losing. If that were the case then the Nordiques would still be in Quebec city. This is a non starter for the government and Harper should announce his decision sooner rather than later.

September 13, 2010
10:02 AM

You know I'm pretty sick of Peter coming on here and continuously debunking the worth of Professional Sports, Amateur Sports (The Olympics more specifically), and the entertainment business in general. Are you even a sports fan at all Peter? Instead all it looks like is that you continuously come and spew your recycled political commentary.

For you to call the Olympics a completely worthless event is completely ignorant and arrogant. Yes nothing is perfect, but to me they still represent everything that is great about sport Being a Vancouver resident I agree it's a hefty bill to foot. But the memories from those 2 weeks and the connection I felt with my fellow countrymen, friends and athletes. When was the last time 30 million Canadians were watching and cheering for anything at the same time? In my 24 years as a Canadian I've never seen the country come together like that and show such pride.

Same goes with professional sports in Edmonton. Being raised in Edmonton I can truly say the only times that I've felt civic pride and unity was during a few of the more succesfull runs by the Oilers. Taxpayers should look closely instead at the tie the Oilers have with the community and decide what the team means to them. It's not about a building it's about the future of the team in the city.

September 13, 2010
3:10 AM
Alan S.

Adler wrote

"It comes from one Shoeless Joe Jackson in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams, a display of a feverish screenwriter’s mind. The quote has placed in the 39th spot in the list of most popular movie quotes, as compiled by the American Film Institute."

_No_it_doesn't_.  It comes from a _novel_ called "Shoeless Joe" by _Edmonton_ author W.P. Kinsella.

Have you even been to Edmonton?

In the context of an Edmonton debate I have never seen such sheer arrogant ignorance, and as usual, the rest of your bunk is in hot contest with it.

Get off your high horse and acknowledge your debunkings, Adler.

September 13, 2010
2:28 AM

MP Maxime Bernier was the Conservative Party of Canada's guest speaker at Fort Edmonton Park a few months ago. It was refreshing for Edmonton area Conservative supporters to hear a MP from the land that milks Alberta dry speak against money flowing into Quebec to buy votes in that province.

Maxime Bernier said that before subsidizing the Quebec arena came to the forefront. It is refreshing to hear him continue to speak the fiscal conservative philosophy.

If the Liberal in sheep's clothing Harper continues to use our money to buy votes, one of two things will happen. Either Maxime Bernier will become more popular in Alberta than Harper is... Or, Reform Party 2 will rise from the ashes as Harper continues to morph into Mulroney...

September 13, 2010
1:42 AM

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