Monday, September 13, 2010

And you get a rink, and you get a rink and everybody gets a rink!

Perhaps they spent too much time watching summer re-runs of Oprah, (or maybe they had a sneak preview of this final season) but Canada's current government, the Conservatives have gone Oprah it seems when it comes to the idea of funding shinny palaces and football shrines.

In a position that could bring on a wee bit of a backlash for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Conservatives it seems have come on board with the idea of helping out with the funding for a proposed hockey house in Quebec City.

The photo op featuring Quebec based politicians decked out in Nordiques jerseys has any number of Canadian cities no doubt placing their orders for similar attire for their own press conferences which will outline plans for their own development plans.

Interestingly enough, one Quebec based MP, Maxime Bernier took a pass on the photo session, a long time critic of expansive spending by government, Bernier held true to his personal (or perhaps political) agenda and once again decried the prospect of wheel barrows of cash for sports facilities in Canada.

Already, with the visual of federal MP's smiling and doing their Don Cherry imitations still fresh in the mind, Moncton has advised that this bodes well for their plans to build a new home for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL.

Mayor George LeBlanc also may find that the federal government's ability to back itself into a political corner may be helpful in the bid to  attract a CFL franchise to the Maritime city. Moncton is hoping to snare the much discussed but seldom delivered Maritime franchise, taking on rival Halifax for the chance to add to the CFL's roster of cities.

Standing in line beside Mayor Leblanc no doubt are the Mayors of in no particular order, Regina, Hamilton, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax and any other burg that might like a new shinny palace or football field for current or potential tenants.

Federal contributions to sports infrastructure has a long legacy in Canada, sometimes good (think Calgary Olympics) sometimes not so much a good thing (think the endless woes of Montreal's Big O), so there is a precedent in place for an infusion of cash to Canadian cities.

What seems to be setting alarm bells off for more fiscally Conservative types (who no doubt are wondering if perhaps the Conservatives may want to change their name) is the prospect of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a facility that may sit empty until a whim from Gary Bettman offers up a tenant.

Evidence of the dangers of building it and hoping that they come always points to Kansas City, which built a state of the art arena a number of years ago and still features no major league sport tenant for their real estate, despite frequent mentions from the NHL as a potential home, usually when things are not going so well with one of the current franchise holders negotiations with whatever city he or she is in.

An earlier version of this "Fields of dreams approach" of course can be found in Hamilton where the Copps coliseum arose with dreams of an NHL tenant and now would need millions of dollars of refurbishment just to get on the Commissioner's short list (and as we have seen in recent times, Mr. Bettman's radar sometimes jams up when it gets near Hamilton Mountain)

What could be even more damaging outside of Quebec for the Conservatives and Prime Minister Harper  is the prospect that a federally assisted arena could bring the NHL back to Ville de Quebec leaving hopeful attempts from Winnipeg and Hamilton in the dust.

In a perfect political universe, the NHL would announce plans to return to Winnipeg, grant Hamilton their long cherished franchise AND renew the intra Quebec rivalry that once reigned between montreal and Quebec City.

Attaching Federal MP's  to those photo ops would surely bring the PM his much cherished, but seemingly growing distant dream of a majority government in Canada's Parliament.

Should the recent attention to Quebec City prove to bring the NHL back there alone, well  such are the things that political suicide are made of.

As L Ian MacDonald framed it in the Montreal Gazette today, the optics of the photo op were all wrong, by dressing up as their favourite Nords the Quebec politicians localized the issue too much, rather than approach the arena funding project on a more national scale, that of Quebec's hopeful bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

In the competitive world of federal funding, it seems that you need to know how to dress for success.

Globe and Mail-- Quebec City NHL bid scores support from federal Tories
Globe and Mail-- $400-million hockey arena in Quebec City skates closer to reality
Globe and Mail-- Province promises funding for new Quebec City arena
National Post-- Don Martin: Harper prepares to buy off Quebec
Winnipeg Free Press-- Tories nuts if they fund Quebec arena
TSN-- COC head calls for West to support proposed Quebec arena
Toronto Star-- H├ębert: New chief-of-staff must stand up to PM, end Conservatives’ missteps

Update September 14, 2010: It would seem that the Prime Minister has had some second thoughts  here and here on the potential visuals of his over exuberant Quebec MP's and the quest for a hockey arena for Quebec City

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