Nordiques arena: A pricey precedent -

Nordiques arena: A pricey precedent

Winnipeg built an NHL-calibre arena with ‘minimal’ money from Ottawa. It’ll be different for Quebec City.


Yan Doublet/Le Soleil/CP

In the annals of hockey heartache, Quebec City and Winnipeg are forever twinned. Both lost their NHL teams to the bright lights and bigger markets of America—the Nordiques to Denver in 1995, the Jets to Phoenix the very next year. After they were left in the lurch, though, the tales of the two wintery cities diverge. In Winnipeg, a modest new downtown arena, the MTS Centre, was completed in 2004, built with mostly private money, as a home for minor-league hockey and concerts, and maybe, just maybe, an NHL team again someday. In Quebec City, a plan for building a much grander arena, mainly with public money and expressly to lure back the NHL, has only recently taken shape—and sparked political controversy.

The issue is whether the federal government should contribute heavily to the project. Quebec Premier Jean Charest has pledged $180 million, and Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume $50 million, leaving about $170 million they hope the feds will ante up. After Quebec Conservative MPs donned vintage powder-blue Nordiques sweaters last week to promote the scheme, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s confirmation that he’s considering the request came as no surprise. But Harper said he won’t be playing favourites. “In terms of financing these things going forward,” he said, “we’re going to have to respect the precedents we have had in the past, and be sure any treatment we’re prepared to make to one city we’re prepared to make to all.”

The potential drain on the federal treasury is enormous. New CFL stadiums are planned in Regina, Winnipeg and Hamilton, and Ottawa is redeveloping its stadium site for another try at fielding a pro football team. Edmonton and Calgary both want updated NHL rinks. In Edmonton, a $400-million-plus new home for the Oilers, spearheaded by team owner and drugstore magnate Daryl Katz, is under active consideration. The prospect of much federal or provincial money flowing into the project had looked limited at best, but the news from Quebec City, says Edmonton city manager Simon Farbrother, “changes the framework.”

Change is the word. Only last month, federal Treasury Board President Stockwell Day said, “We’ve been clear that professional sports teams—including the NHL, of which we’re all big fans—won’t be receiving federal government dollars.” That was in keeping with the Prime Minister’s long-standing personal position. A decade ago, when the Liberal government flirted with subsidizing Canadian NHL franchises, Harper, then president of the National Citizens Coalition, complained that taxpayers shouldn’t be “forced to subsidize millionaire hockey team owners.” The Liberals dropped the idea in the face of a backlash.

Those millionaires have been getting by just fine in recent years. New NHL arenas in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto were built without federal money. Even more telling is the case of Winnipeg, since the Manitoba capital is roughly Quebec City’s size. The MTS Centre cost only $133.5 million, with the province, city and federal government together contributing about $40 million, and the rest coming from private investors. The centre seats just over 15,000, compared to the 18,000 planned capacity for Quebec City’s more elaborate venue. Still, the centre’s owners contend their building is big enough for an NHL team, and they boast it’s already the third-busiest arena in Canada, behind only Toronto and Montreal.

The prospect of Quebec City vaulting ahead in the competition for a future NHL team, largely by tapping federal funds, obviously wouldn’t sit well in Manitoba. David Angus, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, contends that Winnipeg’s example shows how only “minimal” government support is actually needed to build a viable arena. “Frankly,” Angus says, “I think if they looked at the model of the MTS Centre, they’d see that they really do need the private sector to take the lead.”

So far there’s no sign of that. The most likely owner of a resurrected Nordiques franchise, Quebecor’s Pierre Karl Péladeau, has ruled out putting his own money into the building. That means Harper is being asked, not to shore up a private venture, but to make his government a major partner in a public one. And if that’s the precedent he sets for all cities, the funding of professional sports infrastructure across Canada is about to change radically.


Nordiques arena: A pricey precedent

  1. I still find it insanely ironic that Mr. Péladeau, CEO of Quebecor, the man behind the new Fair and Balanced SunTV, is getting away with basically telling the government to pay for his new toy. How is this guy not being raked as a hypocrite? This is the face of Canada's conservatives?


    • This is wrong. Peladeau is very clear. He's willing to pay for an NHL hockey team if somebody else (private and/or public) pays for the building (arena)..

      • But he's completely fine if the government buys it for him. So much for the moral high ground.

        Incidently, I haven't heard of any effort, on his part, to attract money from the private sector. Do you have any evidence of this?

  2. Is there anything else Mr. Péladeau would like Canada's youth to buy for him?

    • see comment above

  3. Spend spend spend!

    it's not like we have a deficit or anything.

  4. Can we forget about the Nordiques, the NHL and talk about the arena.

    • The NHL is vital to any discussion of the arena, unless you're suggesting that anyone can justify spending $400 million of public money on an arena that would, at best, host 40 QMJHL dates. It's the only justification, since the idea that it will be the centre of an Olympic bid is comical.

      (any suggestion that the arena would be as busy as the MTS is ludicrous – that's busy because it's a logical concert stopoff for bands on Canadian tours. Bands wanting to play Quebec just play Montreal and expect people to make the drive.)

      • Quevec city need an arena. If want to know whats the use could be, read the fesability study.

        • The same feasibility study that ludicrously concluded the potential market for the arena was 9.1 million people? That concludes Turco, MA will turn out to support the Nords? That attributes 171 dates to the arena, which I'm fairly sure are more than the ACC holds *while also hosting lacrosse and the NBA*?

          (On that last one – fine, the Ramparts splitting time in the arena would make up for the Raps. But it doesn't address the issue that a lot of touring events, if they play Quebec (the province) will play Montreal rather than Quebec (the city).)

          Frankly, I don't doubt that Quebec needs a new arena. It just doesn't make sense to build an NHL-sized one. But they can't attract an NHL team without an NHL-sized one, but you have to jump through hoops in order to get the NHL-sized arena make any type of financial sense.

          That, combined with the BS about bidding on the 2022 Winter games, is enough to ensure that this is a failed idea.

  5. If no private businessman or woman wants to put his(hers) gut on the line to build an arena well that means it should not be built with or without some government money.

  6. If the Harper government puts our federal tax dollars into a Quebec City Arena for Peladeau, as a payback for Peladeau's Sun TV franchise that we will all pay for through Bell satellite and Rogers Cable, there will be a political revolution in the rest of Canada!!
    Harper's base will go berserk and he will be toast!
    I say, go ahead Mr. Harper! Canadian will enjoy the fireworks!!

  7. I'm not hot at the idea of using federal money for such investment. However, is more than $1 billions spent for Toronto G8 security was a better investment?

    • Discussing which is a better investment is foolishness – they are both big, wasteful expenditures which our government should not have contemplated

      And yet here we go again apparently.

  8. Let me guess…build a new arena or they'll seperate? The history of building stadiums in Quebec in not stellar. (re: The Big O). The rest of the country does it on their own dime BUT Quebec as usual, needs government dollars.

    • What planet are you on …..Zylon??? The building is 61 years old and out of date. The size is too small for many major events being held there. Do you think the federal government never invested a cent in the infrastructures that you are using daily? If a new building is a necessity, which is the case here, and that the population (city and province) is ready to pay for it, then it is more than normal that the federal invests the same amount and that's it. I remember Toronto getting the amount of $500 M for Olympics that never took place….Where's the money from that??? And by the way, the big O is in Montreal not Quebec. Stay with us and get with the program because the “as usual“ was not necessary in your comment. Unless your heading back to Zylon, in which your comment makes a lot more sense.

  9. The MTS centre in Winnipeg is great for AHL hockey, but you need more seats if you are wanting an NHL franchise. As well, Winnipegers are very cheap, and the "we want the NHL to return" will fade away when they see the price of a ticket. If the loonie falls in the future, will these clubs be in the financial scrapes again? I don't want public money in these risky ventures, it's bad enough school funding and hospitals are getting cuts. The NHL is a bygone sport, which is way to rich for these little towns.

  10. Once again Quebec wants to be treated different, get what ever it wants like a spoiled child, i say No, use it for roads like it was meant to be. We Canadians are all not hockey fans, I for one hate the barbaric red neck sport. Besides hasn't separtist Quebec left yet, so boring, I vote kick them out!!