Are Quebec cities in the sports business?

Posted 06.12.15

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Gatineau city council's controversial vote (June 2) to reject the latest plan to build a new central arena in downtown Gatineau (Hull sector), comes as a relief to city taxpayers and is a bold step by mayor Padneaud-Jobin and his council.

Simply, cities cannot afford such extravagance, and there is good reason to question whether any city should be in the business of building facilities for corporate-owned commercial sports franchises, no matter the popularity of the sport.

The mayor had suggested that the original cost estimate of $63.5 million was beyond the city's means. The second round of bids exceeded this amount, the highest at $70 million, making the negative vote almost mandatory. We citizens are fortunate that council did not cave in to the substantial commercial pressures urging Gatineau to build a new "state of the art" arena, and we should be pleased our mayor led this affirmation of tax-payer relief.

The old Robert Guertin arena is slated for demolition after the 2017-18 season of the Gatineau Olympiques, who call this facility home. The mayor has suggested that private interests, with the hockey club, could build a new arena, and that is the intelligent option.

Professional hockey teams are private businesses. Why should our city go into debt for years to provide a facility for this businesses? Should the city build a high-tech "gaming complex" for the gaming industry? Or, best yet, how about the city building a modern printing plant for the city's newspapers! Nothing like is under consideration -- so why was something similar considered for the professional sports industry?

Just because they asked? Because many of us enjoy hockey?

Gatineau is facing major infrastructure costs -- and taxpayers might benefit more by having Lucerne Blvd. widened and rebuilt, or a new interprovincial bridge to Ottawa constructed -- but which city has the funds to even catch up to its infrastructure deficit?

Cities receive revenues mainly from property taxes, plus transfer payments (also tax money), and various fees and charges (a form of taxation). Should taxes favour specific businesses, popular or not?

If we see a new arena as a means to foster sports and exercise, those millions might assist more tax-payers if they were invested all over the city -- in upgrading existing arenas and rinks and in creating local venues for citizen participation. This decision is not a slap to sports and exercise -- just the contrary. If the city does wish to foster sports and exercise, take that as a starting point and create projects which directly address that goal.

What about school sports facilities? Modern libraries? Expanding UQO? Upgrading Aylmer's Frank Robinson and the Duchesnay arenas?

As for legacy projects and big, dramatic facilities -- who needs 'em! How will one more flashy, inevitably uninspired, piece of architecture add anything to Gatineau's reputation? Come on, we say, get down to earth!

And kudos to our mayor and council for their grasp of reality.


Copyright © 2015 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/06.15