Rick Tempesta 0

Say "NO" to the Quebec Hockey Area

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MONTREAL - The only thing missing from this loopy $400 million Quebec City arena project is Roger Taillibert. How about an arena with a retractable roof to host the Winter Classic during a blizzard? Shouldn't cost more than a billion or so. Seriously. This one is such an outrage, it's almost criminal. This province is up to its neck in debt. Our schools are so strapped for cash they have to hold fundraisers for materials that should be basic for any school system. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our roads are so full of potholes, people can't drive Smart cars for fear they'll be swallowed up. No one has a clue how we're going to fund our health-care system for the next 10 or 20 years. We're drowning in taxes. The provincial sales tax was just bumped to 8.5 per cent (really 8.925 per cent once you factor in the tax-on-a-tax) and will go to 9.5 per cent next January, meaning that you'll pay a provincial tax of 9.975 per cent in real money on almost everything you buy. So we're about to spend $400 million ($200 million from the provincial government, $200 million more from Quebec City's municipal budget) to build a hockey arena for a city which doesn't have an NHL team. A debacle? A boondoggle? Lunacy? Words fail me. Look, this would be a travesty IF a new NHL franchise for the provincial capital was already signed, sealed and delivered. It would be a debacle IF Quebec City had already mounted a successful bid to host the winter Olympics, because taxpayers have to get out of the business of providing welfare for the rich in the form of sports palaces. These projects are always supported by bogus economic studies claiming benefits that, in truth, never materialize. Building an arena for a town without a team? Only a lunatic would float such an idea. Quebec City has no NHL team and -arena or no arena - it may never have one again. There are no guarantees, written or unwritten. Gary Bettman has blown a few smoke signals, but that's about it. For better or worse, Bettman is married to his Sun Belt strategy to the point where he is willing to squander tens of millions of dollars to keep the Coyotes on life support in Phoenix, so there is no reason to believe he will ever relocate another franchise to Canada. No doubt the board of governors would love to cash the cheques from another round of expansion - but that's a pyramid scheme that has led to nothing but trouble in the past. Build it and they will come? Even that is far from guaranteed. Originally, the Quebec City project was intended as a linchpin for a Winter Olympics bid. We thought the whole project was dead after an IOC technical committee ruled that Quebec's bid is a mountain short -the proposed site for the downhill wasn't long enough, so the bid appears to be dead. That arena concept should have died with it, but it didn't, because Premier Jean Charest and goofy Quebec City Mayor Regis Lebeaume are playing politics with $400 million of our tax dollars. This being Quebec, home of the cost overrun, you can bet that the final tab will run to $500 million, or $600 million, or $750 million before they're through. All to build another white elephant, a home for the occasional car show or monster-truck rally and nothing else. Some of the worst operators in our famously corrupt construction industry will be wallowing in cash, while the boilers fail in our underfunded schools. So far, only the province and the city are on the hook for this stupidity. But Stephen Harper (who may be the single most cynical politician this country has ever produced) may yet kick in a wad of federal money to buy some Reform Party seats in the Quebec City region, delivering a kick in the wallet to all Canadian taxpayers. The madness of the publicly financed professional sports facility has to end. It's a con game, the process by which billionaire owners and millionaire players blackmail the public into footing the bill for the venues where they earn billions for themselves, for the television networks, for the equipment companies, for the agents -for everyone but the hardworking taxpayers who pay the tab. To make things worse, if the village ever does get a new NHL team, the only likely owner is Pierre Karl Peladeau, the union-busting greedhead who can certainly afford to build his own arena if he has to have one. Using our tax dollars to buy a toy for a man as wealthy as Peladeau is simply daft. But it doesn't matter who owns the team: the same holds for the Edmonton Oilers and Saskatchewan Roughriders, both professional sports organizations that want taxpayers to build new venues. Don't get me wrong. I don't like paying taxes either, but I believe in taxes: so long as the money is going to our schools, our hospitals, public transit, cleaning up the environment. Not to subsidize idiotic arena projects. Look, I'd love to see the NHL back in Quebec City. The rivalry between the Canadiens and the Nordiques was intense, and the old Nordiques, at the time they moved to Denver, were so exciting that their practices were more fun to watch than the Canadiens games. If Pierre Karl Peladeau wants a team, let him make like Molson and build an arena. If an arena project is viable, it works for the private sector. Molson (the corporation, not the family) spent somewhere between $270 and $330 million in private funds (depending whose figures you believes) to build Montreal's Bell Centre, an imperfect arena that has become a perfect money machine. If Peladeau can make it work in Quebec City, more power to him. But he shouldn't be doing it on our dime. This province is already home to the biggest catastrophe in stadium-building history. The Olympic Stadium is both the most expensive and the least successful major sports facility ever built. Now it sits empty most of the year -and we still haven't learned our lesson. It's time to say NOPE to this madness -Not One Penny, Ever. Time for a tax revolt. It's time to say that a society that puts hockey arenas over its schoolchildren and hospitals is doomed. Time to straighten out our priorities, before it's too late. Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/sports/Spending+dollars+arena+absurd/4276452/story.html#ixzz1DxNYljUz

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