Tories mull change to gas-tax rules for Quebec arena
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 9, 2011 3:44PM EST
OTTAWA - Sources have told The Canadian Press the federal Conservatives are considering changes to the national gas-tax fund so Quebec City can use the money to fund its arena.
Senior officials say the idea is being promoted from within the Tory caucus, and is gaining support.
But a spokeswoman for Infrastructure Minister Chuck Strahl says there has been no official change to his position.
"Our position has not changed. Professional sports are first and foremost the responsibility of the private sector," said Nina Chiarelli, director of communications.
"If the federal government were to play a role in this project, it would have to be fair to all regions of the country, and affordable as we are entering a period of fiscal restraint."
Until now, transfer of $2 billion a year in gas-tax revenues to municipalities could not be used to build arenas or other sports facilities.
Rather, the fund was designed to pay for municipal infrastructure such as roads, bridges and water-treatment plants, or for greenhouse-gas reduction and waste-management projects.
Ken Cheveldayoff, a Saskatchewan cabinet minister responsible for a proposed multi-purpose entertainment facility in the province, says the gas-tax cash is already allocated.
"My understanding is that money is already spoken for so I would have to see the details on this."
He said changing the rules could cause problems.
"That's the concern, that if they've got it dedicated for other things right now, then it makes it very, very difficult."
Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume hopes an arena will help his city lure back an NHL team 15 years after the beloved Nordiques left for Colorado.
But Labeaume's crusade put Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government in an awkward spot.
Investing in a Quebec City arena might boost the Conservatives' sagging electoral fortunes in the province, but could also generate a backlash in the rest of the country.
Financing a pro sport facility at a time of record federal deficits adds another level of difficulty.
Harper has suggested that any solution would have to be applicable across the country.
A recent poll suggested a majority of Canadians don't want the federal government using tax dollars to pay for arenas or stadiums for professional sports teams.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey found 55 per cent of respondents opposed federal funding for such facilities.
Forty-one per cent were supportive.