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Why are some councillors in a rush to give the Flames owners hundreds of millions?

July 30, 2019
Why are some councillors in a rush to give the Flames owners hundreds of millions?

We finally know how to get things done at city hall.

Turns out all you have to do is become a wealthy owner of a professional hockey team and councillors will bend over backwards to meet your demands. Could you imagine if the Flames owners used their influence and money to protest soaring small business taxes and shops closing their doors? Would councillors have fumbled that file for years?

After hearing of the $300-million arena deal for the first time on Monday, July 22, city council announced it would make a decision on the project after only a week of public consultation.

Here’s the $300-million-dollar question: why are councillors so eager now to drain tax dollars from Calgarians for these pro sports executives? With the apparent urgency, you’d think the team is threatening to pack their bags and leave town. But you’d be wrong.

Flames Vice-Chairman Ken King told media that “there was never any sense of us wanting to be anywhere else.”

Jeff Davison, the candidate who was against using tax dollars for a new arena when vying for votes but is now taxpayer-arena-booster-in-chief, confirmed the Flames aren’t applying the pressure. “The Flames have never threatened us with leaving. Never.”

With a loyal fan base, Calgary is a great place to have a professional hockey team. Even during a severe downturn, Calgary has proven a good market for the Flames. According to Forbes’ most recent “The NHL’s Most Valuable Teams” annual ranking, the Flames’ valuation was higher than 11 other teams in 2017. Before the downturn hit Calgary, the Flames ranked just outside of the top 10 most valuable teams in the National Hockey League.

So is the arena crumbling and about to collapse? Could that explain council’s urgency?

Nope. With a few upgrades the Saddledome would’ve passed the gold medal test in seven years. The International Olympic Committee assured the city, after examining facilities, that the Saddledome would be an acceptable venue for both hockey and figure skating at the 2026 Olympics.

Worst of all, it’s been made clear to council for years that the city doesn’t need to spend tax dollars for Calgarians to enjoy a new arena. A number of Canadian cities are home to NHL teams that built their arenas without relying on taxpayer handouts, such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa.

Other cities got their arenas built privately, without swindling taxpayers during a downturn. The Flames haven’t threatened to leave. A new arena isn’t a necessity for the public.

So why are Calgary councillors champing at the bit to give the Flames owners hundreds of millions of dollars – with only a week to ask the public what they think? What’s the rush?

Why are councillors giving Calgarians less time to scrutinize this deal than they allocated for a bike sharing pilot program (nearly a full month for feedback) or the potential single-use waste reduction strategy (two weeks)?

Why are councillors OK with ramming through a project when the taxpayers they represent don’t have information on how we are going to pay for cost overruns or the value of the land subsidy the Flames owners are receiving?

Citizens in cities such as Dallas, Scottsdale, New York and Glendale were able to vote before tax dollars were spent on a professional arena. But when it comes to appeasing pro sports executives, our councillors will only let us have a few days of faux consultation before they rubberstamp it.

Councillors need to remember they work for Calgary taxpayers, not the owners of a professional hockey team and cut the eagerness to unnecessarily waste hundreds of millions of dollars, and give taxpayers a real chance to have their say. 

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