MONTREAL — Tax dollars shouldn't be spent on big league sports franchises when hundreds of thousands of Canadian kids live in poverty, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Friday in Montreal.
The return of major league sports teams is a hot topic in Quebec, with both Quebec City and Montreal looking to regain lost franchises, but Mulcair said sports fans shouldn't expect any help from the federal government.
"I think that nothing would be better than for the private sector to get together and put everything in place to have a Major League Baseball team (in Montreal)," he said. "But in a society that knows still to this day far too much poverty and when I have hundreds of thousands of children going to school hungry, it's hard to understand that the taxpayer would be asked to fork over money for franchises that are worth billions."
Provincial politicians are more flexible with the public purse, however, as roughly $200 million in tax dollars were recently spent building Quebec City's new NHL-size arena, scheduled to open in September.
Media giant Quebecor officially submitted a bid in July to bring back an NHL team to the provincial capital and while its application didn't include plans for public funds, at least one Quebec minister has publicly mused about investing tax dollars in a new franchise.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is one of the city's biggest cheerleaders for the return of the Expos, but the discussion is pure speculation, as most agree a baseball comeback is at least several years away.
While Mulcair was willing to talk some baseball, most of his announcement focused on alleviating poverty in Canada, which was fitting because the man standing next to him at the podium was once a well-known advocate for the homeless.
Jim Hughes is the NDP's newly elected candidate for the riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grace-Westmount and aside from being a former deputy minister in New Brunswick, he used to run Montreal's well-known homeless shelter, the Old Brewery Mission.
Mulcair said Hughes is an example of the high-quality candidates with proven governing experience who make up his NDP team.
The NDP leader reiterated his party's pledge to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement benefits to Old Age Security and to lower the age of eligibility for government pensions back to 65 from 67.
He said the two measures would lift 200,000 seniors out of poverty.
On the subject of child poverty, Mulcair added an NDP government would cancel a tax credit for stock options that he said mostly "benefits the wealthy" and use it "dollar-for-dollar" to help fight child hunger.
"In the NDP we just don't accept that the people who built our country — our seniors — should be living in deep poverty," he said. "And we don't accept that hundreds of thousands of Canadian children go to school in the morning hungry — we will change both those realities."
The riding Mulcair visited Friday is one of only a handful that withstood the so-called orange wave in 2011.
In 2011, then known as Westmount-Ville-Marie, the riding was won by the incumbent Liberal Marc Garneau by just a few hundred votes.
In 2008, Garneau, the first Canadian to go to space, won the riding by 9,000.
The party says it has a good chance to take away one of the last Liberal bastions on the island of Montreal.
"The NDP, we love challenges," Mulcair told a crowd of a couple of hundred. "People have always said that NDG-Westmount is a Liberal fortress. Never let them tell you it can't be done."
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