Does anyone else find the arena situation in Calgary bizarre? Stand back and think about the big picture for a second.
It's well known that Calgary has been struggling over the past couple years. Our unemployment rate continues to be the highest among major Canada cities and food banks are still facing high demand from Calgarians.
Talk to everyday people in this city and they'll tell you of friends or loved ones who still can't find work. While our economy is improving, it's going to take time before businesses have the confidence and capital to hire enough workers to fill up all those empty offices downtown.
Despite our woes, the Calgary Flames have been very insistent that taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars right now for a new arena. Yes, an arena — for wealthy businessmen — so that they can hire people and pay them millions of dollars to play hockey.
Why are the Flames using high-pressure tactics while so many of their fans are out of work and struggling?
Whether or not you think professional sports teams should receive funding from taxpayers, let's focus on the team's timing for a second. Calgary fans have been incredibly loyal to the Flames over the years — people in other cities still talk about the "red mile" from the Flames' cup run in 2004.
With that in mind, why are the Flames using high-pressure tactics while so many of their fans are out of work and struggling?
Are the Flames in an emergency situation — is the Saddledome about to collapse? Are the Flames on the verge of becoming homeless?
That doesn't appear to be the case. The City of Calgary's recent Olympic bid report notes the Saddledome could be used for the 2026 Winter Olympics. In other words, the facility has at least eight more years worth of life in it.
If there are reports that suggest the facility is about to fall apart, where are they? The Canadian Taxpayers Federation filed freedom of information requests with the city back in June for analysis related to repairing the arena and McMahon Stadium. So far, the city has yet to release the materials.
If there's no urgent case for a new arena, it's hard to see why struggling families and businesses should have to pay even higher property taxes for a new arena.
One might also ask why the Flames recently invited Gary Bettman — who isn't exactly adored by fans — to come to town and try to pressure the city to build a new arena? Strange tactic.
It's hard to see why struggling families and businesses should have to pay even higher property taxes for a new arena.
Brian Burke's remarks — in which he suggested the Flames be thanked for asking for millions of dollars from taxpayers — was, to say the least, insensitive.
While the arena situation has been debated for quite a while now, it's still not clear why the Flames can't do what the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadians, Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks did — they paid for their own arena. This is the model the Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends.
What should be clear is that the city's latest offer was beyond generous. For the Flames to take a pass on close to $200 million dollars in contributions from a city that is struggling — well, that's taking it to another level.
Colin Craig is the Interim Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation
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