TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government came under fire Thursday for quietly giving $500,000 to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to help secure the 2016 NBA all-star game for Toronto.
"It's amazing that they'd find $500,000 to give to the second wealthiest sports organization in the world," said Progressive Conservative Doug Holyday.
"I don't think NBA basketball needs that help, and I'm certain if the Liberals were proud of doing it they would have made an announcement about it, and they haven't."
Tourism and Sport Minister Michael Chan never mentioned the half-million-dollar grant Monday, even though he was on hand when MLSE, which owns the Toronto Raptors, announced the city would host the NBA all-star celebrations in 2016.
The provincial government also failed to issue a news release to announce the $500,000 grant to MLSE from its "Celebrate Ontario Blockbuster" program.
"I'm as excited as anybody else to have the NBA all-star game coming to Toronto," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. "But Ontario is in some really tough times, and do we really need to be giving $500,000 to a multi-billion-dollar entertainment company that really doesn't need that kind of help?"
Premier Kathleen Wynne defended the grant to MLSE, which also owns the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto FC soccer team, the Air Canada Centre, as well as Leafs TV, NBA TV Canada and GolTV, which broadcasts MLS soccer.
"This is part of what we do as a government to enhance tourism and bring people to the province," Wynne said at an unrelated event in Ajax, Ont. "There are other large events that we support, hockey events, soccer events, that bring tourism to the province, and the (NBA) all-star game is part of that."
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment was recently valued at $2.25 billion, and doesn't need corporate welfare.
"The government can't resist handing out money left, right and centre and I guess Maple Leaf Sports couldn't resist taking the grant," said CTF Ontario director Candice Malcolm. "It is a shame because Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment had been a model of not seeking or going after taxpayers' subsidies."
MLSE said Thursday that it asked for the money because it felt the NBA event qualified for funding under the province's program to boost tourism.
"Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment submitted an application through the Celebrate Ontario Blockbuster event program, which is designed to stimulate tourism and the kind of local economic impact that the NBA all-star game will bring to Toronto and Ontario," MLSE spokesman Dave Haggith said in an interview.
MLSE had also announced Monday that it had hired Toronto rap star Drake as a new "global ambassador,'' and predicted the NBA all-star event would generate around $100 million for Toronto.
"This is the first time ever the NBA all-star game will be held in Ontario, and it's going to provide an outstanding amount of enthusiasm, tourism and full hotels," said Finance Minister Charles Sousa. "Do you know that in Orlando last year it netted $95 million in benefit to local communities? That's what we're talking about."
But the Taxpayers Federation said there was no need to give money to MLSE to attract the NBA's signature event.
"What on earth are we subsidizing," asked Malcolm. "Ontario taxpayers are simply padding their bottom line."