Feds buy time on Quebec arena controversy

QUEBEC — The federal government has moved to hit the pause button on the contentious Quebec arena debate, delaying any funding announcement for a project that has roused passions across the country.

QUEBEC — The federal government has moved to hit the pause button on the contentious Quebec arena debate, delaying any funding announcement for a project that has roused passions across the country.

The government says it will give the city’s mayor time to raise more private-sector funding before it considers a federal role.

The Conservatives’ top local minister, Josee Verner, told a news conference that the government has yet to receive a proposal that includes private-sector money.

“We do not have everything we need,” Verner said.

“It is important that (Mayor Regis) Labeaume continue (raising funds).”

Ottawa’s move comes just ahead of a possible federal election — which will happen if the government’s budget is defeated several weeks from now.

The arena issue could easily flare up during a campaign, not only with Quebec City voters or those in other cities seeking new sports buildings — but also with taxpayers angered that their money would be used to build an arena for a non-existent NHL team.

Verner said today that there is no precedent for an arena being built entirely with public funds.

She added that she hopes the arena gets built and stressed that the federal government is not slamming the door on participation.

“The door is not closed from the federal government — far from it,” Verner said.

But the issue of Quebec — which lost its NHL team in 1995 — getting federal money for a $400-million hockey arena has prompted a fiery national debate.

That debate was revived this week when the Quebecor media empire, which wants to bring a team to Quebec, announced that it will put some of its own money — “tens of millions of dollars” — in the project.

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