REGINA — Saskatchewan has tossed a political football to Ottawa, saying it will be forced to abandon plans for a new domed stadium in Regina unless the federal government kicks in cash by the end of the month.
“At some point we’ve got to fish or cut bait,” Premier Brad Wall told reporters Tuesday in Saskatoon.
“Obviously, we’ve said we’ve got provincial interest in it, there’s private sector interest in it. We’ve built that case. Without federal support for this particular concept, it’s hard to see it going forward, so I think it’s important to be honest about that and just say that.”
The province has sent a letter to federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty saying it has reached a critical point in the decision process. The province said unless there is a positive decision from the federal government by the end of February, it will be “forced to abandon” the multi-purpose entertainment facility project.
That’s because a land agreement with Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (TSX:CP) at the proposed site of the $430-million stadium is about to lapse. CPR has already extended the land agreement deadline a couple of times.
There is also concern that costs in a feasibility study released a year ago could rise as the process drags on.
The proposed multi-purpose facility would replace Mosaic Stadium, the aging home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders football club.
The province applied for funding from the federal government last June through the P3 Canada Fund, which supports private-public partnerships. But the funding decision has been on hold while Ottawa decides if it will support such applications.
The minority Conservative government has been wrestling openly with the arena funding conundrum. Although, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has never killed the notion of federal funding for pro sports venues outright.
Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco said Tuesday that a decision needs to be made soon.
“We’re not going to play games and work on a feasibility study that its shelf life has elapsed. It’s plain and simple. It would be irresponsible for us,” said Fiacco.
“I think it’s a shame that we haven’t heard anything yet.”
Fiacco said the Riders need a new home, adding that fans won’t go to a facility that “is being kept together with binder twine and duct tape.” The mayor also argued that the project is about the revitalization of Regina’s inner city.
However, Fiacco admitted he’s resigned to fact that Ottawa won’t help with the project.
“I think there’s the possibility of a federal election coming up and I think that the federal politicians in this city that are on the government side want to make sure that nothing sticks to them in regards to this not being built,” said Fiacco.
“The fact of the matter is, we haven’t heard anything positive come out of their mouths in regard to this particular project and I’m disappointed in that.”
Saskatchewan Conservative members of Parliament said Tuesday that the federal government can’t be rushed. There’s a process to work through, said Regina MP Andrew Scheer.
“The federal government often receives these kinds of deadlines from other levels of government, saying, ’If we don’t get an answer by this (date), then the whole thing is jeopardized.’ Sometimes those deadlines come and go and the federal government can’t be held to other levels of governments’ deadlines,” said Scheer.
“We have to make sure that whatever we do, it’s fair across the country, that we can afford it, that it fits into our fiscal framework and that we’re not asking taxpayers for an undue amount of support for these types of facilities.”
Quebec City had also been looking for money from Ottawa for an arena. But it and the province announced earlier this month that they will move ahead with construction of a new NHL-style hockey arena — with or without any involvement from Ottawa or private industry.
The announcement came after months of spirited national debate, prompted by the prospect of federal tax dollars being used to build an arena for a non-existent NHL team.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest said the province will increase its funding commitment and is now ready to pay half the arena cost — as long as the total price tag doesn’t exceed $400 million.
Saskatchewan had been looking for the federal government to kick in 20 to 25 per cent of the project.
Wall said if funding doesn’t flow from Ottawa, the province would be open to other proposals. But the province won’t take the lead.
“I think we need to finally resolve what’s going to happen to the project as it’s currently proposed — yes or no — and then perhaps some other alternative will come forward,” said Wall.
“Obviously something needs to be done. Mosaic needs some love. We either have to do something with the stadium as it exists today, with a new outdoor or a new indoor facility potentially, those are always the options.
“But I think it’s important that government not drive the next project. We worked hard to try to advance this one and if it’s not going to work, then we’re going to remain open to being a part of it, but it needs to have another group come forward and give it some life and look at the options that are available.”