OTTAWA — Saskatchewan tried to do an end-run around rules that would prevent the province from tapping into a pot of more than $1 billion to build a new CFL stadium in Regina, new documents indicate.
And a senior official at the Crown corporation that manages the fund alluded to a possible change in the rules for funding pro sports venues with federal cash.
The Conservatives designed the $1.2-billion P3 Canada Fund to help pay for infrastructure projects in partnership with other governments and the private sector. Money from the fund cannot be spent on facilities “primarily” used for pro sports.
Not a problem, said Saskatchewan.
The province said its Canadian Football League team would only use the venue 10 days a year. The rest of the time, the $400-million stadium would host university and high school football games, concerts, other sporting events and a few conferences.
“The Saskatchewan multi-purpose entertainment facility is not primarily a professional sports facility,” says an August 2010 presentation to fund manager P3 Canada.
But it is clear there could be no stadium without the Roughriders.
The province prepared two financial statements: a conservative estimate and a rosier one. The team would account for most of the facility’s annual revenue under both scenarios.
The Canadian Press obtained these and other documents under the Access to Information Act.
The conservative estimate has 31 events at the stadium, which would bring in close to $4.5 million in revenue. Of that, the 10 CFL games would bring in about $3.5 million, or 79 per cent of the facility’s revenue.
The rosier estimate projects 71 stadium events and revenues of almost $4.9 million. The Roughriders would account for 72 per cent of that money.
The estimates come from a feasibility study on building a domed, all-weather stadium. The federal government helped pay for the $1-million report, and Conservative MPs Gerry Ritz and Andrew Scheer sat on an advisory committee that directed work on the study.
“The project is clearly economically feasible and will generate related and recurrent benefits throughout the province of Saskatchewan,” the study says.
“The benefits are overwhelmingly positive.”
But time on the clock ran out, and Saskatchewan spiked the stadium project this spring. The city of Regina is now looking at how it could build a stadium.
The P3 Canada Fund is considered a potential source of federal money for sports facilities such as the Regina stadium and a politically charged proposal for a hockey arena in Quebec City.
The arena-funding debate has been a political minefield for the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, pitting the provinces — and even some members of the Tory caucus — against each other.
But newly released documents suggest that as recently as May, bureaucrats were still trying to figure out if possible rule changes would allow Ottawa to fund sports venues such as the one in Saskatchewan.
“We are trying to determine which projects may be impacted by a potential change in (government) policy that may alter our (terms and conditions) restricting stadium-spectator facilities that have an anchor tenant that may own a team and run it as a commercial venture,” senior P3 Canada official Rob Mackay wrote in a May 10 email to colleagues.
Mackay does not elaborate on the “potential change” he referred to. He was not available for an interview.