Quebec arena deal being probed

Quebec’s lobbying commissioner has launched a probe into the Quebec City arena project.

QUEBEC — Quebec’s lobbying commissioner has launched a probe into the Quebec City arena project.

The commissioner announced Thursday that after examining documents submitted by the municipality, there was reason to believe a violation of the province’s lobbying ethics and transparency law had been committed.

That law says lobbyists must be registered and it sets out a wide variety of penalties for non-compliance — mainly fines ranging from $500 to $25,000, all the way up to penal prosecution.

The commissioner’s statement Thursday was terse, and said nothing else about the alleged violation.

Quebec City is hoping to build an arena, essentially with public funds, to attract an NHL team back to the provincial capital.

The Quebecor media empire has signed a multimillion-dollar deal that would grant it the right to name and manage the building.

The arena project has already suffered its share of political controversy: the Harper government has washed its hands of the issue, refusing to fund the project; more recently, it has caused divisions within the Parti Quebecois.

Much of the controversy has involved Bill 204, legislation designed to block any potential lawsuit against the Quebecor deal.

The legislation was tabled by a Parti Quebecois member — to the dismay of some colleagues — after legal threats surfaced against the deal.

Quebec City’s former director general was among the key opponents of the Quebecor deal because, he said, it did not respect municipal contracting standards.

The arena’s estimated $400 million construction budget would be funded entirely from the provincial and municipal governments.

Roughly one-quarter of that cash would be recouped, however, by the deal with Quebecor that would grant the company exclusive rights over the name and management of the building.