If you build it, more requests will come.
That's the message for the Harper government from other parts of the country as Ottawa drops not-so-subtle hints that federal cash is coming for a bid to revive the Quebec Nordiques hockey team.
For the sake of consistency, the government of Saskatchewan says any money for a Quebec City arena could only be good news for the province's request to Ottawa for up to $100-million toward a new downtown Regina stadium with a retractable roof that would be home to the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders.
"I think the logic is there to fund something in Quebec and something in Saskatchewan as well," Ken Cheveldayoff, Saskatchewan's lead minister on the file, said on Thursday in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "It would enhance entertainment options in both provinces and would certainly add to the culture of the country as well."
Images of smiling Conservative MPs from Quebec posing this week in Nordiques jerseys, coupled with supportive comments about the project from federal cabinet minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn, strongly suggest that Ottawa is preparing a contribution toward a $400-million arena in the city. The new arena would be part of a campaign by the city and Quebecor's Pierre Karl Péladeau to win a National Hockey League franchise.
Talk of federal funding for football stadiums and arenas is heating up even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeatedly warns his government is about to turn off the taps of stimulus spending and move toward balancing the books.
Speaking in Saskatoon, Mr. Harper said on Thursday that his government does not finance professional sports teams directly, but is open to other options.
"In terms of financing major sports facilities, there are demands here, there are demands in Quebec City. I'm aware of demands elsewhere. In terms of financing any of these things going forward, we're going to have to respect the precedents we've had in the past, and be sure any treatment we're prepared to give to one major city, we're prepared to give to all. So obviously we'll be looking at our options in that context," he said.
Two Conservative MPs from Regina - Tom Lukiwski and Andrew Sheer - are working to help Saskatchewan with its bid by suggesting a federal program to which it should apply. Ralph Goodale, Liberal MP for Regina, weighed in this week, telling a local paper that Ottawa should contribute "well in excess of $100-million" toward the new home for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz is campaigning for a new $400-million arena, which - according to one report - would need about $35-million in public funds from Alberta and Ottawa.
"We are watching developments in Quebec with interest," said Oilers vice-president Bob Black, who is leading the arena campaign. But shortly after, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach ruled out provincial spending on NHL arenas for the Oilers or the Calgary Flames, saying health care and education are more pressing priorities. He said the photo op by Quebec Conservative MPs suggested to him that "maybe we're getting close to an election federally."
Polls show the federal Conservatives are at risk of losing seats in Quebec, where they hold several ridings in and around Quebec City.
Derek Fildebrandt of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said it's not surprising that other cities will be expecting money for sports stadiums if Ottawa contributes to the Quebec City arena.
"What you see now is the inevitability of politicians starting to wax and wane at the thought of actually winding down so-called stimulus measures," he said. "They now enjoy having an unlimited pot of cash to disperse to buy votes at will."
With reports from Josh Wingrove in Edmonton and the Canadian Press