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Smoke rises from downtown Edmonton's skyline on Dec. 16, 2005. (Tim Smith/CP)
Smoke rises from downtown Edmonton's skyline on Dec. 16, 2005. (Tim Smith/CP)

Edmonton's 'expo dream is gone' Add to ...

The Harper government's decision to veto a proposed exposition to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday has raised fury in the Conservatives' heartland.

"They have turned down this tremendous opportunity in the interest of political expediency," Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel said Monday, flanked by his council and bid supporters.

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"It seems the fiscal responsibility of the federal government only applies to Western Canada," he fumed. "… I have never been as mad at anything."

The decision is consistent with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's warning Monday that the fiscal cupboard is bare, and does not auger well for Quebec City's hopes for federal help with a hockey arena.

"This year must be different," Mr. Flaherty told the Oakville Chamber of Commerce in a lunchtime speech Monday. "We will not make significant new government spending commitments this year that would trigger bigger deficits and higher taxes."

Heritage Minister James Moore sent Edmonton's Mayor Mandel a letter Monday saying the federal government was not willing to help fund the city's bid for an international exposition to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. Both the Edmonton and Alberta governments have strongly lobbied for the fair.

The federal share of the $2.3-billion expo would cost $706-million, Mr. Moore wrote.

Add in security and other responsibilities, and "costs for the federal government for this project could easily eclipse $1-billion," Mr. Moore concluded, "and that is a financial risk we are not prepared to take at this time."

The Conservatives' refusal effectively kills the bid. "Our expo dream is gone," mourned Mr. Mandel.

A federal official speaking on background, because the official lacked authorization to speak on behalf of the government, said it wasn't axiomatic that the Quebec arena proposal would also be nixed.

"That's infrastructure, and there are infrastructure asks across the country," the official said.

The City of Quebec said Monday it had received assurances from the Prime Minister's Office that no decision had yet been taken with respect to federal funding of a sports complex.

Nonetheless, the political optics of refusing to support Edmonton's Expo 2017 but helping Quebec's efforts to land the 2022 Olympic Winter Games and a National Hockey League franchise by funding a new arena would be beyond contentious.

Mr. Mandel and others at the news conference were particularly upset at the lack of support they detected from Public Works Minister and Edmonton MP Rona Ambrose.

Ms. Ambrose "completely failed to stand up for us and this province," said Mr. Mandel, adding that the minister "failed us absolutely and completely."

All but one Edmonton seat, along with every other seat in Alberta, is in Conservative hands. But the Tories lost at least one vote with their decision.

"Alberta and Albertans took a kick in the teeth today from the federal government," said bid committee member Randy Ferguson. "I'm going to go home and tear up my federal Conservative membership card."

With reports from Rhéal Séguin in Quebec and Jane Taber in Ottawa

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