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Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josee Verner comments on the future arena for a professional hockey team at a news conference Thursday, January 27, 2011 in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Harper government is confirming its willingness to fund an NHL-calibre arena in Quebec City but says it wants a clear accounting of private-sector involvement.

The Conservatives' political minister for Quebec City - Josée Verner - updated the federal government's position Thursday.

"My Quebec caucus colleagues and I support the amphitheatre project and the door is not closed with the federal government, far from it," she said in French at a news conference in Quebec City.

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Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume recently said he had written off support from the federal government and was moving on to "Plan B."

The municipal government in Quebec City has said it will spend the next six to nine months studying the accuracy of its $400-million price estimate for the new facility.

The timing of the ongoing work suggests that if there is a spring federal election, this file will remain unresolved. It is a highly sensitive issue among Conservatives, as some argue strongly that the government should rule out any funding for professional sports stadiums or arenas.

The ongoing arena debate picked up steam over the weekend when Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau announced that he was prepared to spend tens of millions on the project. That was news to Ottawa, said Ms. Verner, who disputed claims that the federal government has received a detailed plan from the city.

"Contrary to what Mayor Labeaume said today, the government of Canada has not received a business plan or a proposal that includes such participation," she said. "We learned over the weekend through the media that there was a proposal from Pierre Karl Péladeau's group since September and no one in the federal government, nor in my office, was aware of this."

The issue is also a challenge for the federal government on the policy side. Ms. Verner noted that Ottawa has never contributed to a project like this before. While she said Ottawa will consider a detailed proposal, the government will not meet the city's original request.

All three federal opposition parties say they support federal funding for the project, provided it does not go directly to a professional sports team and that similar agreements are available across the country.

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Earlier this week, The Globe and Mail reported that a request to a federal $1.25-billion Public Private Partnership fund by Saskatchewan for a CFL stadium is being viewed as a test case for Quebec City. The independent managers of the fund have yet to decide whether they will approve the plan for a domed football stadium in Regina.

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