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Ignatieff defends Quebec arena pledge as Tories pepper him with shots

Stephen Harper's Tories jumped all over Michael Ignatieff for his promise that a Liberal government would help fund a sports and cultural facility in Quebec City, accusing him of wasting "hard-earned tax dollars on professional hockey arenas."

On Tuesday, the Liberal Leader again found himself defending his position, which his aides say he has consistently touted for the past 15 months.

"We've been very clear about this," Mr. Ignatieff said in Montreal at an event with his Outremont candidate Martin Cauchon, a former minister in Jean Chrétien's government.

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"No federal government can subsidize the National Hockey League or private sports teams. That's not what we're about here. But where you have a public space – and people have to remember the Colisée is a public space that will be host to cultural events, host to conferences – it will have a contribution to the economic development of the whole region."

Mr. Ignatieff said that where the public space will have a "positive effect throughout the economy of a region," he believes a "federal contribution is appropriate."

Although he hasn't said how much his government – if he forms one – would contribute, he argued that his position represents a fair and equitable pan-Canadian approach.

"We will not subsidize sports facilities across the country," he said. "What we will do is, when we create public spaces that have cultural and economic and social benefits for a whole region, then as a national strategy we will look at each of those projects and come up with a solution that works for each particular case."

Mr. Ignatieff stirred up this controversy over the weekend when he visited Quebec City and made the promise. It is in contrast to the Conservatives' position, who after much to-ing and fro-ing, finally said no to any funding – quashing the dreams of their Quebec MPs to win votes by helping to aid the return of an NHL team to the province's capital.

The decision was big news and there is a view the Tories will lose votes in that region because of their refusal.

Not surprisingly, then, the Conservatives immediately sent off a missive to their supporters after Mr. Ignatieff's weekend remarks, suggesting the Liberal Leader is doing and saying whatever he can – regardless of whether it's good public policy – to curry favour.

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"Michael Ignatieff is proving once again that he's only in it for himself and that he will stop at nothing to fulfill his ambition to become Prime Minister," the Conservative memo said. "Unlike Michael Ignatieff, Prime Minister Harper has decided that Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars should be spent on more important things than new facilities for professional sports."

And not all of his Liberals are on side, wondering about the wisdom of this promise.

"Lousy policy rarely makes good politics and this is lousy policy," says one long-time Liberal. A radio talk show in Montreal also heard from callers, including a woman who identified herself as a strong Liberal, questioning the promise.

Meanwhile, as Tories are loudly accusing Mr. Ignatieff of having a craven style of politics, they are busily awarding cheques to Quebec snowmobile clubs – $6-million for machines to groom trails so far.

Pre-election retail politics at work.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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