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Quebec arena project could still get federal cash

Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis speaks at the World Energy Conference on Sept. 14, 2010, in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The possibility of Ottawa stepping in to fund a new NHL-quality arena for Quebec City remains alive and well, a senior federal cabinet minister explained Tuesday.

Christian Paradis - the federal Natural Resources minister and Quebec lieutenant - provided the latest twist in the head-scratching saga of Quebec City's quest for a new rink.

His remarks came one day after cryptic comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper prompted a variety of sometimes contradictory interpretations. Many interpreted the prime minister's remarks as having sounded the death knell of the project.

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Not so, according to Mr. Paradis. He told reporters that, like Mr. Harper said, any federal funding would have certain conditions.

Mr. Paradis said any facility would need to serve a public purpose and could not be for professional sports alone. It would also have to be spread fairly across the country. And it would need to respect the upcoming climate of fiscal restraint.

"We've always left the door open, saying that we would evaluate any project that would be submitted," Mr. Paradis told reporters at a global energy conference.

"But one thing is clear: if the project is only about a hockey team or a professional sports team, this is a private matter. It would have to generate tangible benefits for broader things than having only professional sports."

Quebec City says its arena project would be designed to help attract the ultimate event in amateur sports: the Winter Olympics.

There are calls for Ottawa to fund nearly half of a $400-million arena which, Quebec City hopes, will also bring back NHL hockey.

But the possibility of federal funding has prompted a considerable backlash - not only in Western Canada, where some cities are also trying to build sports facilities, but also within the Conservative ranks.

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Mr. Paradis was asked whether the new federal position might get expensive. Couldn't every city in Canada planning a facility promise to use it for some amateur sporting events, in exchange for federal cash?

"This is why we say we'll leave the door open. We will consider any project and given the fiscal restraints that we have and given the tangible benefits that we can have," Mr. Paradis replied.

"But one thing is sure: if we link it only with a professional sports team, of course this is a private matter."

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