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It didn’t take long for Alberta Premier Danielle Smith to state the obvious at Tuesday’s announcement of a new arena deal for the city of Calgary.

Ms. Smith had just revealed that the provincial government would cough up $330-million as part of the $1.2-billion plan to replace the aging Calgary Saddledome with something akin to the gleaming edifice the city of Edmonton finished in 2016 for superstar Connor McDavid to ply his trade.

Calgary needs a new arena desperately. And the Premier needs the city of Calgary desperately if she hopes to win the May 29 election. After announcing the province’s role in the proposed arena deal, she wasn’t exactly subtle: vote for Danielle Smith and the United Conservative Party if you want this arena to become a reality.

That is about the only thing in this startling development that makes any sense: the naked politics of it all. Because after that you have the city of Calgary carrying most of the freight for a new NHL arena. Actually, when you throw in the contribution from the provincial government, Alberta taxpayers are paying an obscene amount of money for what amounts to a new playground for the National Hockey League.

The city pays $537.3-million, the province $330-million, and the hockey team $356-million, only $40-million of which is to be paid up front and the remainder to be spread out over 35 years at a rate of $17-million per annum (plus an increase of 1 per cent per year). I will say one thing: Calgary Flames owner Murray Edwards is a brilliant negotiator.

If you have been paying any attention at all to the arena saga, this deal is a massive head-scratcher. First of all, it’s almost twice the cost of a project that was almost signed off on last year. Back then, the arena was going to cost $634-million, of which the city was going to fork out $287.5-million, and the Flames the balance. But then it fell apart when the city demanded the hockey team pay an additional $10-million in costs related to infrastructure and climate-change mitigation measures.

Now here we are, a year later, and the city is paying more for the project than the Flames.

This is something Albertans are seemingly prepared to do. The Edmonton arena cost $480-million, of which $313-million was picked up by the city and paid for through downtown property taxes and a ticket surcharge. There was no contribution from the provincial government.

And nor should there have been.

Clearly there is more to this story than we know. The Flames are an integral part of the city’s identity. When Brian Burke was the president of the club back in 2017 and in charge of trying to get a new arena built, he didn’t hesitate to suggest at board of trade meetings and elsewhere that it would be a terrible, terrible thing if the city’s hockey team had to flee town because of the condition of its decrepit arena.

Back then, those running the city and province weren’t prepared to give in to such threats. Times have apparently changed.

What wasn’t made clear at the happy arena announcement was who would be on the hook for any cost overruns in the likely event those occur. Given the way Mr. Edwards appears to be able to negotiate, I highly doubt it’s the hockey team. Which means this could be a deal that comes back to haunt Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

Arena deals are controversial everywhere. The smaller the city, the more pressure there is on taxpayers to pick up part of the bill or risk losing their precious team. But there are plenty of cities in the NFL, the richest sports league in the world, that have contributed taxpayer money to pay for new arena deals.

The argument is always that the investment is good for economic activity. There is probably some truth to that, but ultimately, the taxpayer contribution is good for the team’s owners.

There is little question that what Calgary ends up with will be spectacular in design. There are other elements to the plan – a community arena and new entertainment district – that will make it a popular destination for years to come. The city will now be able to attract the kind of entertainment acts that currently shun it in favour of Edmonton’s swank Rogers Place.

So it will be a source of pride.

It’s too bad the politics around the deal are so galling, including the timing of the announcement on the cusp of a provincial election. I’m guessing there will be many Calgarians who won’t be so easily bribed for their votes.

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