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Should Winnipeg, Quebec NHL bids get public funds?

A Quebec Nordiques fan shows his support for their return to the NHL at a game between the Calgary Flames and the Senators at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2011.

Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

Two stories today, both about two Canadian cities hoping to get an NHL team back and both involving the use of public funds, to varying degrees.

First, here's the Winnipeg side of things:

"Sources told the Free Press on Tuesday that True North Sports and Entertainment's bid to buy the Atlanta Thrashers and move them to Winnipeg is banking on some kind of financial aid from the province.

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"But True North, which owns the MTS Centre, is looking for help to manage the debt load it carries on the arena, the sources said, in order to free up money to help cover the costs of relocating an NHL team to the city."

And, 2,500 kilometres away in Quebec City, a somewhat similar story via the Montreal Gazette, albeit in this case it's part of an effort to get an arena built solely with public funds:

"On Tuesday, Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume was prowling the assembly corridors trying to convince the independents and smaller parties to support his bill, granting legal immunity to Quebecor.

"The 25-year contract would give the Montreal media company naming rights and management of the amphitheatre for $63.5 million a year if it also succeeds in drawing an NHL team, $33 million if not.

"The rent would be $5 million a year with a team; $3.15 million without. But under the agreement, Quebecor could manage the facility rent-free if there is an operating deficit."

These are two very different situations, but both could help sway some public opinion against the NHL's return to these two relatively small Canadian cities.

Putting the burden on the taxpayers, in any form, is rarely popular these days when it comes to sports facilities, especially in light of all the criticism the City of Glendale is facing over its bailout of the Phoenix Coyotes.

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What we don't have in either case above is hard numbers as to what these deals would cost the governments involved. In the Winnipeg scenario, 70 per cent of the building was built with private funds, leaving only 30 per cent that was split between the city, provincial and federal governments for the MTS Centre.

So it's possible there's only a small about of debt relief at play there.

The Quebec City scenario is far more complex, with communications giant Quebecor leading the charge to get back the Nordiques but doing so with a deal one former city manager is calling "illegal." There's also inherently a lot of risk involved in building a rink with no guarantee an NHL team will relocate to the city, something Hamilton discovered after building Copps Coliseum in the mid-1980s.

Which makes for a pretty big gamble given $400-million is involved.

This is likely to become a political issue in both cities very quickly, if it isn't already. And it'll pit many hockey fans against those against helping billionaire owners and sports leagues break even.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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