The federal government has rejected a proposal that could have paved the way for a CFL franchise in Quebec City, saying Ottawa is not in the business of subsidizing professional sports.
At a news conference yesterday, Lawrence Cannon, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, dismissed a proposal by a group of Quebec investors calling for changes to Laval University's new sports complex that would have allowed for the expansion of the university's football field to meet CFL requirements. Cannon said a previously planned Laval project would proceed.
"The project that was submitted, for which due diligence was done by our officials, does not include a football stadium for the CFL," Cannon said.
"We are not in that business. I've said no to Winnipeg. I'm not going to go and fund football stadiums for the CFL."
In a pre-election announcement in Quebec City yesterday, the government announced a seven-year, $4-billion infrastructure program for the province of Quebec as part of the $33-billion fund announced earlier by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Part of the announcement included the federal government's $37.5-million contribution to Laval University's $85-million sports complex. The province will invest an equal amount and the city $10-million.
A group of local investors had urged the governments and Laval to modify the project to allow for a multimillion-dollar expansion of the university's football stadium.
According to Quebec City lawyer Marc Bellemare, local investors have already set aside half of the $40-million needed to expand the stadium, with the other half expected to come from other potential investors. The proposal would have allowed the addition of 15,000 seats to the stadium's capacity of about 10,000.
However, Denis Brière, the president of Laval, refused to modify the project to allow for the stadium's expansion to attract a CFL franchise to the city.
"It would be irresponsible to say no to the expansion of the football stadium," Bellemare said on behalf of the anonymous investors in an interview on Tuesday. "The investors need to settle the situation involving the stadium. Then we can move and show the rest of Canada that Quebec City is truly a city capable of attracting a CFL franchise."
According to a study conducted on behalf of the investors by the marketing firm Impact Recherche, 71 per cent of Quebec City residents support a CFL franchise. The study, obtained by The Globe and Mail, shows that 43 per cent of the 1,001 people polled would be interested in purchasing a season ticket and that 85 per cent believe Laval would be an appropriate location to play CFL games.
The investors worked closely with the Montreal Alouettes in preparing their project for a CFL franchise. Alouettes president Larry Smith said in a recent local radio interview he embraced Quebec City as a potential CFL franchise location, saying it would create a healthy rivalry between the two cities and boost interest for the league throughout Quebec.
However, insiders report there has been next to no recent talk of Quebec City as an expansion target for the nine-team league, rather the efforts have centred on Ottawa, where a group of investors were granted a conditional CFL franchise this year.
Senior league officials said they're only interested in expansion insofar as potential owners can provide evidence they have deep pockets and strong local ties.
"We've learned that the hard way in Ottawa," an official said, referring to the brief and ill-fated operation of the Ottawa Renegades in 2005. The franchise suspended operations the next year.
The study showed that the attraction of a CFL franchise in the city would not have a negative impact on the popularity of local university football games.
Cannon's blunt statement killed the plan and left local investors scrambling for an alternative project.
"We have a plan B that would include building a stadium just outside Quebec City," Bellemare said. "But that's a more costly proposal, one that would cost between $75-million and $125-million."