Alberta Politics

provincial politicians being gamed into katz downtown arena funding debate.

The game of funding billionaire Daryl Katz‘s contentious downtown Edmonton arena proposal entered the provincial political arena this week with candidates in the Progressive Conservative leadership contest and an opposition politician dancing around this delicate issue. Supporters of the Katz downtown arena, including Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, are stalking the provincial leadership candidates for commitments to hand over provincial tax dollars to fill an extra $100 million gap to construct the project on top of the $125 million from taxes on surrounding development and other municipal funds.

In front of a crowd of more than 350 supporters in Vermilion last week, the PC leadership candidates balked at the idea of using provincial funding to support the construction of the privately-operated downtown arena.

A day later, conservative crusader Ted Morton astonishingly floated the bizarre idea that the capital region hold a referendum to add one per cent to Goods and Services Tax (a “penny tax”) for two years in order to pay for the Katz downtown arena. This proposal is problematic at its most basic (including the fact that the GST is a federal tax).

Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ted Morton in Vermillion on July 21, 2011.
Ted Morton wants to raise the GST to help a billionaire?

After being incorrectly reported as supporting a tax increase to fund the arena, Alison Redford issued a statement setting the record straight that she opposes any provincial direct funding or a dedicated tax. Former Deputy Premier Doug Horner ruled out direct funding from the provincial government.

In Vermilion, Gary Mar reaffirmed his previous position that the Katz downtown arena will not receive any provincial funding if he becomes Premier.

Never too far away to deliver a soundbite, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith issued a hastily written media release during a stop in Peace River calling for a lottery to fill the $100 million gap.

Premier Ed Stelmach suggested that Mayor Mandel look to existing funds in the already allocated funds from the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) to fill the gap. Using MSI funds to find $100 million for the Katz downtown arena could mean diverting already promised towards the construction and maintenance of public infrastructure such as roads, public transit, and community halls.

While the City of Edmonton will technically “own” the new downtown arena, Mr. Katz, the billionaire owner of the Edmonton Oilers, will collect the revenue generated at the arena.

Meanwhile, Mr. Katz remains conspicuously missing from this public funding debate (perhaps he is hanging out with his millionaire friend Gary Bettman).

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