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EDITORIAL: Agreement delivers fatal blow to new complex

Two of the many possible configurations for a proposed new dual-ice-surface, multi-use arena endorsed by the Charlottetown Multi-Use Facility Task Force Committee.  ©THE GUARDIAN
Two of the many possible configurations for a proposed new dual-ice-surface, multi-use arena endorsed by the Charlottetown Multi-Use Facility Task Force Committee. ©THE GUARDIAN - City of Charlottetown

MP’s comments a crushing disappointment to supporters of the proposed complex, touted as a sports and entertainment hub for the city and province. And they amount to a massive betrayal by all levels of government

Whatever doubt remained about federal support for a multi-use sports and entertainment complex in Charlottetown was clarified this week. After confusion swirled around funding for the proposed facility, Charlottetown MP Sean Casey told The Guardian there will be no federal dollars for the facility. The interview slammed the door shut.

As for the 2023 Canada Winter Games in P.E.I., Mr. Casey said there would be some federal dollars available, but nothing nearly enough to impact a major complex. So, those dollars will go to upgrades or to support modest projects.

The MP’s comments are a crushing disappointment to supporters of the proposed complex, touted as a sports and entertainment hub for the city and province. And they amount to a massive betrayal by all levels of government.

RELATED: Charlottetown MP says major new arena project not eligible for federal dollars

Mr. Casey said that an agreement between the province and Ottawa for federal infrastructure dollars excludes any facility if it includes for-profit teams such as a professional basketball or major junior hockey franchise. To blame the Charlottetown Islanders and P.E.I. Storm as roadblocks is unfair, misplaced and smacks of political hypocrisy. The teams were rarely, if ever, cited in any discussions for a new complex. They are tenants in the Eastlink Centre and the leases they pay and crowds they draw help pay for the city’s operational costs.

The newly-opened Avenir Centre in Moncton got almost $20 million from Ottawa, despite a pro basketball team and major junior hockey club operating there. Why? And Credit Union Place in Summerside, with a Maritime junior A hockey team, got federal help. Why? And this federal government was prepared to spend $1.4 billion in support of Calgary’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, with huge benefits for NHL and CFL franchises. Why?

Perhaps those would be good questions to ask the MP as he goes door-to-door seeking votes in October’s federal election. Members of the city’s curling club might ask the same question since their dream of partnership in the new complex is over.

And why did the province agree to include that language in the agreement, when it knew full well that a bid for the 2023 Canada Games came with the expectation that a new complex would be the end result.

And why has the city’s facilities task force, which reported in December 2017, remained silent? In its report, it apparently never considered that Ottawa and province would conspire to exclude the complex from federal funding, or that the city would later become a partner in that conspiracy.

To date, that report has never been endorsed or accepted by the past or present city council. Since the city hasn’t said one critical word about the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) agreement, it must either support the deal, or is complicit with its silence. And everyone made a point to keep their mouths shut as they rushed to the sidelines.

The city, which is presenting itself as the fiscally responsible guardian of the public purse by washing its hands of the complex, had no problem applying for ICIP support for $20 million for electric buses, $20 million to replace Simmons and Cody Banks arenas; another $20 million for water and sewer upgrades; and whatever the costs might be for a roundabout at Belvedere and St. Peters Road.

Coun. Mitch Tweel, who sat on the task force committee, is also silent on the collapse of the complex. There was never really a champion and no one wants to take any action to save this deal. Mayor Philip Brown, in his defence, is late on the scene; but others on council and in city hall are well versed on this ill-fated project.

When the facilities task force delivered its report in December 2017, the city’s planning chair said he would like to see ground broken in 2018 on the multi-use centre, with completion in time for the 2023 Canada Games in P.E.I. Everyone agreed that funding from all three levels of government was needed.

It seems that all three levels of government feel that the complex, estimated to cost over $80 million, would exclude other projects from funding; and that we just can’t afford it. Many others feel that we can’t afford not to build it.

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