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Say no to public money for sports megaprojects

Perhaps taking a page from Doug Ford’s quicking-moving, don’t-stop-to-answer-any-questions approach to fast-tracking often unpopular moves, the city of Calgary appears intent on cramming a taxpayer-supported arena down the public’s throat.

Where municipal council initially opposed even a nickel’s worth of tax money going into a new venue for the Calgary Flames, a massive handout now seems a fait accompli. The city is giving opponents a whole week to digest plans before a vote expected on Monday.

The plan calls for the city to pay for half the cost of a $550-million arena to replace the Saddledome, itself paid for by taxpayers as part of another boondoggle, the Olympic Games.

The deal, agreed to in principle by the city, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation and the Calgary Stampede, also sees the municipality on the hook for $15.4 million in demolition and land costs.

To make matters worse, the draining of cash comes as city council is looking to cut $60 million from its operating budget.

The deal follows on the heels of another dodgy arena financing scheme executed by Edmonton council to help out poor, starving billionaires.

Of course, it’s a scam that’s been perpetrated on taxpayers in many cities in support of all kinds of sports and investors making out like bandits at the public’s expense.

In Calgary’s case, residents who voted down a plan to bid on the 2026 Winter Olympics might have hoped nay-saying politicians would stick to their guns, but were bound to be disappointed by putting their faith in bureaucrats and elected officials.

Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation alone stands to profit from investing in their product. But the company is happy to take all the free money it can get.

Those opposed to spending public money to provide for private profits have plenty of evidence for their stance. Quite simply, such deals almost never make sense, and many of them have been disasters, leading to public losses running into hundreds of millions.

Economists agree on few things – ask 20 economists for their outlook on next year’s financial situation, and you’ll get 20 different answers – but most will tell you that new arenas and stadiums have few if any benefits to a community, despite what proponents will tell you. (The same applies to most mega-projects, including one right here in Waterloo Region.)

Those looking for the handouts will rattle off claims about economic development, jobs, downtown revitalization and economic spinoffs. They’re lying. Or, in more genteel thinking, practicing some wishful thinking to convince the public to go along with their schemes.

Owners of professional sports teams and facilities have a real incentive to try to lobby hard for public money.

That’s what it boils down to: team owners are more than happy to fleece governments for every penny, no matter how profitable their franchises. Every dollar picked up by the government – i.e. the taxpayers – is one less they have to spend, allowing them to pocket the difference. Greed, plain and simple.

As noted, such deals rarely work out to anyone’s favour but the team owners. That doesn’t stop poor ideas from turning into a real waste of public money.

As with the scam that is the Olympics, World Cup and host of even more dodgy sports event, only a few benefit while the coffers are raided. We see the same philosophy at work as is common in the financial services industry: privatized profits, socialized losses. The crooks laugh all the way to the bank, at our expense. And we let them keep doing it.

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