QUEBEC CITY - Quebec politicians pledged Thursday to build an NHL-ready arena in the provincial capital without federal or private cash, unveiling a $400 million financing plan some critics say will severely strain the public purse.
Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume told a news conference his administration will triple its commitment to $187 million by borrowing $125 million over 20 years.
The increased contribution will cover the shortfall left by the federal government, which has expressed hesitation about using taxpayer money for pro-sports facilities.
Premier Jean Charest stood by the mayor's side and announced his government will beef up its commitment to 50% of the total costs, or $200 million. Labeaume left the door open to federal financing but said he will not rely upon it.
"The Nordiques need a modern arena,” said Labeaume, referencing the NHL team that left for Colorado in 1995. “The longer we wait, the more it will cost to build. Construction will begin in the next few months.”
The arena and adjacent civic centre is scheduled for completion by the fall of 2015.
There has been speculation Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau, owner of QMI Agency, could manage the arena and own the hockey team, should a franchise ever become available.
In Ottawa on Thursday, Conservative ministers reiterated their government would only commit money to construction if private investors did the same. Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josee Verner added any federal money would be spent on projects in several provinces, not just Quebec.
“If (Ottawa invests), it will do so fairly and reasonably across the country,” she told reporters on Parliament Hill.
Critics savaged the arena plan on Thursday, with the Quebec Taxpayers’ Federation saying Labeaume and Charest were “playing the lottery” with public funds while trying to tackle a deficit.
Andre Arthur, an independent MP from the Quebec City region, said the politicians were “burning millions of dollars” without a guarantee the NHL will ever return to the city.
“There’s no tenant, there's no team,” said Arthur, a former talk-radio host. “Who will fill the building, who will built it? It's (already) a white elephant.”