SUN Hockey Pool

Ignatieff leaves room on Quebec arena project

BRIAN DALY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:36 PM ET

MONTREAL - Is Quebec City's proposed $400-million arena an NHL facility or a cultural centre?

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff suggested Tuesday that the distinction is important and might determine whether he would dole out federal funds to finance the project if elected prime minister.

Ignatieff left himself plenty of wiggle room to reverse the Conservative government's decision not to subsidize the NHL-ready arena that's currently on the drawing board in the provincial capital.

"We've been very clear about this -- no federal government can subsidize the National Hockey League or private sports teams," Ignatieff told reporters. "(But) where an amphitheatre, where a public space has potential to have (a) positive effect throughout the economy of a region, we think a federal contribution is appropriate."

It would appear that Quebec City's planned facility fits Ignatieff's bill.

Quebec City's official website repeatedly refers to the building as a "multifunctional amphitheatre" that would host cultural events, conventions and concerts. A report commissioned by the city says the arena would generate $500 million in spinoffs over 40 years.

But it has also been abundantly clear that the building would be constructed with an eye on the return of the city's beloved Nordiques, who left town for Colorado in 1995.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said a team cannot return without a modern arena, and Mayor Regis Labeaume has publicly lobbied the NHL to relocate a franchise.

The municipality and the province have pledged 45% of the estimated $400-million price tag.

The issue has been sensitive for all federal politicians, who are trying to avoid any appearance of favouritism towards Quebec.

Ignatieff said Tuesday that even if he's elected and approves funding for Quebec City's facility, cities in English Canada would not be left out.

"You've got to do this with a pan-Canadian sense of fairness and equity," he said.


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