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Fun and Games in Edmonton

I thought I had seen it all in the stadium subsidy game: bogus "economic impact" studies, threats to leave, mud-slinging, etc. But yesterday's news out of Edmonton, where the Oilers want a new publicly financed hockey arena to replace Rexall Place, adds a new wrinkle to the bag of tricks that subsidy hounds use to tap the public purse.

The Edmonton chapter of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation used a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) to obtain documents related to the (until now) behind-closed-doors deliberations about the plans for a new downtown arena. The CTF staffers compared the final report (City Shaping) issued by the Mayor's hand-picked "Leadership Committee for a New Sports/Entertainment Facility" in Edmonton to earlier edited drafts and noticed that

  • all of the information about other privately financed hockey arenas in Canada had been removed, making it look like all recently built arenas were publicly financed;
  • all references to new taxes to pay for the arena had been removed;
  • an example from Ottawa, where a new arena did not generate much commercial and residential development near the arena was deleted; and
  • the statement that the preferred contribution from the Oilers was 60% was changed to "a minimum equity contribution of 30%".

The details are all available on the Canadian Taxpayers Federation website. In the grand scheme of things, these reports are little more than promotional material, and it is not surprising that the people who want government subsidies for sports facilities will spin things this way. As I pointed out in an interview with the CBC, the report is basically propaganda on glossy paper with high production values.

In their recent book Public Dollars, Private Stadiums, Kevin Delaney and Rick Eckstein document how stadium subsidy seekers manipulate the public debate to marginalize academic research on the lack of economic impact from these projects and other negative information about sports facilities. In Edmonton this week, we got a peek behind the curtain and gained a bit of insight into how the public debate on sports facility subsidies gets manipulated.