“Bread and circuses, eh?”

As we try to sort out exactly where the Prime Minister stands on federal funding for pro-sports arenas and stadiums—starting, of course, with Quebec City’s proposed new $400-million rink— it’s worth keeping in mind what the opposition parties think of the idea.

They like it.

Late last week, I talked to Liberal MP Marc Garneau and NDP MP Thomas Mulcair to make sure I was clear on their parties’ positions. They both voiced solid approval for the notion of the federal government contributing to Quebec City’s arena, with certain conditions.

Garneau said his leader, Michael Ignatieff, had expressed general support about a year ago. At the time, the proposed arena was being sold largely as part of a future bid for the Winter Olympics and as a way of enhancing Quebec City’s tourism and recreation sector, although the prospect of luring an NHL team was part of the mix.

“If there is a solid business case,” Garneau said, “with participation from the municipal, provincial and private sectors, then the federal government under Liberal leadership would be prepared to be a partner.”

That part about the need for private sector participation could be a deal-breaker in Quebec, where none has so far materialized.

Mulcair, the lone NDP MP from Quebec, said his party supported spending on Quebec City’s arena as long as other cities could apply for funding under the same rules. “If we’re going to develop objective criteria for the spending of federal money on infrastructure for federal sports, fine,” he said.

Harper’s said about the same thing. But Mulcair added that the government’s investment in an arena shouldn’t facilitate a windfall private profit on what goes on inside it. “You have to make sure,” he said, “that somehow it doesn’t became a cash cow for private entrepreneurs who haven’t put the money in but somehow are going to get the money out.”

That could be problematic, since the whole point of publicly funding an arena in Quebec City is to make it attractive (i.e., profitable)  for private owners to put an NHL team on its ice.

On the broader question of why any government should even consider subsidizing a bid to coax the NHL back to Quebec City, Mulcair had this to say: “Professional sports are part of our society. Bread and circuses, eh?”

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