City working towards securing funding for new multiplex

Proposal that would have included pool, lazy river and new home for the Raiders turned down by the federal government as facilities for ‘a semi-pro sporting franchise’ are ineligible

The Art Hauser Centre. City of Prince Albert photo.

The federal government has sent a proposal for a new multiplex back to the city for changes after ruling it didn’t qualify because it would include a new home for the Prince Albert Raiders.

The revelation came as the provincial and federal governments continue a debate that has mostly taken place through news outlets and over social media over the funding of several infrastructure projects for Saskatchewan.

Francois-Philippe Champagne, the federal Infrastructure Minister, tweeted a response to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe on Monday. In the letter, Champagne said that “with only one exception, all of the eligible community, culture and recreation projects, as well as many of the green stream projects, have been approved for federal investments” by the federal government.

He said officials are working to approve the remaining projects over the coming days

“The one exception is the business case pertaining to a new arena for a semi-pro sporting franchise, which, as you know, is explicitly defined as ineligible under the (funding agreement)”

He wrote that portions of the project may become eligible for federal funding if a revised application could be submitted.

That exception is a project submitted by the City of Prince Albert.

According to Mayor Greg Dionne, it would contain a pool, splash park, lazy river, two smaller rinks and a larger rink that would become the home of the Raiders.

Dionne rejected that the Raiders qualify as a semi-pro organization.

“We are not a semi-pro team. If you were to ask the president of the (WHL) today, he would say absolutely not. We are a registered amateur hockey association with Hockey Canada, and we are an amateur organization. I don’t know where the feds get that we’re a semi-pro team.”

The exclusion of sports facilities used by semi-pro teams “including major junior hockey teams,” is explicitly spelled out in the bilateral agreement signed between the province and the federal government.

The CHL identifies itself as a registered amateur league as per the national governing body of hockey in Canada, Hockey Canada.

The mayor said the city is reworking its proposal in the hopes of receiving approval from the federal government.

The idea for the multiplex came out of recent surveys of residents seeking opinions on what their top priority would be. Many residents have long wanted a municipal pool to be constructed. The existing indoor pools in the city are located at Carlton Comprehensive High School and at the former Rivier Academy.

“The number one thing (residents) want is a new water facility,” Dionne said.

“We were going to make it green, and that would be heated and cooled by the rinks that were going to be attached to it.”

The main rink, intended for use by the Raiders, as well as other groups, would be built to updated WHL requirements, which stipulate that arenas need at least 4,500 seats. The Art Hauser Centre has 2,580 plus 786 spots that are standing room only.

The city has made other changes to the ageing facility to bring it up to modern standards, including the installation of new lights and a scoreboard. The mayor said there is also a need to upgrade the glass and boards and a few other things in the building. It was opened as the Communiplex in 1971.

In an emailed statement, Infrastructure Canada reiterated that “professional sports facilities are predominantly the responsibility of the private sector,” the statement said.

“Facilities which would be used as the home of professional sports teams or major junior hockey teams are ineligible under Infrastructure Canada’s programs.”

The statement aid municipalities are able to fund amateur sport and recreation facilities through the federal Gas Tax Fund.

The federal government did, though, contribute $8 million towards the construction of Mosaic Place, the home of the Moose Jaw Warriors, prior to that facility’s opening in 2009. Moose Jaw provided the bulk of funding for that project. The province also contributed $8 million.

In an updated statement, the federal govenrment said Mosaic place received funding under the 2007 Building Canada Plan.

“At the time of the announcement, professional sports teams were eligible for funding under Government of Canada infrastructure programs,” Infrastructure Canada said.

“Under the terms and conditions of our current programming the Government of Canada is focusing its funding on community sport and recreational facilities that are primarily for the benefit of local residents and amateur sports.”

Premier accuses the federal government of playing politics

The letter shared to Twitter was the latest salvo in a series of remarks back and forth between the two sides, with Saskatchewan accusing the federal government of forcing a choice between three big-city projects in Regina and Saskatoon and hundreds of applications for arenas, playgrounds and other facilities in smaller communities.

The province says the big-city culture and recreation projects should be funded through money transferred from the $308-million transit stream. Gord Wyant, minister responsible for SaskBuilds, has warned that Saskatchewan will “quite likely” withhold funding for the three projects if Ottawa refuses to budge.

But Champagne’s letter puts the ball in Wyant’s court. He said the federal government would be in a position to review the arrangement in three years, not now.

“In the meantime, we should move quickly to formally announce all the projects which we have approved. I also encourage you to provide me with your project applications for the two Regina swimming pools, which my officials will promptly review,” Champagne wrote.

Wyant has previously said those pools — including the rebuilding of Maple Leaf Pool — were not a priority for the province, which has hundreds of applications from communities across Saskatchewan and limited resources to fund them.

 Speaking to the Herald Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe said he felt “complete and utter disappointment” that Prince Albert’s project was turned down.

“I’m very disappointed in the federal government (appearing to be) … playing politics with the City of Prince Albert’s community multiplex that they want to build on behalf of all of the people not only in Prince Albert but in the surrounding area.  “The reasons that have been provided (by the federal government) are, quite frankly, inadequate.”

He accused the federal government of locking-in $300 million for the two largest centres at the expense of other locations

“They … (are) taking dollars from other communities—communities just like Prince Albert,” he said.

I would say that this fund will be used to address the provincial priorities in communities across Saskatchewan. This fund will not be used as Ralph Goodale’s election fund.”

Goodale rejected the premier’s assertions. He stressed that his support for the pools comes from the priorities of Regina City Council. He said the province’s reluctance to fund them is “inexplicable.”

He suggested Moe’s criticism of his advocacy has a strong whiff of hypocrisy. He noted that 21 of the 25 projects the province submitted through its list of proposals are in provincial ridings held by the Saskatchewan Party.

“Surely, that’s not partisan,” he said.

He denied that he’s neglecting other parts of Saskatchewan to favour his own federal riding. He said he simply tries to get a fair distribution. He signalled that his advocacy for the pools has nothing to do with the upcoming federal election expected on October 21.

“I am on a funding blitz for Regina and for Saskatchewan every day, 365 days of the year, every single year that I’m in office,” said Goodale. “I am working very hard all the time to get the maximum amount of federal government investment into Saskatchewan and every part of Saskatchewan.”

He said he won’t be distracted by any disputes with the province.

“What’s important here is that the interests of Saskatchewan people in all of these communities get properly served, rather than caught up in some silly political scrap,” he said.

— with Regina Leader-Post files from Arthur White-Crummey

This story has been updated to reflect a more recent statement issued by Infrastructure Canada.