Thunder Bay Event Centre Can Not Use Gas Tax for Arena

Proposed Event and Convention Centre in Thunder Bay
Proposed Event and Convention Centre in Thunder Bay

Proposed Event and Convention Centre in Thunder Bay
Proposed Event and Convention Centre in Thunder Bay

Proposed Event Centre Plan Finished – Mayor Hobbs

THUNDER BAY – UPDATED – The Thunder Bay Event Centre may have hit a brick wall. The federal government informed the city this morning that the federal gas tax rebate can not be used for an event centre that is tied to an arena.

The City hosted a news conference this afternoon on the issue. Minister Lebel sent  a letter to the City today, that outlined that funding for an event centre and / or convention centre that is not tied to an arena would be allowed under the rules.

Minister Greg Rickford announcing Fednor grant
Minister Greg Rickford announcing Fednor grant for design and planning of Convention Centre

The issue has raised concern from Kenora MP Greg Rickford. “Absolutely, this can go forward,” said Minister Rickford. “Working with Ontario and Minister Gravelle and Fednor we have funded the Convention Centre side of this project in design and planning. We explained we would not be in a position for funding an arena.”

Rickford says that the opportunity is still there for a Convention Centre. “There is no inconsistency here from the federal government on funding for an arena, it was made abundantly clear,” stated Rickford.

“At that time it was very clear that advancing funding for the Convention Centre or Event Centre would have to comply with any federal programs or provincial programs. At that time there was no funding opportunities for funding an arena”.

“The City had approached the federal government related to the gas tax rebate. The City commitment to put gas tax funding into the project would work. The Gas Tax Fund could be used for the Convention Centre.”

Provincially gas tax can only be used for roads or transit. Federally the Convention Centre would qualify.

The Event Centre proposed for Thunder Bay has, through the planning and design process which has received funding support from the federal and provincial governments for design and planning. That was clearly told to the city it was for the entire event centre.

Province of Ontario, Federation of Municipalities decided on what kinds of projects could be funded was made last year. It was very clear what could be funded.”

The arena has always included the arena as a part of the facility on the city’s part.

The move has halted planning for the Thunder Bay Event Centre.

Mayor Hobbs has expressed frustration over the decision from the federal government.

Last Thursday in a marathon session at City Council a vote of 8-5 led to the passage of a motion supporting extending the deadline for the event centre. Now if there is no funding from the federal government available, there will be little that Council can do to move the project forward.

“I think it is going to cost millions of dollars to figure out how to make this work with two buildings, I don’t have the appetite for spending more money on this,” said Mayor Hobbs.

"We have a city to build", said Mayor Hobbs, flanked by Councillor Joe Virdiramo, City Manager Tim Commisso and Lynne Martin, Director – Financial Services
“We have a city to build”, said Mayor Hobbs, flanked by Councillor Joe Virdiramo, City Manager Tim Commisso and Lynne Martin, Director – Financial Services

Hobbs states, “The Prime Minister claims that the Federal Government does not fund professional sports facilities. While that may be the case in most instances, he should realize that his government put in almost $70M into the new Hamilton Tiger Cats stadium, under the guise of the Pan Am Games. I wish Thunder Bay was big enough to host a games that size, but we would gladly work with the feds to fund an arena that would bring us great Canadian events like the Brier or the Scotties. Or will only the allure of major international events let the feds relax their policy?

“But put that aside for one minute. We are willing to accept that 99% of the time the feds won’t fund arenas being used by professional sports teams, which is why we also proposed that federal money only go to a share of the convention centre portion of the project. That would mean a fairly small federal contribution of the overall project. The response? Not if the convention centre is attached to the arena.

“I would ask the federal government, if it had a choice to build two federal buildings that cost $130M or more or one facility at a cost of $114M, what would they choose as prudent fiscal managers? The logic of their policy makes no sense. But even more infuriating is that the government funded the first three phases of this project, knowing full well there was a federal ask at the end of it. Why would the feds fund the study of an ineligible project?

“The federal government has touted putting more infrastructure dollars in the hands of municipalities by doubling the gas tax and for that they should be applauded. But for a government that claims Ottawa doesn’t know best, why on earth are they trying to dictate to a small northwestern Ontario city what infrastructure they can and cannot spend their dollars on.”

“The government is spending almost half a billion on the Pan Am Games that they are going to have professional sporting teams. The Hamilton Tiger Cats are the beneficiary of that federal funding,”continued Hobbs. “It is like they are talking out of both sides of their mouth”.

“I would rather have had them give us a no, right in the beginning, the federal government has supported the planning with Fednor money, it is like we were being strung along,” commented Hobbs.

“Greg Rickford has been doing a lot to make this happen,” said the Mayor.

Councillor Frank Pullia, who voted against the motion last Thursday states, “If the gas-tax funding is not available, then the provincial share is also in jeopardy. On March 26 Council meeting I expressed my concerns and the need to defer the question until we knew what kind of funding was in place. Without funding from both orders of government, the project should be put on hold until Council can determine how best and when to replace the FW Gardens  in an affordable and sustainable way given our current resources and other priorities”.

Letter to City of Thunder Bay

Event Centre Letter to Thunder Bay