Not any more

Michael Ignatieff’s Rob Ford opportunity – The Globe and Mail

In Canada on September 21, 2010 at 20:52

Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 5:42 PM

Michael Ignatieff’s Rob Ford opportunity

Robert Silver

Via Aaron Wherry comes Chuck Strahl’s response yesterday to a question about whether the Harper government is going to fund the Quebecor Arena:

“Mr. Speaker, of course many Canadians are proud sports fans. They support their sports team wherever they happen to be in all regions of this country and that is great to see. It brings not only cultural opportunities but also economic opportunities across the country.

These initiatives are primarily led by private sector interests. In the case of the NHL, these are wealthy owners along with wealthy hockey players who bring us a lot of fun, but they need to take the lead on this and we look forward to any leadership they might show in the private sector as we move forward with this kind of initiative.”

Beyond how facile his response is (“Canadians love sports. Let me repeat that, Canadians really love sports. Most of us see sports as great cultural events but I hear they also make lots of money…”) it is clear the Harper is setting itself up to say yes to funding Quebecor’s new arena.

When Strahl says “these initiatives are primarily led by the private sector … they need to take the lead on this and we look forward to any leadership they might show in the private sector as we move forward with this kind of initiative” he is for all intents saying “they just need to fill out the form in duplicate and mail in their $50 fully refundable deposit and the money is theirs.”

The NDP and the Bloc made it clear in Question Period yesterday they also support the federal government paying their part of the new arena. I get the Bloc taking this position – I mean, it has always been one of Quebec’s traditional demands that the federal government pay for arenas in Quebec, but the NDP? Is this what hard working families are talking about around the kitchen table? Does this play well for Thomas Mulcair in his bid to hold onto Outremont?

For Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals this issue represents manna from heaven politically.

A majority of Quebeckers oppose the new arena being built with public funds. Somewhat surprisingly, a strong plurality oppose federal funds being used in the project. In other words, opposing the arena funding is siding with Quebeckers, not “bashing” them.

Those are the numbers in Quebec, I can only imagine what the numbers are outside of the Nordiques erstwhile home province.

Michael Ignatieff has a chance to turn this issue into a striking symbol of a government – and two opposition parties – completely out of touch with the reality of Canadians from coast to coast. Throw Strahl’s words right back at him “Ya, Canadians are big sports fans and yes, hockey players bring us lots of fun but at a time of record deficits when Canadians are struggling paycheque to paycheque, this is not the time for government to spend a penny on wealthy hockey players or owners.”

I’m not saying you win an entire election on the issue but when three parties are on the other side of the issue, you have a real opportunity to turn it into a definitional brand symbol.

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