Former Quebec Nordiques players gathered for a photo at an October 2010 rally to drum up support for a Quebec City NHL franchise. Speculation about a new arena that could house a pro hockey team has fostered bitter debate. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

The Bloc Québécois wants cash for a Quebec City arena, warning federal Conservatives that voter support in the provincial capital region may ride on it.

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe asked Ottawa to earmark half a billion dollars for the provincial capital region, including $175 million for an NHL arena that opponents say does not warrant federal funding.

Duceppe made the demand during a Tuesday news conference, held ahead of the Bloc's two-day caucus meeting in the city.

Ottawa's contribution to a future arena should match whatever amount Quebec fronts, even if the private sector gets involved, Duceppe said. Voters are watching the issue closely, said the Bloc leader.

Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau has already pledged millions of dollars for a future arena, in a bid to bolster efforts to resurrect an NHL franchise in the city.

Arena speculation is fuelling discord within the Conservative ranks, according to several reports.

Government sources say the Prime Minister's Office is still considering funding an arena through a little-used federal corporation called PPP Canada, which invests in projects with the private sector.

In recent days, cabinet ministers have done nothing to suggest the matter is closed.

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, who has been openly critical about federal funding for the arena, was quoted in a Tuesday media report as warming up to the notion.

Bernier later wrote on his blog that he still believes the private sector should be mainly responsible for these types of projects.

"Moreover, at a time when we have a big budget deficit to eliminate, financing sporting infrastructure should not be a priority," said the MP, who represents the Beauce region.

The National Citizens Coalition stressed its opposition to federal funding for any sports stadium.

Public money should be used to reduce the deficit and grow the economy, said coalition director Stephen Taylor.

"There's no good evidence that such an investment by the government of Canada would result in the economic development that it suggests would happen in Quebec," he said.

On Tuesday, a rumour that a future arena could be named the René-Lévesque Forum left political commentators buzzing.

Rumours reported on several Quebec blogs suggested Péladeau was keen on the name, in honour of his late father, an ardent fan of Lévesque, the province's beloved separatist premier.

Political columnist Jean Lapierre slammed the rumour as fear mongering.