The organizer of Montreal's Formula E race is millions of dollars in debt

Radio-Canada has learned that Montreal it’s electric, the non-profit organization set up to organize and promote the electric race car event, used nearly all of its $10-million line of credit and owes Formula E organizers several millions of dollars.

Montreal it’s electric used nearly all of its $10M line of credit, owes Formula E millions

Sébastien Buemi, of Switzerland, checks the damage to his car after crashing during the second practice session at the Montreal Formula E race. Radio-Canada has learned the non-profit set up to organize the event owes Formula E millions of dollars. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Months after the controversial Formula E race took over part of downtown Montreal, the financial fallout continues.

Radio-Canada has learned that Montreal it's electric, the non-profit organization set up to marshal the event, used nearly all of its $10-million line of credit and owes Formula E, the Europe-based body overseeing the races around the world, millions of dollars.

It's unclear who will be footing the bill. Montreal it's electric was created last year, while former mayor Denis Coderre was in power.

Formula E signed the contract with the non-profit organization, not with the city, but the city is responsible for the line of credit.

"It's worse than I possibly could have even imagined," said Coun. Marvin Rotrand, after learning about the scope of the debt.

The only salaried employee at Montreal it's electric is its executive director, Simon Pillarella. His job was to co-ordinate the event with the production company Evenko.

Evenko spokesperson Philip Vanden Brande told Radio-Canada he won't comment on finances or agreements with partners. Formula E and the Plante administration also declined to comment.

Montreal it's electric says it has advised the new administration at city hall of its situation and will present the full state of its finances to the city in the coming days.

Not enough sponsors or not enough money?

It's not clear whether the shortfall was due to a lack of sponsors or a lack of revenue.

In early November, Montreal it's electric released figures that showed attendance at last summer's event had been grossly inflated by freebies. At least 20,000 tickets — more than 40 per cent — were given away.

Journalists and municipal politicians alike had been clamouring for the figures to be released for months, but they were kept secret until just days before the municipal election.

Coderre said at that time it had been a mistake not to release the numbers right away, but that, to him, they showed the event was still a success.

What are legal options?

Rotrand, Coalition Montréal councillor for Snowdon, said it's unclear how much money Montreal is liable for, or whether the city is obliged to pay for the second and third races even if it decides not to hold them. 

"Everyone said during the election campaign it's going to be moved. But, legally, what are our options? It's not that clear," Rotrand said. 

"My feeling is we've got to negotiate this away. It's not in the public interest, it never was."

The Formula E race is currently slated to be held again in 2018 and 2019.

No decision has been made regarding whether the race will be held again next year. It would cost millions in penalties to break the contract between Montreal it's electric and Formula E.

Though Coderre and Montreal it's electric argued the race would promote electric cars and clean transportation modes, Rotrand remains skeptical of its potential impact.

"I think you really have to swallow a big story to believe somehow this would cause a revolution of electrification of transport worldwide by having an e-race in Montreal," he said. 

Sponsors pulling out?

Meanwhile, Hydro-Québec, the event's title sponsor, is trying to decide whether it still wants to be involved, according to Radio-Canada.

The public utility kicked in $850,000, but Hydro doesn't think the partnership lived up to expectations, Radio-Canada sources say.

Quebec's Municipal Affairs Ministry also pitched in, to the tune of $1.5 million, to help get the event off the ground. 

For now, the province does not intend to contribute more money, but would consider a new request for funding should one be made, according to a spokesperson for Municipal Affairs Minister Martin Coiteux. 

"We helped finance the event because it was up and coming," Coiteux said, adding that there has been no second request from Montreal to finance a second edition of the race so far. 

"I know the new administration has had a number of questions with regard to to this event, but we'll see."

Coiteux added that it would be up to Montreal to negotiate with the promoter.

Based on reports by Radio-Canada's Julie Marceau and Mathieu Dion