Government enthusiasm for a proposed $350-million domed stadium for the Saskatchewan Roughriders will overshadow needed spending on more important infrastructure projects, critics of the plan warn.
The Saskatchewan Party government of Premier Brad Wall has commissioned a $1-million study to determine whether a domed stadium is feasible in Regina. That follows a $70,000 public report recommending it. The province has said public funding for any new stadium would not come from general tax revenues.
Lee Harding, the Saskatchewan director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said it's hard to believe taxpayers won't be on the hook when politicians have been so enthusiastic about the idea.
"It's a bit of a moot point," said Harding, who also happens to be a Roughriders fan. "It will still come from government-run enterprises. And the dividends from those won't go to general revenues."
He said he fears the million-dollar consultant's report, due in January, is already a foregone conclusion.
The study is being done by a stadium consulting group with help from Global Spectrum International, a company that manages stadiums around the world. A Saskatchewan construction company, PCL, will also take part in the study.
"We have people writing a report who would have a financial incentive to go back to the people who commissioned it and say: 'Yes, a dome is a great idea.' And after you build it could you let us run it? So really it's a foregone conclusion that this thing is going to recommend a new domed stadium."
Taxpayers deserve a wide-ranging public discussion on whether they want to spend hundreds of millions of public dollars on the stadium, Harding said. It's clear other public infrastructure projects won't go ahead if the stadium is built, he suggested.
Regina taxpayer Jim Elliot said money spent on a new dome is money that won't be spent on other projects such as "repairing the infrastructure that's aging, putting in affordable housing, rental properties, rebuilding some of the downtown blocks that are vacant or essentially used for parking."
Both men agreed Mosaic Stadium, the Roughriders' current home, needs to be fixed but said the $70,000 report issued last Monday noted that the existing facility can be upgraded for just a few million dollars. That, they said, would be a wiser use of public funds.
Harding worried any opposition to the dome will get lost among all the support from federal, provincial and city politicians.
"If you were a Las Vegas odds-maker, it would be 30 to 1 that we're not going to have a new domed stadium. It's great to hear rhetoric that they're open-minded, but we have serious doubts."
Elliot said he will try to make the dome a major issue in city council elections this fall.