Edmonton accused of hiding facts in downtown arena review

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is accusing Edmonton city officials of hiding some important facts in its review of a $450 million NHL hockey arena proposed for the downtown.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is accusing Edmonton city officials of hiding some important facts in its review of a $450 million NHL hockey arena proposed for the downtown.

A city-funded report released in March recommended that Edmonton build a new arena to replace its aging Rexall Place and that the project be funded through a mix of private and tax dollars, a formula that has been used in many U.S. cities.

The city would fund about 70 per cent of the project by borrowing against future downtown tax revenues.

Lyle Best, chair of the arena task force, releasing his report in March at city hall. ((CBC))

But a draft copy of the report, obtained by CBC News and the CTF, says the NHL arenas in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto were built with private financing alone, a detail that was omitted in the final version of the study.

"I don't think most Edmontonians know that most other NHL arenas in Canada were built with 100 per cent private financing and I don't think the committee wanted them to know, either," said Scott Hennig, CTF's Alberta director.

That omission colours the report, said Hennig, and gives people the wrong impression about their options for funding a new arena.

"I think that it shows it's very biased and not a true indication of what's happening in this country in terms of who is paying for arenas. "

The CTF opposes any use of public funds to build a new arena.

City officials deny attempt to mislead

City officials say there was no attempt to mislead the public by leaving out the information.

Lyle Best, who headed the arena committee, told CBC News Wednesday that he removed the reference to the other arenas because he didn't think is was needed and because he wasn't sure it was correct.

"[Researchers] took that information from another report, but could not verify it to me so I took it out."

Mayor Stephen Mandel also brushed off questions about the changes, saying there has been no decision yet whether to go ahead with a new arena or how it will be financed.

One observer is not surprised that the report was edited.

A new downtown area would replace Rexall Place, built in 1974. ((CBC))

"They're going to spin it in the best light possible," said University of Alberta sports economist Brad Humphreys.

"It's sort of as a piece of propaganda, I think. That's the way to think about it.

"It's not the whole truth. There is useful information in there, but there's also information that should be out there that's omitted — just like any other propaganda piece that you might expect out of people that are seeking taxpayer dollars that is primarily going to be used by private enterprise."

Drugstore billionaire Daryl Katz, who recently purchased the Edmonton Oilers, has pledged to contribute $100 million for an arena.

Rexall Place, built in 1974, is the oldest NHL arena in Canada, and the third oldest in the league.

With files from Charles Rusnell