Nfld. & Labrador

Refusal to subsidize AHL shocking: Williams

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams says the provincial government's refusal to subsidize an American Hockey League team he wants to bring to the province is shocking.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale responded the government turned down an inadequate application, not the applicant

Danny Williams said Friday he is deeply disappointed that the province is refusing an AHL subsidy 6:47

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams says the provincial government's refusal to subsidize an American Hockey League team he wants to bring to the province is shocking.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the government rejected the subsidy proposal, Williams said he is deeply disappointed that the provincial government is refusing to subsidize professional hockey and that it may kill attempts to bring the AHL to St. John's.

"The numbers add up but the province, as I understand it, within 24 hours just shut this down. So there was no proper due diligence, but you know I was told from the start not to expect a favourable decision from the premier and that’s where it is," he said,

"Who told you that?" CBC reporter David Cochrane asked.

"I can’t disclose that," said Williams, speaking at an anniversary celebration for his old high school, Gonzaga.

Williams said when he was premier, he would have had a hand in this sort of decision.

"If this decision is a personal decision from the premier, that's unfortunate from my perspective, I've given my heart and soul to the city and the province," said Williams. "I've given to the PC party, to my colleagues in the cabinet and the caucus, including Kathy Dunderdale, but this will not affect my zeal or drive to do things for this province."

Responding to Williams's comments Premier Kathy Dunderdale told CBC News the rejection was  not about the applicant, but the application. She said insufficient documents were sent to the province and weak arguments were made on behalf of St. John's Sports and Entertainment.

The former premier said the government is passing up a good business investment, one that he would have supported if he were still in office.

"I'm told by the American Hockey League that this is our last shot — we will never get another shot. I mean I can lead a horse to water but I can't make her drink, and if that's the case there's not much I can do," he said.

Williams said he will keep trying to bring the AHL to St. John's but added that a lack of provincial government help will make it more difficult. 

"From my own personal perspective, I love hockey, I love the city, I love the province. From Mile One's perspective, I've already put a million dollars into Mile One stadium when it was built for the naming rights. I've stepped up to the plate. The least the province could do is come up with half of that," he said.

The provincial government rejected a request to subsidize an AHL hockey team earlier this week.

Provincial Tourism Minister Terry French said Wednesday that the government can't subsidize professional hockey.

"We decided that we wouldn't go down that road," said French outside the house of assembly in St. John's.

"[We decided] that committing money to a professional hockey team was not the right place to be. We had said no to people previously, so the decision was easy."

French had said Tuesday afternoon that he had been told to expect a formal proposal for a subsidy soon.

He said it would come from St. John's City Coun. Danny Breen, who is council's representative on the Mile One Centre board. The board has been trying hard to lure a hockey team to the arena.

Tuesday morning Breen told CBC News that the city would like to have more money coming into Mile One but it doesn't want to spend more to achieve that.

"We want to have an anchor tenant," Breen said. "We want to do it within the subsidy, and we're committed to doing it within the subsidy that we're offering to St. John's Sports and Entertainment at the current time."

The city provides $1.25 million for annual operations at Mile One.

Speculation is mounting that an American Hockey League team could return to Mile One Centre, depending on a series of events in the NHL that begin with the expected move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg.