Nova Scotia

Letters to premier shed light on public sentiment toward stadium for Halifax

Since last September, about 50 members of the public have sent emails, letters or left messages for the premier regarding taxpayer support for a proposed stadium in Halifax that would house a CFL team. Most people were against the idea.

'Is the purpose of government not to provide services that the private sector won't provide?'

The Calgary Stampeders' Eric Rogers bobbles the pass in front of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Kyrie Wilson during a game in Winnipeg on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2018. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Depending on whom you believe, taxpayer support for a CFL stadium in the Halifax area is either "ridiculous" and "irresponsible," or it would result in an economic "boom" and "more positivity and happiness around the province."

Those are some of the messages contained in correspondence to Premier Stephen McNeil that was revealed through a recent access-to-information request made by a member of the public and posted to the province's website. The request asked for correspondence dating back to Sept. 1, 2018.

The 131-page package includes about 50 documents from the public that are either emails, letters or messages directed toward the premier regarding their thoughts on whether the provincial government should contribute toward a football stadium that would be used to house a CFL team.

The majority of correspondence, 40 letters, is against the idea, while only seven letters are in favour. The remaining letters are either duplicates or the writer's position is unclear.

Maritime Football Limited wants to build a 24,000-seat stadium in Dartmouth's Shannon Park that would also be used for high school and university sports, concerts, music festivals and community events. The stadium would be part of a development that would also feature housing, office and retail space.

Most of the correspondence Stephen McNeil has received from the public regarding a stadium has been opposed to taxpayer support for the idea. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The proponents have said they will need taxpayer assistance to make the stadium a go.

"Is the purpose of government not to provide services that the private sector won't provide?" wrote a Gmail user in a Nov. 22, 2018, email to McNeil. "What about the homeless, what about low-income housing needs, what about mental-health services, what about our doctor shortage? Aren't these things way, way more important than a friggin' football stadium?"

The names of the letter writers are redacted in the package for privacy reasons.

The need for making health care a top priority was a common theme among the writers who opposed providing provincial taxpayer support for a CFL stadium.

One writer, who said he or she was a registered nurse, called the idea of spending money on a stadium "ridiculous" given the "crisis" state of the health-care system.

"People are sleeping in hallways in the hospitals because there is no beds on the units in the Halifax Infirmary.… Put that money into the health-care system," wrote the Outlook user on Nov. 7, 2018.

Other writers focused on the fact that a CFL team would be a for-profit business, so taxpayers shouldn't provide support.

Boondoggle fears

"Our province and city is in need of so many services and programs, which we can currently not afford and diverting more tax dollars and generating more public debt seems irresponsible.… If this project is such a great investment and will generate steady profitable income, then private business should be willing to step up and fund the project," wrote a Gmail user on Oct. 30, 2018.

Others warned the cost to taxpayers would be significant over the long term and cited projects such as the Halifax Convention Centre and the Yarmouth ferry as templates for what could be expected with a stadium.

"If all three are considered "viable" commercial enterprises, why are we paying for them?" wrote an Eastlink user on Nov. 23, 2018.

Proposal expected by Labour Day

Halifax spokesperson Brendan Elliott said the city was recently told by the proponents that it would be submitting a proposal by Labour Day, Sept. 2. Once the proposal is received, city staff will review it and make recommendations to regional council.

More than a year ago, Premier Stephen McNeil ruled out the possibility of taxpayer assistance for a stadium.

"I'm not reaching into general revenue to build a football stadium," he said at the time.

What those in support of a stadium said

Among those supporting taxpayer money for a stadium, perceived economic benefits was the most cited reason.

In a Nov. 22, 2018, letter, a writer wrote that in his or her class, students thought the stadium would be great for the economy.

"It would make a lot of money and it would make money at other places like Walmart, gas stations, restaurants and hotels. It would bring people from near and far. It would bring action from all over the world," the person wrote.

A Nov. 23, 2018, letter said the stadium would create jobs "and there will be … fewer people in poverty."

'Bring patriotism to all the people'

A Nov. 22, 2018, letter writer focused on similar themes.

"I think that by bringing a CFL stadium to Halifax our economy would "boom" by the stadium supplying more jobs and attracting more tourism," the person wrote. "It would also bring patriotism to all the people and more excitement to the city."

On that same day, another person wrote that a stadium would result in "more positivity and happiness around the province."

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