MP calls NHL bid for hockey on the Hill offside

For the first time, an MP is raising concerns about the possibility of holding an NHL outdoor classic on the lawn of Parliament Hill next year.

'One way or another, there'll be some subsidy from taxpayers,' worries NDP's Peter Julian

Clarke MacArthur celebrates after scoring a goal for the Ottawa Senators at the 2014 Heritage Classic against the Vancouver Canucks, held in BC Place. The NHL has applied to play a classic on the front lawn of Parliament Hill in December 2017. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

For the first time, an MP is raising concerns about the possibility of holding an NHL outdoor classic on the lawn of Parliament Hill next year. 

"The idea, on the surface, is interesting, but there are some real broad concerns and those concerns need to be addressed, I think, before the idea could move forward," said NDP MP Peter Julian.

Those concerns include the amount of time the front lawn of Parliament Hill would be inaccessible to the public, the impact on the daily work of parliamentarians and the cost to taxpayers.

"The public may have some concerns about the possibility of taxpayers' money going to subsidize an event, where ticket prices are $300 or $400 a pop, which is certainly not accessible to most Canadian families," said Julian.

The NHL and the Ottawa Senators have made no secret they are trying to get permission for an outdoor classic on the Hill for December 2017 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada, as well as the 100th anniversary of the NHL.

Applied as a 'Canada 150 Signature Project'

The proposal was submitted by the NHL as a possible Canada 150 Signature Project. A spokesman for Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, whose department oversees the program, said any details of the submission are confidential and would not confirm whether the NHL was asking for public money for the event.

Julian said he does not know whether the NHL's proposal involves a request for public money, but believes the logistics for putting on an event of this magnitude would inevitably cost taxpayers money.

NDP MP Peter Julian has concerns about the NHL proposal to have an outdoor classic played on the lawn of Parliament Hill. He's concerned about, among other things, restricting the "impact" on democracy. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"One way or another, there'll be some subsidy from taxpayers," he said. "An event of this nature involves so many moving pieces, that it's quite likely that there will be some money coming from the taxpayer. So it would be helpful to know what exactly that amount is."

Those "moving pieces" would include extra security, as well as traffic and transportation management.

"How much will taxpayers be paying for this symbolism?"

Julian was the NDP house leader until earlier this month, when he stepped down to pursue a leadership bid. He also stepped down from his membership on the Board of Internal Economy, the non-partisan, hyper-secretive committee that, among other things, makes decisions about Parliament Hill premises. The board would have a say in whether Parliament Hill rules should be broken to allow the game.

While he would not detail any of the discussions that occurred at the confidential board meetings, Julian said there were general questions to which the NHL should have to provide clear answers.

Parliament lawn could be under construction for months

One of the major problems surrounding the hockey on the Hill proposal is the amount of time it would take to set up a temporary arena for 30,000 spectators. Julian wouldn't say how long it is expected to take, but other sources have told the CBC it could be as long as 16 to 18 weeks.

That means the parliamentary greensward would be under construction for most of the fall of 2017, when tourists are expected to be visiting the capital during the sesquicentennial. 

Canadians hold our democracy very dear. This will have an impact.- NDP MP Peter Julian

Julian is concerned the disruption may make it more difficult for MPs and Senators to do their jobs. Moreover, he would object to the lawn being closed to Canadians who come to the home of their Parliament to protest.

"People come from British Columbia, and they come from Nunavut, and they come from Newfoundland and Labrador and they come to the front lawn of Parliament Hill in order to express themselves," said Julian.

"That is a very proud democratic tradition that we have. Occasionally, we have had to temporarily suspend that right, but I would take a dim view of an excessive suspension of that right for Canadians," he said.

"Canadians hold our democracy very dear. This will have an impact."

Lansdowne could accommodate game

Mayor Jim Watson said last month he's behind the NHL bid for an outdoor classic on the Hill.

If that fails, his second choice would be the stadium at Lansdowne Park that the city paid $130 million to refurbish.

The stadium would already have additional stands set up — bringing its total seating to about 36,000 — for the Grey Cup game that is to be held there in November 2017.

Contravenes all rules

A government document called General rules on the use of Parliament Hill outlines rules to safeguard "general respect for Canadian society and its democratic institutions."

There's a long list of activities that are prohibited, all of which would indicate that an NHL game wouldn't be permitted on the Hill. They include:

  • Organized sporting events.
  • Charging admission fees.
  • Selling alcohol.
  • Selling food.
  • Structures of any kind, props, billboards.
  • Commercial advertising.

However, these rules can be waived. Meanwhile, heritage officials say a decision is expected in a few weeks.


  • A previous version of this story stated the Senators' first NHL game was played at Lansdowne Park. In fact the Senators began their membership in the new league at Dey's Skating Rink, also known as The Arena, which was located at Bay Street and Gladstone Avenue, on Dec. 19, 1917.
    Oct 27, 2016 10:21 AM ET