An outdoor skating rink being built on Parliament Hill for Canada 150’s closing celebrations is expected to cost taxpayers $5.6 million, but Canadians will only have a little over three weeks to skate on it.
The budget for the first-ever rink on the Hill includes the setup, tear-down, some private security, insurance coverage and the attached facilities like change rooms and bleachers. It also includes the cost of bringing 32 peewee hockey teams from across Canada to Ottawa to compete in a special Canada 150 division tournament from Dec. 26 – Dec. 31.
“I’m sure that people will have fun there for the 28 days it’s up,” said Conservative MP Ben Lobb on Wednesday.
“It looks good for $5.6 million but I don’t really think it’s a responsible use of taxpayer dollars, especially when we are in a deficit, we are adding to our debt.”
Lobb noted that along with Ottawa’s permanent indoor skating rinks, the famed Rideau Canal skateway is “literally 500 feet down the street” and there is another public outdoor rink at city hall.
“There’s lots of spots to have a great tournament,” he argued. “At the end of the day, it’s your tax dollars.”
How and when to skate
Construction is already underway but the rink won’t be open to the public until Dec. 7.
It will then stay open until Jan. 1, 2018 (inclusive) with public skating available from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends. There are certain times, however, when the rink will be dedicated to demonstrations, tournament play and other special programming.
There are rumours the Ottawa Senators may even take to the ice, but that has not been confirmed.
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Passes for 45 minutes of ice time will be free, and available online at www.canada150rink.com starting on Dec. 5. Batches of passes will be released 48 hours in advance, so if you want to skate on Dec. 7, for instance, those passes will be made available on Dec. 5 at noon ET.
Each 45-minute skating period can accommodate up to 200 people on the ice, and you can reserve up to six printable passes at a time. You can also download the passes to a mobile device.
Officials speaking on background in Ottawa on Wednesday said they will monitor online resale sites like StubHub and eBay closely for people attempting to sell the free tickets and make a profit. If this becomes an issue, they said, they may implement additional measures like requiring photo ID with the pass.
“It is estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 Canadians and visitors to Ottawa could skate on the rink on Parliament Hill,” a spokesperson from Heritage Canada told Global News.
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Ottawa usually has mild temperatures around that time of year so some of the funds will go towards cooling pipes that will maintain the artificial ice.
After Jan. 1, the government said it is donating the rink to an unnamed community somewhere in Canada. The rink has to be taken down, moved, and built for a second time, which is also included in the $5.6-million price tag.
The whole thing is a partnership between Canadian Heritage and Ottawa International Hockey Festival, a non-profit group with ties to the Ottawa Senators.
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Canada 150 events have already left a hefty price tag, with Ottawa spending over $500 million on celebrations from coast-to-coast.
No fireworks on New Year’s Eve
While the skating rink may be the central attraction, there are plenty of other activities on and around Parliament Hill in December as Canada closes out its 150th birthday year.
Security is expected to be far lighter than it was on Canada Day when thousands of people waited in the rain to have their bags checked and go through metal detectors.
The celebrations kick off on Dec. 7 with an opening light show, including pyrotechnics and musical performances. The “Winter Lightscapes” display projected on Centre Block each night will now cover the whole front of the building instead of just two-thirds.
Visitors can also make their way to nearby Confederation Park for additional artistic installations and projections.
Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples are taking centre stage throughout the month of December, with a teepee set up on the Hill for the entirety of the closing festivities. That’s a marked change from last July when a group of First Nations activists were initially prevented from setting up a teepee on the Hill ahead of Canada Day celebrations. They were eventually allowed to proceed.
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There will also be aboriginal dancing, singing and drumming performances, opportunities to pick up some First Nations language skills and a northern food tasting event on Dec. 9 and Dec. 10 featuring caribou, Arctic char and bannock.
New Year’s Eve on the Hill will kick off at 9 p.m. with the usual light show projected on Centre Block, and a retrospective video showing highlights from Canada’s 150th year. That will be followed by DJs, pyrotechnic displays and a performance from Canadian rapper Kardinal Offishall ahead of the midnight countdown.
There are no fireworks planned for this year, which officials said was due to safety concerns.