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Guy Laliberté to attempt to resume ownership of Cirque du Soleil amid financial woes

A man and woman walk by the Cirque du Soleil Big Top in Montreal's Old Port, Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté says he wants to buy back the renowned circus he sold five years ago as it struggles with severe financial difficulties.

The businessman revealed his intentions on Radio-Canada’s Tout le monde en parle on Sunday evening, saying: “Cirque has given me so much, and if I can help, we’re going to be there.”

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Founded in 1984, the circus is now carrying close to US$1 billion in debt and has been forced to suspend its operations entirely amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The company received emergency financing of more than $50 million from its main shareholders, which include the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ).

After selling off his control of the firm in 2015, Laliberté only sold the last of his remaining 10 per cent stake in the company in February of this year, according to the CDPQ. But he now says he has the support of respected director Franco Dragone and controversial playwright Robert Lepage to “revive the circus.”

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Laliberté has been flirting publicly with the idea of mounting an attempt to resume control of the circus for several weeks now, ever since Quebec Economic Development Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon indicated the province was speaking with local investors with the intention of keeping Cirque afloat and headquartered in the province.

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In an open letter three weeks ago, the entertainment mogul first expressed an interest in “getting involved” in a rescue of the organization, and he told Tout le monde en parle that it was Quebec media giant Quebecor’s expressed interest in buying Cirque du Soleil that ultimately convinced him to get on board.

In a press release Sunday night, Laliberté said any financial recovery for the beleaguered circus will require a balance between not just its fiscal health but also “the sacred fire with which those who are at the heart of the circus are invested, and the public’s love for our brand.”

He also said any revival for the company will “have to be done at the right price, and not at all costs.”

— With files from the Canadian Press’s French-language service

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