Calgary arena deal splits voters: poll

The Saddledome is seen from a hillside park in Calgary on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A billion-dollar deal that was previously “hoped” to not be an election issue has Albertans nearly split, according to a recent poll.

In an online survey done by ThinkHQ, 43 per cent of provincewide respondents approved of the new Calgary event centre deal and 50 per cent disapproved.

For the 245 Calgarians who participated in the survey, those numbers flipped, with 50 per cent approving and 45 per cent disapproving.

The online survey of 789 Albertans was done between April 26 and 29, the days immediately after UCP Leader Danielle Smith announced the deal in Calgary as premier, along with the province’s commitment of $330 million for area infrastructure improvements and a community arena.

Click to play video: 'Believers and skeptics weigh in on Calgary’s proposed event centre'
Believers and skeptics weigh in on Calgary’s proposed event centre

The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the provincewide respondents is 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For Calgarians’ responses, that comparable margin of error is 5.8 per cent.

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ThinkHQ president Marc Henry said the results weren’t “especially surprising” and track with the decade’s previous event centre proposals. But he said there may be political impact in this election.

“This is not the issue that is going to win a lot of new votes for the UCP in Calgary – in fact, it may cost them votes in the ridings surrounding Edmonton,” Henry said in a statement. “That said, it is an issue that could cost the NDP the election if mishandled, i.e., if they threaten to stop the deal as government.”

The day after the deal was announced, Smith said she was “hoping” the arena deal would not be an election issue.

For the days following Smith’s comments, the “official” social media account for the UCP campaign added the arena deal to its run of content.

At the launch of the UCP campaign on Monday, Smith clarified her thoughts on the new Flames arena as an election issue.

Click to play video: 'Timing of Calgary event centre deal comes with political implications'
Timing of Calgary event centre deal comes with political implications

“I didn’t anticipate it being a campaign issue because I thought it was so obvious that whoever was running would want to support Calgary,” Smith said.

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The UCP leader said she was “surprised” that Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley “opposed” the deal.

Last week, Notley called to have more details of the deal be made public before the election ends on May 29. She also wanted to see an independent review of the deal before further commenting on the provincial commitment.

Smith called it a “good deal” for Calgary.

Click to play video: 'Calgary’s new event centre sparks mixed opinions as details remain unclear'
Calgary’s new event centre sparks mixed opinions as details remain unclear

In addition to the $330 million in provincial funds, $537.5 million in city funds would go to building the event centre, a parking structure, an enclosed plaza and one quarter of the costs for the community arena.

Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. would be responsible for $356 million, or 29 per cent of the total $1.22 billion project.

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The previous deal the CSEC pulled out of at the end of December 2021 was a 50-50 split between the Flames ownership and the city for an originally estimated $550 million. But costs ballooned to $634 million.

The nearly doubling of the project’s price and increased proportion of  taxpayer dollars gave the Alberta NDP pause.

“Taxpayers – people who want us to be good stewards of their tax dollars – expect us to get the details,” Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Monday. “We know there are details that we haven’t had shared with us yet. And so I look forward to looking at those details and getting an assessment of how to move forward in the best interests of Calgary taxpayers and Alberta taxpayers in the days to come.”

The latest deal is the third proposal since 2015 for a new event centre in Calgary, aiming to replace the Saddledome which first opened in 1983.

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