“Hockey in Canada is not a game.  It is an art form”   Ken Dryden – 1977.

I should preface this by saying that I’m very lukewarm about the idea of using taxpayer money to pay for facilities built mainly to house professional sports franchises.  Most of the excuses politicians use for financing them, in the end, don’t hold water.   Witness the Glendale, Arizona/Jobing.com Arena money-pit.  .

And it never stops.  The latest group with it’s collective hand out is the Newfoundland Moose or whatever they’re going to call re-located Manitoba of the American Hockey League.   In order for a team to survive in St. John’s somebody is going to have to pay the extraordinary travel expenses needed to get to-and-from The Rock.  Promoters are asking for a 500-thousand dollar annual taxpayer gift to cover, not only the travel costs of their own team, but those of their visitors.  Over the last ten years two teams have failed in St. John’s; Toronto’s AHL farm club and the QMJHL Fog Devils, now the Montreal Juniors. 

And so, the argument begins.  If, as Dryden says, hockey is an “art-form” in this country,  why not subsidize the top level of the game in the same way Canadians subsidize galleries and museums? 

Case in point, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.  I think I’m safe in saying that  95 percent of Quebecers have no interest in what this snarky group of musicians does, despite their international renown.  Still, taxpayers subsidize a third of their annual 25 million dollar budget.  Additionally the Symphony has talked politicians into a new concert hall which is scheduled to open in September at a cost of 75 million dollars.  But it doesn’t end there.  Taxpayers will also come up with yearly additional grants for twenty-seven years, until 2038.  Total taxpayer cost 270-million dollars.

This kind of thing goes on all over the country under the guise of “subsidizing the arts”.  Basically it’s propping up something that has no chance of surviving on it’s own.  Clearly, with general public interest in the group ranking somewhere between “ho” and “hum” there would be no Montreal Symphony without assistance.

I’m actually one of those ‘socialists’ who thinks these things that are worth preserving. 

But where to draw the line?  275 million dollars to support a symphony hall in Montreal that interests five percent of the public, or 500 million for a building in Quebec City to house something that would attract the attention of much more than fifty percent?  Would Quebec City be a better place with an NHL hockey team?  How will the return of NHL hockey change the cultural fabric of the city of Winnipeg?  

Is ice hockey a specific Canadian “art form” worthy of investment? 

Just asking.

The May 31st edition of the Globe and Mail has a review of the Canadian Government’s uneven approach sports facility subsidy.  Read it here.