Mayor Labeaume buys time for proposed law on arena deal
Published Thursday, May 19, 2011 8:22PM EDT
Quebec Solidaire's lone MNA Amir Khadir is not exactly convinced that the arena deal struck by Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume with Quebecor is perfectly legal, but Khadir announced Thursday he is at least willing to debate the point in the National Assembly.
Shortly thereafter, independent MNAs Eric Caire and Marc Picard also announced they wouldn't block the introduction of a bill the Parti Quebecois plans on tabling that would protect the arena management agreement between Quebecor head Pierre Karl Peladeau and Labeaume from legal challenges.
This means the PQ should at least be able to table the bill, but it ultimately has little bearing on the likelihood the arena will one day be built.
But still, Khadir is not sure the law will eventually pass.
"I don't see that much chance at this time, to be honest," Khadir told reporters after a 90-minute meeting with Labeaume at city hall. "But I think that it's a good opportunity to have a debate. So that things become clear to the public that the contract is not a good contract for public finance."
Quebecor has committed to invest anywhere between $110 million and $200 million for a 25-year management and naming rights contract, but how much revenue the company will receive as a result of the deal remains unknown, Khadir said.
"The taxpayers are putting in $400 million or half a billion," he said, "it seems to me that taxpayers have a right to know."
Labeaume said one of the reasons the law is so urgent is that he would like to offer some degree of assurance to National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman that a new arena is on the way and that a team would be welcomed in the provincial capital.
The Nordiques left Quebec City in 1995 to move to Denver and become the Colorado Avalanche.
"The deal with Quebecor finishes on September 7th, and also I have to send a letter to Mr. Bettman to tell him we're going to build the building," Labeaume told reporters after his meeting with Khadir. "So if you want to know why we're working hard, you have all the answers."
The special law would prevent potential challenges like the one being threatened by Labeaume's former city manager Denis De Belleval, who has threatened court action to nullify the agreement with Quebecor because he believes it was illegal.
Meanwhile, Municipal Affairs Minister Laurent Lessard concedes the deal is open to two contradictory legal interpretations.
Lebeaume's desire is obviously to eliminate these potential hurdles in order to convince Bettman there is nothing standing in the way of an eventual return of professional hockey to the capital region.
But because the special law was introduced so late in the parliamentary calendar, it requires unanimous approval from the National Assembly to be added to be voted on prior to the summer break.
The PQ and Liberals had already given their approval, and on Thursday morning the Action démocratique du Québec House Leader Sylvie Roy said her party also wouldn't object to a debate of the law, while reserving the right to block the eventual vote.
"We will listen to the mayor, to Mr. De Belleval, to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, all the players," she said. "Rest assured, if it looks like it makes no sense we'll vote against it."
With files from the The Canadian Press