Critics urge Liberals to stop giving MLSE taxpayer dollars
Pedestrians walk past the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment offices in Toronto on March 13, 2011. (The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese)
Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, March 24, 2014 11:53AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 24, 2014 6:50PM EDT
TORONTO -- Ontario's governing Liberals must stop doling out taxpayer dollars to giant corporations and celebrities like Drake while cutting funding to community events, critics said Monday.
Multimillionaire rapper Drake has been awarded a $300,000 government grant to stage his two-day OVO Fest in Toronto this summer. According to Ticketmaster, admission ranges from $66.50 to $750 for "platinum" two-day tickets.
Meanwhile, Toronto's Beaches International Jazz Festival -- a free event -- didn't qualify for a grant under the same program, called Celebrate Ontario, even though it had received $75,000 a year for the past six years.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, a sports giant estimated to be worth $2 billion, has requested $10 million from the province to expand and upgrade a soccer field in Toronto.
The company that owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, and the city's professional soccer team says it will put in $90 million for the upgrade of BMO Field, but only if it gets $30 million from the city, province and federal government.
It has said that it will repay the city's $10 million over 20 years with interest.
The company plans to increase the stadium's capacity from 21,500 to 30,000, with the potential to add 10,000 more temporary seats for special occasions. The planned renovations also call for a roof over the stands.
A spokeswoman for Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel said Ottawa will not provide any money for the project.
"I can tell you that the federal government has no program to fund professional sports facilities," Michele-Jamali Paquette said in an email.
"In fact, our government has decided against creating such a program. This decision is applied consistently across the country."
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was the only member of the city's executive committee to vote against giving MLSE money, saying the private sector -- not taxpayers -- should foot the bill.
But the governing Liberals, who are facing a $12-billion deficit, said they are still considering the proposal.
"They did submit a request," said Michael Chan, minister of tourism, culture and sport. "We are looking at it."
It's bad enough that they quietly gave $500,000 to MLSE to help secure the 2016 NBA all-star game for Toronto -- a grant Premier Kathleen Wynne defended, the Ontario Tories said.
MLSE is one of the most successful sports companies in the world and Drake doesn't need any handouts either, said Tory critic Rod Jackson.
"These are things that make money on their own, they're making these companies money and then we subsidize it," he said.
"For what? They're already going to run them at a profit. It makes absolutely no sense and it's indicative of how this government runs just about everything."
The government shouldn't be lining the pockets of corporate giants, said the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
"They already get enough money from folks for buying sports tickets and all this kind of thing," said Candice Malcolm, the organization's Ontario director.
"I don't think they really need to go and ask for more money to the taxpayers as well."
Drake is going to profit significantly from his concert, said Malcolm, so the government should not shell out taxpayer dollars on top of that.
The Liberals defended the decision to fund the Drake concert rather than the jazz festival, saying Celebrate Ontario is a competitive program that drew 441 applications last year. The jazz festival's proposal just didn't make the cut, they said.
"I can't tell you the details of every single application that comes in," said Wynne.
"We are very committed to the cultural sector, we're very committed to supporting artists and art in this province and we will continue to do so -- and festivals quite frankly of all sorts."
Lido Chilelli, the jazz festival's executive producer, said the event attracts about 500,000 residents and tourists every year and provides a big boost to local restaurants, hotels and shops.
No reason was given by the government when it rejected their application for funding, he said. Organizers also weren't told of any other programs to which they could apply.
"In the present state, if we don't receive other funding, then we're going to have to make some devastating cuts to the festival because we cannot move forward with the foundation that we've build over the years," Chilelli said.
Wynne said the government will meet with the festival's organizers to discuss other ways of obtaining funding.