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Danielle Smith wants progress in Calgary arena deal

Prime Minister Danielle Smith says Calgary needs a new “world-class event center arena” and the time to start the project is “now”.

Smith defined her pro-event center stance in a letter to Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Coun. Sonya Sharp and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) chairman John Bean sent on Tuesday.

“Given the critical cultural and economic importance of this project to Calgary and the province, I would like to explore possible ways our government can assist the city and CSEC in achieving a successful outcome for this initiative.”

The PM says she has appointed Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver as provincial representative for the project and asked him to reach out to both city and CSEC officials for feedback on how the province is doing can help.

Smith’s letter made no mention of a provincial commitment to fund the project.

Smith says she notified the mayor’s office the letter was coming, something that caught the mayor off guard.

“It’s a good first step,” said Jyoti Gondek.

“This letter comes as a surprise to me, but I am pleased that the province is interested in participating. There is no money on the table right now, but I would assume it would be necessary, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. I don’t know why we should have a connection with the province.”

Sharp says details of what the province’s role will be have yet to be ironed out.

“We also need to update them on the mandate of the Events Center Committee so that we all know our roles and responsibilities in moving this project forward,” she said.

A sports economist says he believes Smith is political, not economic.

“The province has absolutely nothing to do with being involved in a commercial transaction between a private group of billionaires and the city of Calgary,” said Moshe Lander of Concordia University

“It’s not just that it’s one too many cooks, it’s that an unwanted cook shows up at the kitchen door and says, ‘I’ve been appointed to come in now and watch you cook.’ It’s wrong on so many different levels.”

In 2012, Smith campaigned as a Wildrose leader against provincial dollars for the new Edmonton arena, now known as Rogers Place.

She has yet to commit as premier if provincial dollars will help ensure this deal goes through and doesn’t fall apart like the last one.

“There are some things we can do to help them get to the finish line,” Smith said.

“I think it’s important not just for Calgarians, but for the province as well. We have two professional sports teams, we are all very proud of them. We want to make sure the Flames have a home as glorious as this one up in Edmonton with Rogers Place.”

In April 2021, Smith was named president of the Alberta Enterprise Group, which sees Murray Edwards, owner of the Calgary Flames, on its board of directors.

Lander says Smith’s ties to Calgary and Edwards may have sparked this initiative.

“Is she doing this as an act of charity or in return?” he posed.

“I am not suggesting that any illegalities are afoot.”

UCP MLA for Calgary Hays Ric McIver says the province has no intention of stepping on anyone but will offer assistance if needed.

“We don’t have a ‘seat at the table,'” McIver said.

“I will not be part of the committee, I will be a liaison. This is not us Big Footing, this is us offering a hand of friendship, (a) hand of support.”

McIver says he understands the city may be looking for funding, but says it’s too early to commit until discussions are held with all parties.

“Mayor Gondek wouldn’t be a great mayor if she didn’t ask for money from the province,” McIver said.

“I will be listening carefully and will report back to the Prime Minister’s office and be in touch with him on what is going on. We will be constantly conducting assessments.”

The original agreement for an arena deal to replace the Saddledome fell apart in early January when CSEC backed out, citing an unreasonable agreement that would leave the team at risk of rising costs in the future.

Earlier this month, city officials announced that an agreement had been reached with CSEC to begin formal negotiations on the terms of a new venue contract.

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