A pair of local politicians each support the idea of an event centre in Thunder Bay, but say it’s too early in the process to know if there’s money at the federal and provincial levels to pay for it.
Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle and NDP MP John Rafferty on Wednesday said the $106.1-million proposal would be great for both the city and the region, but until the project is taken to the next stage, it’s hard for either level of government to commit any money to the plan.
On Tuesday the city announced it had reached a deal to sign a letter of intent with Thunder Bay Live, a group headed by former NHL coach Gary Green, to develop the event centre and take it to shovel-ready status and beyond.
The deal includes a commitment on the part of True North Sports and Entertainment to move their American Hockey League affiliate from St. John’s, N.L. to Thunder Bay, a decision that took the hockey world by storm from coast to coast.
Gravelle, who said he’s been a big supporter of the event centre from the very beginning, plans to work closely with the city to get it to the next stages.
“I know there is indeed a need for the province and the federal government to be supportive in order for the project to go forward and there are a number of steps moving forward,” Gravelle said ahead of Lyn McLeod’s keynote speech at the women in politics forum.
“What I can say, without getting myself in too much trouble is that indeed we’re working on trying to help the municipality of the City of Thunder Bay trying to get to that next step, particularly now that this great announcement has taken place in terms of the consortium.”
However, the minister wasn’t sure exactly what pot of provincial dollars the money, expected to be in the $35-million range, would come from.
“There’s no program that’s specifically in place in terms of an infrastructure program,” he said. “In the past we’ve had Build Canada programs where there have been shared cost funding, a third, a third, a third.”
He went on to say there are federal programs that might apply, but did note the province has made a $35-billion commitment to infrastructure across Ontario over the next three years.
“There are programs from the federal government level the city can apply to. We’re just trying to find a way to work together,” said Gravelle, adding he’s committed to making it happen and making sure it stays front and centre at Queen’s Park when the time comes.
Rafferty, who represents Thunder Bay-Rainy River in the House of Commons, said the event centre was a main topic of conversation Wednesday morning between Mayor Keith Hobbs and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair during the latter’s brief visit to the city.
While the Opposition leader wouldn’t make any promises, Rafferty said Mulcair is willing to listen further.
Rafferty said he sees his own role as being a supporter of the direction taken by the city’s elected officials.
“The mayor and council, if they want to push something like the event centre, I see it as my job to support them in that endeavour and to try to make that happen,” Rafferty said.
Hobbs said Tuesday he’s spoken to Conservative MP Greg Rickford and was told the Kenora representative supports the project. Hobbs also said he expects both the federal and provincial governments will have more to say about any commitment they might make to the project in the coming months.
Dougall Media attempted to contact Rickford for comment for this story, but he was not available.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the past has said Ottawa will not support funding for arenas designed specifically for professional sports, and backed away from giving money to build an NHL-calibre facility in Quebec City.
Local officials have said they believe the Thunder Bay project, which includes 50,000 square feet of convention centre space, does not equate to the Quebec project.