McGuinty’s MMA Flip-flop a Way of Securing Pan Am Stadium for Hamilton?
August 23, 2010 by Paul McKeever
I’m asking, not telling, but here are the dots. You can connect them yourself.
The Pan Am Games is an international sporting event. The location for such events is chosen years in advance, in a contest. Entering the contest happens as follows. A number of good ole boys get together, smoke some cigars (literally), and dream up a scheme in which they will fill their city with new stadiums, track and field facilities, pools…and fresh new transportation infrastructure, like new roads and mass transit. They are a mixed lot: politicians or former politicians who want to be praised and remembered for what they brought to their city, hotel owners and, of course, construction companies. They call themselves a “bid committee”.
The bid committee chooses a front man. He is usually someone well connected with elected officials, because the bid committee wants almost all of their self-congratulatory infrastructure orgy to be paid for by people who would not invest their money in it voluntarily: taxpayers.
Getting elected officials to spend hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on new infrastructure for the Pan Am Games requires that the bid committee do a good job of selling the idea to the public. The usual route is twofold. First, the bid committee tells the media (some of whose members may be part of the bid committee itself) that the Pan Am Games will bring thousands of tourists and millions or billions of their dollars into the city. Second, the bid committee grossly under-represents the anticipated cost of hosting the games. After convincing the public that the Games will be a money-maker, elected officials are relieved of any fear they may have that they will lose votes by sticking the taxpayer with the bill for the Pan Am Games.
Sticking the taxpayer with the bill for a Pan Am Games does not always work. In 1984, a London, Ontario based bid committee was formed. It wanted the 1991 Pan Am Games to be hosted in London. A Hamilton, Ontario bid committee was formed too. Each wanted the federal government and the Ontario provincial government – i.e., the taxpayer – to pick up the tab for the vast majority of the cost of the games: hundreds of millions of dollars. Angered by what he heard, London bookstore owner Marc Emery wrote a letter to the editor of the London Free Press explaining that Olympic and Pan Am hosting ventures are always money losers when they are funded by the taxpayer, and demanding that his governments not fund the London bid. The letter was not published. Emery was, at the time, Action Director for the then newly-founded Freedom Party of Ontario. So Emery and Freedom Party distributed thousands of copies of his letter, followed by thousands of copies of a more detailed guide to the folly of sticking taxpayers with the cost of hosting international sporting events. They also formed a non-partisan committee to oppose taxpayer funding for the games (chock full of news coverage of the day, all five issues of its newsletter are available here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Within about one year, Londoners were taking the side of Emery and Freedom Party. The Progressive Conservative Minister of Sport at the time, former Olympian figure skater Otto Jelinek, suddenly announced a 5-year freeze on the funding of international sporting events. Unable to stick the Canadian taxpayer with the tab, the London committee’s bid was dead (so, for that matter, was the Hamilton committee’s bid). The 1991 Pan Am games ended up being hosted by Havana, Cuba.
At the time all of this was going down, London was home to the man who soon would be the Premier of Ontario: David Peterson. Peterson was not only an elected MPP in London. He was also, at the time, the leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, which was then the official opposition in the Ontario Legislature.
Now, fast forward to 2008. A bid committee of good ole boys and girls – probably without the cigar chomping, because times have changed in that respect – is formed in Toronto. Like the London bid committee of 1984, the Toronto bid committee of 2008 wants to stick the federal and provincial taxpayer with the lion’s share of the cost of their self-congratulatory, self-serving infrastructure orgy. Who leads the Toronto bid committee? None other than former London MPP and former Ontario Premier, David Peterson.
The Toronto bid committee would take steps to avoid another failure. London is much like an island: a city surrounded by farm land for as far as the eye can see. Being so contained, it was relatively easy for Londoners in 1984 to get the word out to other Londoners and to build opposition to the bid. So the Toronto bid committee put together a plan spreading out sporting events over an absolutely immense area of Ontario, including numerous cities, from as far away as Welland and St. Catherines (which are found even further away from Toronto than Hamilton, on the other side of Lake Ontario) and to as far north east as Minden (which is 2.5 hours drive from Toronto). Co-ordinating a successful movement to oppose the bid would be nearly impossible in the time provided and, in all likelihood, the Toronto bid committee knew it. A No Tax for Pan Am Committee was nonetheless formed – again in co-operation with Freedom Party of Ontario (I assumed the role of Chair of the Committee) – and it did get press (especially in Hamilton newspapers) but successfully opposing a bid stretched out over so large an area, in the short time available, proved to be too massive a task. In November, 2009, Toronto – with a bid estimating total costs to be $1.4B (the committee initially put the price tag at $1.7B, an amount almost certain nonetheless to be grossly understated) – was selected to be the host of the 2015 Pan Am Games.
One of the more expensive and high-profile parts of the Toronto bid committee’s infrastructure plan is a stadium to be built in Hamilton (see the bid book at page 92). Funding for the building of the stadium is dependent upon the existence of an “anchor tenant”. Until very recently, it was imagined that the Hamilton Tiger-cats football team would relocate to the new stadium once it was built, and would be the stadium’s anchor tenant.
Beginning in early July 2010, Hamilton city council began studying two possible locations for the stadium, one of which was a downtown West Harbour location championed by Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger. A mayor favouring a downtown location for a city like Hamilton is no surprise. It’s empire building 101. To see what I mean, consider the example of Thomas Jefferson. The government of Virginia gave Thomas Jefferson money to build the University of Virginia. Jefferson spent all of the money building residence rooms for the students, then came back to the government for more. When the inevitable “But we already gave you money” was shot at him, Jefferson shot back “We have residence rooms, but nowhere to teach the students”. Jefferson got his additional money. In a similar fashion, I fully expect that if Eisenberger gets a committment to build the stadium in downtown Hamilton, it won’t be long before he’s crying the blues so as to get the federal and provincial governments to build new transportation infrastructure to and through Hamilton, so that people can actually get to the stadium. And note that if the stadium is built downtown, it will have little in the way of parking spaces. This implies that there will probably be a call not merely for new and better roads, but also for the building of mass transit infrastructure (by now, you should be getting a sense of why the costs associated with the taxpaxer funding of international sporting events always spirals out of control).
Hamilton Tiger-cats owner Bob Young sees the downtown location as one in which his team could not operate. Months ago, he explained, in voluminous detail, that the stadium would not be “economically sustainable” were it built in the downtown Hamilton location. Young believes that his team can be economically sustainable in Hamilton if the stadium is built at the other, East Mountain location in Hamilton, where it will be easy to get to, and where parking space will be ample. So, prior to the Hamilton council’s decision on the stadium’s location, Young advised the council that if the stadium were built downtown, the Tiger-cats would not sign on as the anchor tenant for the stadium.
On Monday, August 9th, 2010, Bob Young wrote to Mayor Eisenberger a letter announcing that his team was pulling out of negotiations with Hamilton city council. The following day, the council voted overwhelmingly to build the stadium at the downtown, West Harbour location. That decision left the proposed stadium without the “anchor tenant” that it must have if the stadium is to get the funding it needs to be built.
Now, before going any further, let us turn back the clock slightly to take a look at an another sport-related issue facing Ontario: the question of allowing mixed martial arts (MMA) events to be held in Ontario. Last February, Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters that allowing MMA events to be held in Ontario is “just not a priority”, and that “We have higher priorities when it comes to developing those jobs and strengthening the economy”. Then, in late March 2010, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White came to Toronto to promote the idea of allowing MMA events in Ontario. McGuinty having opposed the idea, Progressive Conservative opposition leader Tim Hudak reflexively sought to seize upon the issue as a wedge issue, saying “If I were premier, this would have happened by now”. McGuinty didn’t take the bait, and MMA remained something that was not a priority for the Ontario government.
The Hamilton council’s decision to build the stadium at the downtown site, leaving the stadium without an anchor tenant, hit the papers big time. The Pan Am organizing committee had laid down a deadline of August 12th, 2010 for the making of a viable decision regarding the stadium location, though even that deadline was seemingly subject to some wiggle-room. If the stadium was not to be taken from Hamilton altogether, and if neither Young nor the city council would budge, it would be necessary to find another anchor tenant for the downtown Hamilton stadium.
The MPP for Hamilton Mountain is Sophia Aggelonitis. Aggelonitis is the former president of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce (which favours the downtown location for the stadium). She was elected as a Liberal in the 2007 provincial election. In January of 2010, McGuinty appointed Aggelonitis Ontario’s Minister of Consumer Affairs. That ministry is responsible for the administration of the Athletics Control Act, which governs boxing and related sporting events in the province.
On August 14, 2010, just four days after the council voted for the downtown West Harbour location for the stadium, with the Hamilton bid for a stadium endangered by the lack of an anchor tenant, Aggelonitis delivered the news that the McGuinty government would allow MMA events to be held in Ontario afterall. Among the cities listed as benefitting from the decision: Hamilton. And what did she say were the reasons for the decision? According to the Canadian Press (CP), Aggelonitis said that “My other goal is to provide an economic boost for communities who want to hold MMA events”. The same CP report stated that “The UFC will also look at holding shows in other Ontario cities such as Hamilton, Ottawa and Windsor.”
Later that day, the Hamilton Spectator reported that, to get the government to change its mind about allowing MMA in Ontario, the UFC “…engaged former Ontario premier David Peterson and his Cassells Brock & Blackwell law firm to help on the provincial front”. A page at the Cassels Brock & Blackwell web site states:
David Peterson and Noble Chummar Represent UFC
On November 21, 2009, The Toronto Star noted that David Peterson and Noble Chummar are
representing Ultimate Fighting Championship as lobbyists. UFC is
lobbying for legal acceptance of the sport in Ontario. UFC is currently
banned in Ontario because it contravenes Section 83 of Canada’s Criminal
Code which bans “prize fights” except for sanctioned boxing.
David and Noble are members of the firm’s Government Relations Law Group.
That’s the same David Peterson who was a London MPP and leader of the Liberal opposition party in 1984/5, when Emery and Freedom Party managed to get the London Pan Am bid killed. It is the same David Peterson who chaired the Toronto Pan Am bid committee, which committee dreamt of a new stadium for Hamilton.
Four days after Aggelonitis announced the McGuinty government’s reversal on MMA, McGuinty shuffled his cabinet. With all of the talk of the shuffle being related to eco fees and HST gaffes, few major league commentators noticed, or paid much attention to the fact, that Aggelonitis was quietly shifted out of the Consumer Affairs ministry in that shuffle. She was instead made Minister of Revenue, where she will now spend her time hopelessly selling the benefits of the HST prior to the October 2011 election: a job that has no particular geographic tie to Hamilton, and no particular economic tie to stadiums or to MMA.
Two days after the cabinet shuffle, on August 20th, CP reported that Ontario’s New Democratic Party (NDP) had that day filed a request that the province’s integrity commissioner “investigate the possibility that illegal lobbying may have played a role in
convincing the governing Liberals to allow mixed martial arts in the
province.” The CP report stated that the NDP’s request included concern about reports suggesting lobbying by David Peterson, but also stated that “Peterson has denied he did any lobbying”.
It’s interesting. When the Hamilton Spectator was covering Freedom Party’s renewed No Tax for Pan Am Committee’s efforts to block taxpayer funding for the 2015 Toronto bid, Peterson was quoted as saying: “You are always going to have splinter groups, although I have never heard of these people”. “Never heard” of the party and campaign that torpedoed the London bid in 1984? Pardon me for finding that hard to believe. The campaign was the stuff of national CBC coverage, as well as countless reports and letters to the editor in London area media. As leader of the opposition and as an MPP for London, not knowing about Freedom Party or the No Tax for Pan Am Games committee would be an act of political self-sabotage. But don’t take my word for it: watch the movie. The history of Freedom Party’s 1984 No Tax for Pan Am Games campaign in London is documented in the second segment of my movie “The Principle of Pot” (Part 1). See below, or watch it at my youtube channel. Incidentally, if you keep watching, you will also learn about the Emery/Freedom Party national headline-grabbing Sunday shopping campaign in London that occurred while Peterson was Premier, and that forced his government’s hand into making numerous changes to the law that then banned Sunday shopping (ultimately, he made the grossly unpopular decision to download to municipal governments all key responsibility for bans on Sunday shopping).
Will the UFC become an “anchor tenant” for the new stadium? Was McGuinty’s flip-flop on MMA a way to secure a stadium for Hamilton in the 2015 Pan Am organizational process? Will Ontario taxpayers now be stuck with billions more in transportation infrastructure to take people to a two week sporting event in the downtown of Hamilton…and then to the occasional MMA fight there? And might we now be looking at a rooved stadium in Hamilton, rather than an open air one?
Those are the dots. Connect them if you will, and as you will.
“The Principle of Pot” (Part 1 – Segment 2)
To watch the whole movie, visit http://www.youtube.com/paulmckeever#g/p