I want to believe

At age 10, I started watching the CFL on CBC every Saturday night in summer. I didn’t care much about football but “Please let me stay up until the game is done” was a great way to get a later bedtime. At first, I’d just read, only pretending to watch the game when a parent wandered by. But by about mid-August, I became a fan. I loved the fast-paced game but what really enchanted me was the notion of a major (relatively speaking) Canadian professional sports league.
Teams in Regina? Hamilton? Amazing. I asked my father when we could go to Halifax to see a game. I remember being enraged at the injustice of it when I learned we were the only part of the country without a team or even a stadium.
Hockey is my first and true love but the CFL has held a place in my heart since that summer. I rooted for Edmonton before my allegiances shifted to Montreal and then Saskatchewan. I’ve made a few trips to Ontario for the sole purpose of going to football games. I mark the Grey Cup on my calendar every year and went to the big game and had a heck of a good time (from what I recall) in 2008.
If you had asked me a few years ago if Halifax should do whatever it takes to build a football stadium in Shannon Park and secure a CFL franchise, my answer would have been an unconditional yes. And I would have said what all stadium boosters say: to be truly great, a city needs a stadium.
I would have patiently explained how there are countless economic spinoffs when a city has a CFL team. Think of all the other events it will attract! Think of how people in Winnipeg and Vancouver will say “Pack your bags, we’re going to Halifax to see a CFL game!” Think of the businesses that will spring up to painlessly separate sports fans from their money!
Now, a bit older and a smidge wiser, I can’t help but also think about projects like the Nova Centre. Schedules and budgets missed, vacant space, and economic spinoffs that don’t materialize. I consider a handful of already-rich business people getting richer thanks to taxpayer money, while nothing much changes for the rest of us.
I listen to Premier Stephen McNeil say, “I’m not reaching into general revenue to build a football stadium” and can’t help but notice he’s left himself a semantic loophole big enough to fly a plane through. I try to understand the mental gymnastics that lead boosters to claim the project won’t require any public money … except for a complicated “tax-incremental financing” scheme, which still sounds a lot like using public money to subsidize private business.
I read the news from Winnipeg, where the provincial government recently wrote off an $82-million stadium loan, admitting the financial projections for the new facility were unrealistic. This after previously writing off a $118-million loan for the same stadium. I look to Ottawa, where a new stadium was supposed to revitalize a community but has instead performed well under its optimistic profit projections, with the business group behind it losing $14 million in its first three years.
Still, I think about how I enjoy the CFL. I want to go to a stadium and cheer for our team. I want Halifax to experience that game-day buzz that football brings to a city. I want to see football fans from across the country come here for the East Coast’s Grey Cup.
But I also don’t want to see taxpayer money make it happen when we have so many more pressing needs. I want to be convinced Halifax can somehow buck the odds and come up with the one stadium-financing scheme (in the world, apparently) that really makes it a benefit for everyone, not just for team owners. I want Halifax to have a beautiful stadium that hosts the CFL, college sports, rock concerts, and international events. I want to see a Grey Cup parade down Barrington Street, dammit.
So I wish someone would convince me.
CORRECTIONS: There were proofing errors in our Nov. 2018 issue. Andrea Rahal’s name was misspelled in one instance in “Give better gifts.” In “Building together,” Sam Decoste’s name was incorrectly capitalized and in one instance the wrong pronoun was used to describe her. See the corrected stories at halifaxmag.com. Halifax Magazine regrets the errors.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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