The last thing Albertans need is a new arena

During a cost of living crisis, Premier Danielle Smith's $300 million arena deal shows the disconnect between the UCP and Albertan voters.

Re-elected Premier Danielle Smith has the chance to show Albertans how the United Conservative Party (UCP) will fulfill campaign promises. She’ll tackle affordability, health care, and, of course, using taxpayer dollars to help build an arena in Calgary.

Because Albertans are already having such an exciting time this decade — with rising inflation, cuts to education, and a growing housing crisis — it seems like Smith wants to keep the party going.

Smith recently committed $300 million to help build a new arena in place of the Saddledome. This money will not go toward the actual construction of the arena itself. Instead, it will go toward the supportive infrastructure surrounding it. This includes things like road and bridge construction, transit development, and site utilities.

But, in light of this investment, Smith has not yet pledged any money for Edmonton projects that Mayor Amarjeet Sohi wants to accomplish. These include expanding transit garages and upgrading Edmonton’s own Commonwealth Stadium.

Smith’s arena deal proves that there’s a disconnect between what the UCP have planned and what Albertan voters urgently need. While a new arena is a nice idea, many Albertans are struggling right now — especially in Calgary. An arena isn’t cause for celebration when you can’t afford the cake to celebrate it with.

The 2022 Calgary Community Wellbeing report found that 41,890 people in Calgary are considered “working poor.” This means they have employment, but still live under the poverty line. During the pandemic, 77,000 Calgarians fell into poverty. Eighteen per cent of Calgary households are in need of affordable housing, and 21 per cent cannot afford healthy food. With this in mind, 85 per cent of those polled agree that all Calgarians deserve a living wage — a 10 per cent increase from 2020. Clearly, Calgarians want what’s best for their neighbours.

Infrastructure built by taxes should be affordable for taxpayers. Funding a playground is different than funding an arena for Shania Twain to perform in. Community infrastructure benefits the general public more, so that’s where their money should be going. Smith’s arena deal does include $30 million to fund 50 per cent of a nearby community arena, but is this enough?

The arena deal didn’t exactly prove popular with voters, either. Forty-nine per cent of Albertans disagreed with the government funding the arena, and 14 per cent were undecided. All in all, only 37 per cent of Albertans support this plan.

However, support is higher in Calgary with 52 per cent supporting the project. But, only 18 per cent of those are strongly in favour. Even so, the majority of those polled believe the government should “fund more important things.”

The provincial government must have support from all Albertans when this much money is on the line, not just Calgarians. The arena deal has already been criticized as an attempt to win over voters in Calgary, as Edmonton is a New Democratic Party (NDP) stronghold. However, although the UCP won the election, the party lost support in Calgary.

An arena doesn’t fix all the other issues a city can have. Edmonton’s problems are not that superficial. In fact, Sohi said that Edmonton is facing a crisis of houselessness, mental health issues, and addiction. Even with our existing fancy arena and Ice District, these problems continue to worsen.

After Alberta projected a $12.3 billion budget surplus in November, Sohi made a request for funding to help struggling community members. These requests included affordable housing and supportive-housing units, additional permanent shelter beds, bridge housing units, and tackling the drug poisoning crisis. Since then, the government granted more than $23 million to help Edmonton with housing projects, including $2.3 million to go toward the construction of supportive housing for women and children facing family violence.

Still, all that glitters is not gold. Rogers Place is a four minute car ride from Boyle Street Community Services, an Edmonton charity that has sought to end chronic houselessness since 1971. There are more than 2,800 houseless people in Edmonton.

While Smith said she is open to discussing government funding for the revitalization of the area surrounding Rogers Place, no monetary commitments have been made. She said that the government had a “little bit more work to do in Calgary,” in terms of downtown revitalization between the two cities.

Edmonton’s splashy arena may make it seem like the city does not need as much funding as Calgary. However, this just doesn’t make sense. There are people in grave need of help just 1.4 kilometres away from that same arena. Housing is a human right, and a fancy arena will not provide that.

Additionally, it is difficult to understand why Calgary needs provincial funding to build an arena. Especially when Edmonton built Rogers Place without any provincial funding. While $132.5 million of the arena costs were paid for privately, the city covered $226 million through a Community Revitalization Levy, redirecting the Rexall Place subsidy, and new parking revenue. A ticket surcharge also went toward the cost.

In fact, Smith was actually against provincially funding Rogers Place when she was leader of the Wildrose party in 2012. So, it would make more sense for her to help Calgary find funding, rather than giving them the money outright. In the end, it just seems unnecessary for this money to come from the provincial government.

As premier, Smith will serve all Albertans, not just Calgarians. Edmonton’s needs are just as important as maintaining the loyalty of Calgarian voters. It isn’t our job to support the premier — it’s the premier’s job to support us. To best serve Albertans, the premier must address our most urgent needs of housing and food security.

As affordability worsens, let’s just hope this new arena isn’t equipped to host Alberta’s first Hunger Games.

Dylana Twittey

Dylana Twittey is the 2023-24 News Editor. She is a second-year student studying history. In her free time, she enjoys watching 90s Law and Order, cooking, and rereading her favourite books for the fifth time.

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