It sounds like blackmail, it stinks like blackmail: what is it?

Daryl Katz imposes a Halloween deadline for a new arena deal in Edmonton

It’s trick-or-treat, or else?

That’s what it seems to be, according to the news that the city’s favourite son and best-known pharmacist, a.k.a. the Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, wants to have his deal to get public money to build a new arena for his club signed, sealed and delivered by October 31.

He might have his reasons, and one of them might be perfectly valid: he’s put an option on the land where he would like to build the arena, and it’s going to expire soon.

Now, according to what has become known, council heard Friday a bit of what was going on so far as the negotiations are concerned. That’s fine. So far as it goes.

They heard the most important parts behind closed door. And that makes it no longer fine. It makes it downright disgusting.

And now there have been rumblings council might vote on the issue not really knowing some of the major details. Preposterous or preposterous? Let’s hope it’s both the former and the latter. Keeping this council’s record in mind, one’s not so sure. But they should be made aware that as they debate the Oct. 31 deadline, their reply should be: don’t tell us what we should be voting on and when.

If council requires any reminder, here it is: it is public money you’re talking about, not yours. If you wish to put up the $100 million out of your own pockets, be Mr. Katz’s guests. But if you want to touch taxpayers’ money, you can’t be doing it behind closed doors.

Besides, and in council’s eyes this seems to be a minor detail, the aforementioned millions are not nearly enough. There’s also an estimated $57 to $72 million to buy land for a new LRT station, build the station itself, and, if spirit moves them, a pedway on top of it. Of course, the LRT extension itself will cost a pretty penny too, but that one has been debated in council chambers earlier, in different contexts. Still, in the name of ethics, the LRT extension cost should have become a part of the arena debate, also. If in no other sense, then at least by saying, this project would have to be advanced by so-and-so many years to accommodate the new arena, and that might add so-and-so many of your dollars to the cost.

Oh yes, certainly we’re being assured, council will inform the taxpaying public. When? As soon as it sees fit. That’s not good enough. You’re negotiating with a private concern about public money. Guess what? You will have to keep both the doors, and the books, open throughout.

As mentioned so many times before, public money and private business do not mix. Use your own oil and water example here, if you wish. A government’s role and priorities differ from an entrepreneur’s role and priorities. This is not to say which one is better. This is to say they are – in the most thorough meaning of the word – incompatible. Let’s put it simply: the government goes about re-distributing somebody else’s money, while an entrepreneur goes about making and spending her or his own money.

But, given where we are now, the fact remains: this city’s government has got itself involved in talks that have, thus far, at least, led nowhere. It has not felt an absolute obligation to keep its employers (the taxpayers) informed on each turn and twist of negotiations that deal with a substantial chunk of money. Money that many are convinced can be of more use elsewhere. For that reason alone our city parents should be impeached.

Even if this latest ploy is not an attempt to blackmail city council into submission, and from the outside looking in, it definitely looks, smells and sounds like one, there are several options open to Mr. Katz. If he still persists in his view taxpayers owe him something, then, he should let taxpayers decide whether they wish to honour his demand on their own time. The options on the purchase of the land can be extended, too. No? Well, that’s life. If Mr. Katz still persists his club can’t survive without a new arena, then, he could either interest some other entrepreneurs to join him in the project, or he can proceed down the same path most of us have when we wanted or needed something but couldn’t afford to pay for it in cash. We either had to learn to live without it, or we went to a financial institution to convince it we’re worthy of their credit.

It looks Mr. Katz must be getting the worst public relations advice available. Of course, he might be getting the best advice, but is choosing to ignore it or, even, act against it, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Even if we forget about the pure economic nonsense he is proposing, there is this thing called perception. What do people see, and what do people think about what they see? If Mr. Katz is perceived as a Satan, then, alas, he is one, even if, in his heart of hearts, he was an Archangel.

But we won’t know until council keeps its doors open.

Or, better still, if only it had the guts to say, OK, we’ve wasted enough money on this, let’s turn our attention to something more useful.

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