The Canadian Press
MONTREAL -- The mayor of Quebec City has accused the federal government of spending months misleading people in his city and feeding false hopes it might help fund an NHL-style hockey arena.
Regis Labeaume told a local radio station Thursday that Ottawa should have made its position clear on arena funding sooner.
The mayor's relationship with Ottawa could hold political consequences, since Quebec City is key electoral turf and the pugnacious populist is its most commanding presence.
Labeaume cruised to re-election with 80 per cent of the vote in 2009.
He said Conservative MPs were wrong to raise hopes over the last year -- most notably when they wore vintage Nordiques jerseys at a photo-op in the fall -- if they weren't going to come through in the end.
"They have a right not to pay. (But) they should have said it sooner," Labeaume said in an interview with FM93.
"It's just that what they did, for months, telling us, 'We're waiting for the private sector, we're waiting for the private sector and the business plan,' while putting on Nordiques jerseys -- that's what I find wrong."
Labeaume's city is poised to be an important battleground in the next federal election, with the bulk of the Conservatives' 11 Quebec seats around the provincial capital.
The mayor's words Thursday were sure to displease members of the governing party; his message was virtually identical to one in a press release by the Bloc Quebecois, the Tories' opponent for seats in the region.
The Bloc wasted little time testing a possible campaign line with a release titled, "Conservatives dupe the people of Quebec."
"The Conservatives created expectations and promises, but when it comes time to deliver the goods, they bail," Bloc MP Christiane Gagnon said in the statement.
One prominent pollster sees possible repercussions.
Sylvain Gauthier, vice-president at the Montreal-based polling firm CROP, declined to share details of a soon-to-be-released survey but was unequivocal when asked whether there would be consequences.
"Yes, based on what people in the region are saying," he replied, without offering the numbers of a just-completed poll.
"There will surely be an impact."
The comments from Labeaume and the Bloc came a day after the federal government appeared to finally put an end to speculation it would help foot the bill.
Earlier this week, Labeaume said he felt he had met all of Ottawa's conditions for funding the arena when he announced a multimillion-dollar management deal with media giant Quebecor.
The feds had set private-sector involvement as a key condition for federal money.
But it became clear Wednesday that, if the Quebec arena project does go ahead, it will happen entirely with taxpayers' money at the provincial and local level.
Construction on the $400 million arena is projected to last until 2015. The NHL, meanwhile, is offering no guarantees that it will bring a team to Quebec City if the project goes ahead.>>