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Postmedia pours it to bring home the bacon for Calgary's hockey billionaires

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Pengrowth Saddledome and the Calgary skyline. Photo: James Teterenko/Creative Commons

You've got to know that when the likes of Licia Corbella, Danielle Smith, Chris Nelson, Rick Bell and sundry other right-wing Postmedia types all want you to think that now is the perfect time for the Calgary Saddledome to be demolished and replaced by the (Ken) King Dome, it probably isn't.

That's just about the entire remaining staff of the Calgary Sun-Herald right there! And that's just what was published in the Sun-Herald's opinion columns in one day, last Friday!

These guys usually cast themselves as defenders of the little guy, the humble taxpayer. But when it comes to something that really matters, like big bucks for the billionaires who own the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames, all of a sudden they're the fearless champions of the overdog!

To save readers time and eyestrain, I'm providing a key quote from each scribbler:

Corbella: "A $275-million investment to get a new arena complex is a bargain."

Smith: "The sooner the Saddledome gets blown up the better."

Nelson: "Time has taken its toll. The place isn't equipped to handle the demands of today's top music performers ... Nor does the arena compete on a financial basis with others."

Bell: "City council is expected to vote Yes to the arena on Tuesday. If it is a no, the deal is dead but one day the city will still have to replace the Saddledome."

If readers are wondering why I didn't include political columnist Don Braid, who declared the deal a winner for the city, it's because he filed his effort on Thursday.

No, when a passel of billionaires want their taxpayer subsidy, Postmedia's prepared to lay on the full court press to make sure they get it.

Bell's piece may not have been the most elegantly written of the sampling above, but it was by far the most interesting because it appeared to be mainly a transcript of an interview with Ken King, wherein the former publisher of the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun, now vice-chair of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. and a key negotiator on the arena deal, made his approach to bargaining pretty clear.

His message to Calgary city council: "We're not renegotiating. We are not re-trading the deal. You can't say: OK, we’ve agreed to this, now let’s see how far we can push the other party. … An agreement is an agreement. You do not re-trade a deal."

Well, actually, you can. Anybody who's bought a used car understands, "Hurry! Hurry! This deal isn't going to be on the table much longer!"

But King, understandably, wants to get this signed, sealed and delivered right now. He is, of course, as aware as the rest of us of the horrible optics of council giving his billionaire employers hundreds of millions of dollars at the same moment it's cutting public transit, affordable housing, and fire and police services.

As an able former advertising salesman, I'm sure King also understands a gentle suggestion that if the deal goes away, the Flames might too, should be enough to stampede the nervous Nellies on council.

What council seems to have forgotten is that King is Mr. Calgary. He loves it there. When an employer moved him to Vancouver a few years back, I seem to recall he was back in Cowtown faster than you could yell yee-haw!

And who can blame him? The guy grew up in Hanley, Saskatchewan, for heaven's sake, which nowadays has a population of about 500. As everyone knows, you can't keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen the Stampede.

And consider for a moment the fate of Peter Pocklington, once upon a time part owner of the Edmonton Oilers. Pocklington is still reviled in Alberta's capital city for trading Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings (no relation) in 1988. The anniversary of that black day in Edmonton history is in just 12 days. He will be spoken ill of again.

So if Calgary city council had been paying attention instead of acting like a bunch of chumps, someone might have asked: Does Mr. Calgary really want to go down in history as the Peter Pocklington of Southern Alberta? Where would he retire if the Flames bugged off to wherever?

Well, it's almost too late now. If this deal slides through on Tuesday, they really should name the new arena the King Dome, now that the name's available again and the Flames obviously aren't going to Seattle.

And if you happen live in Calgary and you're still troubled by this lousy deal, you've now got two business days left to make your case. Good luck with that!

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: James Teterenko/Creative Commons

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