March 22, 2011
Last fall, the CFL took a trip to Parliament Hill to ask for federal funding of up to $12 million for festival events around the 2012 Grey Cup in Toronto. Today, the league's request was granted, but not entirely and not definitively. The Conservative minority government's proposed $278.7 billion budget for 2011-12 includes $5 million for 2012 Grey Cup festival events, but there's substantial speculation that the budget won't receive the support it needs from at least one other party in order to pass. If it fails, that could lead to a May election, and funding for the Grey Cup may or may not make it into the new post-election budget.
Still, even if the league didn't receive the total funding they initially asked for and even if they haven't got that funding completely nailed down yet thanks to the election uncertainty surrounding this budget, $5 million is still a significant chunk of change. In a statement released this afternoon, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon (pictured at left above with Argos' legend Pinball Clemons and Alouettes' legend Pierre Vercheval during the 2010 trip to Parliament Hill with the Grey Cup) and 2012 Grey Cup Festival chairman/CEO Chris Rudge (the former Canadian Olympic Committee CEO) seemed pleased with the funding they did receive. Here's the full text of that statement:
We are enormously grateful to the Minister of Finance and the Government of Canada for the funding commitment in today's budget to the 100th Grey Cup. The Grey Cup is a true Canadian icon, a source of pride and unity that is uniquely and proudly ours. For that reason, the 100th Grey Cup in 2012 represents a tremendous opportunity to bring Canadians together in a grand cultural celebration of our country, our game, and the historic bond between them, as well as being a source of tourism and economic activity. The funding announced today will allow us to deliver a national programme that engages communities across Canada and culminates in a game and festival in Toronto that makes every Canadian feel welcome and proud. We also want to thank the members of the all-party Standing Committee on Finance for the warm welcome they gave us and our brief during pre-budget consultations. We look forward to sharing our plans for the 100th Grey Cup in more detail in the weeks and months ahead, as we prepare to honour in a very special and meaningful way something that is integral to Canada's history and cultural heritage and, we say with confidence, its future.
In one way, it's somewhat surprising to see funding for a CFL event make it into the Conservatives' budget, as the party recently shot down the possibility of federal involvement in a new stadium in Regina and generally nixed the idea of helping to build an arena in Quebec City (or any sports facility that would primarily be used for professional sports). However, as I wrote when this first came up in October, this is significantly different from your typical professional sports event, and you can make a much better case for it to receive federal dollars.
One of the chief arguments against federal funding of professional sports arenas is that they only benefit people in a particular area, generally the city they're built in and its surrounding environs. That doesn't necessarily constitute a complete case against federal funding, but it's an argument that does have some merit. Funding events at a normal Grey Cup is a little better from this perspective, as while the event's held in only one city, it draws people from across the country. There's an even stronger case to be made for funding this particular Grey Cup, though, as the CFL's plan to make the 100th Grey Cup special that they brought before the all-party standing committee on finance last fall involved holding events in cities across the country as part of the lead-up to the eventual game in Toronto. They may have to reduce the scope of that plan a little thanks to receiving only $5 million instead of $12 million, but the Cohon/Rudge statement above specifically mentions "a national programme that engages communities across Canada," so it seems safe to say that cross-country events are still on the menu.
Of course, there will still be plenty of debate about if this is something the government should be funding, but applying $5 million towards a national celebration of a significant historical event for Canada seems pretty reasonable from this corner. especially compared to some of the things that government funds. It's notable that this budget also includes items such as "27 million dollars over two years to improve weather forecasting," "24 million dollars over two years to improving the health of hogs," and "7 million dollars over five years to help fruit farmers fight plum pox." None of those plans are necessarily bad, but you can make a reasonable case that Grey Cup festival funding may have a positive impact on more people across the country than any of those initiatives. We'll see if the funding actually comes through, but for now, this appears like a good decision for the CFL, and one that could lead to a great national celebration of the league and the Grey Cup in 2012.