Canucks Lottery Grab Another Example of Corporate Welfare

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Appeared in The Province, October 2, 2003

The Vancouver Canucks are set to enjoy a few million bucks of taxpayer money so they are better able to contend for the Stanley Cup. In a deal with the BC Lottery Corporation, the Canucks will receive 15 percent of all betting on Sports Action lottery games and a portion of the take from new Canucks scratch and win tickets. The Stanley Cup in Vancouver sounds good - it’s the subsidies that sound bad. The transfer of monies from the BC Lottery Corporation is nothing more than a government subsidy to special interest groups such as wealthy owners, wealthy players, and the relatively affluent Vancouverites who can afford NHL tickets.

Orca Bay, the parent company of the Vancouver Canucks, assumes that economic multipliers exist from having a sports team like the Canucks in Vancouver. That is, having the Canucks in Vancouver generates more economic activity; increased tourism and business investment. But there is no correlation between sports franchises and net economic growth in their home city.

If the multiplier worked, it would work both ways. So did Vancouver suffer when the Grizzles left town? Absolutely not, people simply spent their entertainment dollars elsewhere. They went to more movies, plays, dinners and perhaps even more Canucks games.

Another problem with the “multiplier” theory is that the same money being used to help support the Canucks could generate much more economic activity and wealth if left in the taxpayer’s pocket. BC citizens are far too heavily taxed. Our Tax Freedom Day, the day in the year that British Columbians finish paying the total tax bill imposed on them by all levels of government, is the latest in the country. Major tax cuts are needed; not subsidies that smack of corporate welfare.

If the government of British Columbia truly wants to help the Vancouver Canucks then they should use lottery revenues to reduce our taxes. This way, working people would have more disposable income and Canuck fans would have more to spend on hockey tickets.

The lottery deal constitutes an egregious, two-pronged transfer of taxpayer dollars. First, it’s a transfer from our rural centres to the city of Vancouver. Residents of cities such as Kelowna and Prince George receive little, if any, economic benefit from the Vancouver Canucks. Many of these BC communities are reeling from shocks to their economies such as devastating forest fires and the soft wood lumber dispute.

Secondly, the subsidy is a transfer from non-hockey supporters to hockey supporters who value a hometown team. All taxpayers - not just hockey buffs - will share the burden of hockey handouts because lottery revenues could have been spent elsewhere or could have gone to reducing taxes.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the Canucks. But if it’s a choice between corporate welfare and growth-enhancing tax cuts, its tax cuts by a long shot. Forcing average British Columbians, many of whom do not watch hockey, to financially support the Vancouver Canucks, is not the answer. If the NHL and the Vancouver Canucks cannot remain in this city without the help of handouts then BC is better off without them. Hockey lovers will simply find alternatives for their entertainment dollars, perhaps the Vancouver Giants.

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