Prince Albert mayor 'shocked' after Raiders designated as semi-pro

The government of Canada has approved 13 of the 25 infrastructure projects for which the province sought federal funding, and while big projects in Saskatchewan's major urban centres were on the list, Prince Albert was left out of the funding allocations.

The cash comes as the province and federal government were grappling over funding allocations; the province said it wouldn't be funding some of the projects without a commitment from the federal government.

That commitment arrived in the form of a tweet earlier this week.

"We continue to work hard for the people of SK," Minister of Infrastructure and Communities François-Philippe Champagne tweeted on Monday. "In just 30 days after receiving your priority projects, we have approved 13 with more to come in short order. This will go straight to SK communities; shovels at the ready! #skpoli #cdnpoli." 

Cultural projects confirmed

Champagne noted funding for a new site for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, the Gordie Howe Bowl expansion and the Globe Theatre in Regina alongside the Thunderchild Wellness Centre and the Southend Community Ice Rink has been given the green light.

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"I am pleased to report that with only one exception, all of the eligible Community, Culture and Recreation projects, as well as many of the Green Stream Projects, have been approved for federal investments by the Government of Canada, and will be ready to announce and begin construction," he said in a letter sent to Saskatchewan's Minister of Government Relations Warren Keading and Gordon Wyant, who is minister responsible for SaskBuilds.

"I know our officials are working tirelessly to approve the remaining projects in a matter of days."

The project left out? The Prince Albert Community Multiplex. 

The letter from the federal government explained the facility was ineligible for funding due to the fact it would house a "semi-pro sporting franchise" — meaning the Prince Albert Raiders junior hockey team. 

"Portions of that project, however, may become eligible for federal funding if an appropriate revised application is submitted," the letter noted.

'Everybody knows we're not a semi-pro team'

Greg Dionne, mayor of Prince Albert, says there was "shock" when he heard that was the grounds on which the government of Canada refused to fund the facility. 

"Our league is a registered amateur league with Hockey Canada," he said. "So I don't know how come they can label us a semi-pro team. We're 100 per cent owned by the community and we belong to an amateur hockey league."

He said the City of Prince Albert is getting ready to re-submit the application for the multiplex — which was set to house a large rink, two smaller rinks and an aquatic centre — to the federal government without the larger rink in place. 

"I'm a very positive person and I believe it is just a blip in the road and that we have to work around it and that's what we're doing today and tomorrow," he said. "We're reworking it and we're going to resubmit it and we'll see what the federal government has to say."

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Dionne explained the province has been in support of the new complex since the beginning, and he hopes the federal government will take a look at the newly submitted plan, or reconsider the decision altogether. 

"I'm frustrated that we've broken down communications on an interpretation and everybody knows we're not a semi-pro team, so I'm shocked they went down that road."

Mike Scissons is the business manager of the Prince Albert Raiders. He feels the classification of the Raiders as a semi-professional team is "grossly incorrect" and noted the federal government should consider the fact the arena will be used by several groups in the community, not just the Western Hockey League team.

"If you look at any facility nowadays, it's very rare that any tenant is going to be your lone tenant in that building you know," he said. 

He said while the Raiders would be 100 per cent behind a new building, they "aren't alone," as the proposal came from the City of Prince Albert, not the hockey club, and it would serve all of Prince Albert.

"It would be a facility that would be used by numerous clubs and communities and I think that needs to be considered when going into the decision-making," he said.

Both Scissons and Dionne said a new arena would also serve as an economic boon for the city, as it would allow them to attract more events and further grow community clubs who are already utilizing the community's existing arena.

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Province looking for clarity

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also expressed disappointment, saying while he agrees the Raiders are a very good hockey team, he did not realize they had reached the professional level.

"The Prince Albert Raiders play out of that arena," said Moe "The application that went in was for a city-owned, community-owned multiplex with not only an ice surface, but a number of other recreational opportunities within that facility and we're very disappointed that it was rejected," he said.

Moe said his government is working to determine which other projects have been approved, and the government of Canada says news regarding which of Saskatchewan's remaining 12 projects has been approved will be announced in "short order."

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In a statement on Monday, Wyant said there are still a number of outstanding projects that need "immediate attention," including green and water infrastructure projects in the province, which Wyant called "critical."

A statement from SaskBuilds on Tuesday noted it has requested clarification from the federal government on the total eligible costs approved for each project.