Government ‘couldn’t consider’ CFL funding without player involvement

cfl-commissioner-randy-ambrosie-speaks-in-halifax

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie speaks at a news conference. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

As the CFL continues its pursuit to receive up to $150 million in federal funding, one of the league’s supporters in the federal government made clear what is foremost required to receive that financial assistance.

"Anything would be contingent on an agreement with the players," Liberal MP Pam Damoff for Oakville North–Burlington told Sportsnet on Friday. "Nobody can fund anything until the league knows what the players are going to be paid."

Damoff’s comments came the morning after commissioner Randy Ambrosie testified before the House of Commons standing committee on finance. In questioning, Ambrosie was asked why the players were not being represented in the videoconference with Ottawa and how much they would receive should the government offer support. Ambrosie’s answer to the committee on Thursday evening: "We have to work that out."

"We couldn’t consider anything without the players being involved," Damoff said.

Ambrosie told the House committee that the league and players were scheduled to have a meeting Friday afternoon. Dialogue has resumed between both sides, though it was in April that CFL Players’ Association president Solomon Elimimian sent a memo to its membership claiming, in-part, that the league was being uncooperative and that the commissioner "has refused our call to work with him to find a solution that will work." The Canadian Press first reported on May 4 that the CFL and CFLPA had resumed talks about contingency plans for the 2020 season.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government has asked the group Ambrosie testified before on Thursday not to pass a judgement or make recommendations, where they normally would if not for the pandemic.

"There is no timeframe from a government perspective for when an answer would be given," said Wayne Easter, the chair of the standing committee on finance, who presided over Thursday’s proceedings. "That would be up to the COVID committee off cabinet and cabinet to make a decision on what they’ll do with the CFL and the non-profits, charities and others that will present before the committee."

Easter, a Liberal MP from Prince Edward Island, went on to say that "there is no specific deadline from our part as the finance committee. That’s not our mandate," because of new protocols during the crisis.

Damoff is one of three Members of Parliament from the Trudeau government that is known to have spoken with Ambrosie since April 2, when the CFL began the process of lobbying Ottawa for federal funding. Damoff is a CFL supporter, a fan of the Toronto Argonauts and recently a season ticket holder of the team. Hamilton East–Stoney Creek MP Bob Bratina, a long-time former CFL broadcaster, also had a conversation with Ambrosie. There was communication on the league’s behalf with Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, and Bratina told Sportsnet that McKenna "lent a good ear to Ambrosie."

"The CFL can’t be lumped in with Major League Baseball or in the NBA category. The CFL is part of the fabric of our country," said Bratina, who was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1998. "I don’t think there should be a federal (funding) program for all pro sports, but with the CFL I think it’s a special case."

Damoff was clear that the league needs its approach to be more detailed, and transparent, when making its pitch for funding. To this point, there have been no specifics outlined from the CFL of why up to $150 million is needed and where any of the money would go should the federal government offer financial aid.

"I told the commissioner the league needs to put together a business plan," she said. "What are you looking for the federal government to do? I think we need to help them out if they have a business plan that’s viable for the government and the CFL. And I think they can do it.

"The sooner they have one put together, and present to the members of the finance committee, it would be helpful."

Easter said the federal department of finance and the Prime Minister’s Office will be made aware of testimony from Thursday’s standing committee proceedings and what requests were made. It’s quite likely that officials from the finance department were monitoring the meeting.

"The information is noted, it’s assessed by others up the line, and we’ll see where it goes," Easter said.

Following his testimony Thursday, Ambrosie was asked point blank by committee member Kevin Waugh – the conservative MP from Saskatoon–Grasswood – if the funding request was in actuality a bailout for the CFL. The commissioner said the league is hoping to create a business relationship with the government, and that "some" of the money would be paid back through "programs."

Those in-kind ideas would include featuring the CFL being involved in anti-bullying and diversity ideas, tourism campaigns and in-stadium promotions.

"Those programs align with what the federal government is doing," Damoff said.

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