Just as two Members of Parliament were suggesting that provinces with CFL franchises join lawmakers in Ottawa and help provide the league with funding, Ontario’s sports minister made it clear there has been no contact from the league or the federal government, nor an appetite to engage.
“We are looking for federal leadership on this matter,” Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries told Sportsnet on Thursday. “We have not been asked as provinces to step in and make that bailout.”
CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie testified before the House of Commons standing committee on finance last week, making his case for why the CFL is requesting up to $150 million in aid because of the COVID-19 crisis. Ambrosie’s pitch came about a month after the CFL began the process of lobbying for federal funding.
Said MacLeod: “We’re not focusing our attention on providing additional cash, outside of supporting the (2021) Grey Cup,” scheduled to be hosted in Hamilton next November.
Since getting the ball rolling with the federal government on April 2, there has been communication on the league’s behalf with at least five MPs, including two cabinet ministers. On May 5, it was with Pam Damoff, the Liberal MP for Oakville North–Burlington, and the following day with long-time CFL broadcaster Bob Bratina, the Liberal MP in Hamilton East–Stoney Creek.
Both Damoff and Bratina told Sportsnet last week that Ottawa should not be alone in considering funding for the CFL.
“It would be worthwhile to bring provinces on-board,” said Damoff, the morning after Ambrosie’s presentation to the House finance committee. “There’s a big economic spinoff for the provinces. One-third of the (league’s) teams are in Ontario, one-ninth in Quebec. Let’s get the provinces involved where (CFL) teams play.”
“To leave it to the federal government to pay for everything is not fair,” said Bratina, a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
His proposal is to bring together MPs, cabinet ministers and each premier from the six provinces that have CFL franchises, “in case the (federal) government can’t find a program that fits the CFL.”
MacLeod wasn’t hearing it when presented with their idea.
“It would be myopic for the federal government to think a national commission should be funded by the Ontario government,” MacLeod said.
While Damoff believes “provinces should have some skin in the game” when it comes to the Canadian league, she did acknowledge “it’s harder than it sounds” to get them on-board.
Said MacLeod: “The concern for the CFL has been echoed by my provincial counterparts… There needs to be federal leadership on such an initiative.”
“I don’t want to give up on this thing,” said Bratina.
MacLeod said she has had conversations with Steven Guilbeault, the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage, about the CFL’s situation, but did not elaborate on what was discussed. There was communication twice on the CFL’s behalf – both on April 2 and April 17 – with both the Chief of Staff and Director of Policy at Canadian Heritage.
In his testimony last week before the House finance committee, Ambrosie was asked point blank if the league was looking for a bailout. He termed it a “loan” as part of a financial partnership that would be paid back in-kind with community programs, anti-bullying initiatives, in-stadium projects and other ideas.