Stanley Cup playoffs raise anxiety at three City Halls

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Hockey Hooligans
Scenes like this after sporting events can cost city taxpayers dearly

It’s that time of the year again. No, I’m not talking about the spring blossoms, I’m referring to the growing anxiety bean counters at three city halls are beginning to feel now that the Canucks, Flames and Canadiens are all in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The main reason for their anxiety is that each round those teams make it closer toward their elusive goal of winning the Stanley Cup, policing costs escalate and city operating budgets are thrown out of whack.

Most people don’t quite realize the connection, but something like the Stanley Cup playoffs end up costing cities millions of dollars. That’s because ever since the '94 Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver, police chiefs across the country have vowed to ensure there will be adequate levels of security on the streets each and every night of the playoffs. Almost all of those police are being called in to work on overtime, which as you can imagine is very costly. Especially when you consider that policing costs comprise one of largest portions of any city’s budget.

Not all levels of government are so unlucky as to simply get a costly bill at the end of the hockey playoffs. The Federal Government will reap in millions through the GST they impose on the sale of hockey jerseys, flags, beer and countless other merchandise. If it’s sold during the playoffs, the Feds will take a slice of the pie.

Ditto for the Provinces who also collect PST on those same purchases as well as hotel taxes, fuel taxes, income taxes etc...

As far as the cities go, they barely get any additional revenue. Yes, they may get a few more bucks from people parking downtown, but have you ever tried to find an empty metre on non-game nights? It’s not like these metres are sitting empty waiting for hockey game patrons.

Cities mainly get their revenue through a horse-and-buggy taxation system which relies very heavily on residential and business property taxes. The upside is this revenue is more secure in times of economic hardship, but in the boom times it offers little extra incentive for cities to generate more economic activity.

Right about now the city managers in Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton are likely having a conversation with their local police chief to assess what the additional costs might be to taxpayers. This however will be very hard to predict, given no one knows how well, or how poorly each team will play.

The other wildcard is how well the fans in each of the cities will behave. One “bad” night on the streets of Calgary and you can expect nothing short of the riot squad to be out every night patrolling the downtown district maintaining order. No matter how much the extra policing costs, the chief will send the bill to the city manager, and ultimately taxpayers will be on the hook. Albeit, most will forgive the cost if their team does well.

When I worked at the Mayor’s office, we asked the Chief how much each night of policing was going to cost taxpayers. If memory serves me correctly, it was something in the neighbourhood of $2 million if the team made it all the way to the finals. This is a financial burden that only Vancouver taxpayers have to pay as other cities in the region are not responsible for playoff policing.

There will be a lot of cheering in three of Canada’s cities starting mid-week as they all vie to grab the big prize. However, if the cheering appears somewhat muted from your city hall, you now understand why.

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This is going to be an interesting test run for the Olympics. Can Vancouver cope with a win... or a loss and do so with some degree of civility.

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