The debate about a downtown arena shows no signs of abating any time soon.
On the upside, everyone seems to be getting a kick at the can, which is what democracy is all about. In addition to newspaper and television coverage, there is a plethora of tweets, blogs, letters to the editor and various and sundry posts on websites.
The downside to all this opinionating is it creates a lot of noise in the communication channels, which makes it difficult to determine exactly how the majority of Edmontonians feel about a downtown arena that would either be partially or fully paid for with civic tax dollars. I think this confusion can be traced back to how the issue was originally presented.
If we could back up in time, I think we should have started asking Edmontonians if they want a NHL team in Edmonton. I suspect the answer would be yes. But at best, it is just that, a suspicion. This city has changed a great deal since the glory days of the Edmonton Oilers. Many people who live here now have no memory of that time and have no ties to our national game whatsoever.
It could very well be that the majority of Edmontonians don’t really care whether we have an NHL team or not. If we had a clear indication of that, the discussion of who pays for a new arena and its location would be moot. There would be no new arena period.
But let’s assume we posed that question and the answer was yes. The next step would be to ask Edmontonians if there is a role for the city to play in ensuring we have team. Again, if the answer was no, the debate would end immediately. If the answer was yes, the next question would be to ask Edmontonians what they would be willing to do to keep our NHL team.
One of the options would have to be nothing, and there are certainly those that have taken that tack. The other options would be to finance a new arena entirely with tax dollars or to partially fund it with tax dollars.
We could have arrived at an answer to those questions and a clear direction from the public by doing a secure online poll conducted by a neutral third party. Seems to me that would have been money well spent.