Adam: Eugene Melnyk is right – the city of Ottawa is not fair

Municipal politicians leave no doubt that they would love to see the owner’s back of the senators.

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Eugene Melnyk’s frustration with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and City Hall boiled over in a recent interview and you can’t really blame him.

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One of the most baffling things about Ottawa’s municipal politics is Watson’s and the council’s animosity toward Melnyk, the owner of the city’s largest sports franchise and major economic engine. Where other Canadian cities with hockey franchises celebrate team owners and help the teams to the best of their ability, Ottawa seems to enjoy antagonizing and thwarting Melnyk at every turn.

City politicians leave no doubt that they would love to see him. Remember when Daniel Alfredsson, the former captain of the Senators, mentioned that he and Watson had discussed getting rid of Melnyk? “We’ve talked a lot, we’ve talked about the future of the senators and their property and we agree,” Alfredsson told blogger and former Ottawa Sun columnist Susan Sherring. “We hope to get a new owner.” That was telling.

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It is not uncommon in team sports for supporters to pour their hearts and souls into clubs to sour an owner and demand changes. But it’s virtually unheard of for a politician, no less than a mayor who has refused to lift a finger to help the club, be involved in plotting an owner’s move.

So when Melnyk told podcaster Bob McCown and co-host John Shannon that he wants to build a new arena in Kanata, but would move it to Gatineau if Watson and the council get in his way, he told them his patience had run out. If they don’t want him here, he’ll go elsewhere.

“I haven’t had the easiest time in the city of Ottawa. Not with the fans, believe it or not, there’s a hierarchy in that city, and it’s political, yeah,” Melnyk said. It’s for sure.

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Here’s a man whose team, according to a study from the University of Ottawa, contributes $200 million a year to the city’s economy, half of it in direct spending. All told, according to the study, the senators have pumped more than $3 billion into Ottawa’s economy since returning to the NHL in 1992. The club’s foundation has invested more than $70 million in local charities and charities. The senators have certainly been good to Ottawa and you would think the mayor and his council would appreciate Melnyk. But no.

Over the years, the city has made efforts to support various sports and entertainment ventures, but not the senators. The council supported a bid by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) to redevelop Lansdowne Park and bailed it out with public funds when it lost money during the pandemic. The Council also backed Rideau Carleton Raceway’s bid to land a casino, making short shrift of a proposal from the senators’ organization. Watson even made it clear that the casino would be on the Raceway or nowhere.

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It’s the same mayor who promised Melnyk wouldn’t get a cent to build a new arena. And when the LeBreton Flats redevelopment plan came crashing down in mutual accusations, Watson wasted no time in taking sides, blaming Melnyk while ignoring his concerns about the project’s viability. Only recently did the city give a Porsche dealer a $2.9 million tax break to move from one part of Vanier to another. In Ottawa, everyone seems to be getting a piece of the public pie, unless you’re called the senators. No wonder Melnyk is smoking.

‘I’m dying here. I have no fans and I’m still trying to put on a show for everyone. My point is, it’s about honesty, and it’s not even the money, it’s the honesty,” Melnyk said. “Here I pay through the nose on taxes out there and they just gave the Porsche dealer $2.6 million tax-free…I just don’t think I’m being treated fairly.” There is no doubt about that.

For a long time, our city government has done little to suggest that it appreciates the Ottawa senators. There is only so much hostility you can bear. If Melnyk can find welcome and success elsewhere, he must seize the opportunity.

Mohammed Adam is an Ottawa journalist and commentator. Reach him at nylamiles48@gmail.com.

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