NDP MP introduces bill to ban TV blackouts of sporting events

Andy Radia

With all the political scandals happening right now — Rob Ford in Toronto, corruption in Quebec, the Senate mess in Ottawa, etc..— it's kind of refreshing to have a politician stick-up for the average Joe.

On Tuesday, NDP MP Glenn Thibeault did just that introducing a private members bill that would ban television blackouts for live sporting events held in venues constructed with the help of public financing.

The text of the bill — Bill C-552 An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act — is really straightforward and succinct.

This enactment amends the Broadcasting Act to prohibit the blackout of sports events being held in venues that have received a subsidy or tax relief from the federal government or from a provincial or municipal government.

"Whether it’s NHL Hockey or CFL football, Canadian tax dollars have been used to help construct stadiums and arenas that house professional sports franchises, Thibeault said as part of a press release.

"It’s only fair that these professional sports leagues offer some reciprocity and allow fans to watch these games on television without the threat of regional broadcast blackouts."

In an interview with Yahoo Canada News, Thibeault says the idea to introduce the bill came from a couple of sources.

"Senator John McCain is looking at doing something similar in the United States," Thibeault, his party's consumer affairs critic, said.

"But I also got this idea from Canadians. I've literally gotten thousands of these emails, phone calls, letters with people being upset saying 'you know I can't watch X sporting event on television, it's being blacked out.'"

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Blackouts in Canada are most prevalent with Canadian Football League games who regularly 'un-broadcast' games if they don't meet attendance thresholds.

Thibeault's bill — should it pass — would affect all eight of the CFL teams. In recent years, many of the clubs have been the beneficiaries of a lot of tax dollars

BC Place stadium's makeover cost British Columbians $560 million; Winnipeg's new Investors Group Stadium cost taxpayers $80 million; and Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field — which is currently being constructed — has the city contributing $54.3 million, the province $22.3 million and federal government paying the remaining $69.1 million.

While the CFL teams are paying nominal rents, with that kind of capital outlay shouldn't we the taxpayers be allowed to watch all the events that take place there?

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Private members' bills rarely pass but Thibeault says he's hopeful that his legislation will.

"It's quite interesting, as I was introducing the bill I had some head nods from the other side. From the Conservatives saying 'I'm a Lions fan, I'm a Stampeders fan, I'm an Oilers fan, I want to be able to watch my team when I'm in Ottawa," he told Yahoo.

"I do this as a legislator, not an expert, trying to bring forward legislation that enhances the lives of Canadians. Make things better.

"I'm hoping that [the Conservatives] recognize that this isn't really a partisan bill."

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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