Drivers pass through the first turn at the Montreal Formula ePrix electric car race on Sunday, July 30, 2017. Tyler Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS
The lack of clarity over just how taxpayer dollars were spent to put on last weekend’s Formula E race in Montreal has citizens “boiling mad,” said Coalition Montréal leader Marvin Rotrand.
On Tuesday, Rotrand called on the city to detail the full cost of hosting the race during the next city council meeting, on Aug. 21. And he called on Mayor Denis Coderre to reveal the deal he made to have the event in Montreal.
“Given the large amount of public money involved, people have a right to know. If it’s that good of a deal, Denis Coderre, make everything public,” he told the Montreal Gazette.
Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante echoed those sentiments, saying there is a serious lack of transparency with the Formula E expenditures.
“It’s something we have been saying since the beginning,” she said. “It’s not transparent enough. And Montrealers are tired of being taken for granted.”
Rotrand said citizen have voiced their outrage to him during door-to-door visits in Snowdon.
“Citizens are either outraged, astounded or both,” Rotrand said. “There’s very little support for the race. Most people think the city made an extremely bad deal.”
Rotrand’s assertions appear to be backed up by a poll published Tuesday.
The poll, conducted by TVA and the Journal de Montréal, shows that two thirds of those surveyed (67 per cent) were not in favour of the city’s spending at least $24 million on the two-day event, while only 28 per cent supported the idea of a taxpayer-funded race.
A spokesperson for Coderre, Marc-André Gosselin, said the mayor would have no further comment.
“The mayor answered all the questions already” at Monday’s post-race news conference, Gosselin said. Coderre called the event a “mission accomplished.”
We know the city pumped in $24 million to pay for this race where the promoter pays the entire cost for the same race almost everywhere else.
— Marvin Rotrand
During Monday’s news conference, Coderre said the $18 million spent for the event covers costs for the next two years. The $7.5 million it took to build barriers for the course is not a recurring cost, he noted, and pegged this year’s costs to between $4 million and $6 million.
Rotrand also expressed concern over the actual amount of taxpayers’ money being spent on the race, claiming the $24 million approved by the city council could balloon to $40 million.
“I am looking at a worst-case scenario,” Rotrand said. “We know the city pumped in $24 million to pay for this race where the promoter pays the entire cost for the same race almost everywhere else.”
In fact, Rotrand said he isn’t aware of another city that does what Montreal has to host the race.
“When you look at Paris or Hong Kong or Monaco or anywhere else, it’s not the municipality that pays any of the money,” he said. “It’s the promoter who’s got to make it profitable.”
During a news conference on Monday, Formula E’s director-general, Alejandro Agag, called the assertion that Montreal was the only city to invest money to host a race “whimsical.” But he would not say which hosts fork over money.
New York City, which hosted the event for the first time in July, did not use public money for the event. The Formula E calendar will be growing next year and includes a stop in Rome, but it is unclear if any of these cities will be investing vast sums of public money like Montreal has.
An attempt to get this information from Formula E officials went unanswered.
Rotrand calls the structure of the race organization in Montreal “opaque,” adding the city could be on the hook for up to an additional $10 million because it guaranteed a line of credit to Montréal c’est électrique, a non-profit organization the city helped set up for the race.
“We don’t know the finances of the organization, and I suspect nobody is going to tell us,” he said. “Yet it is public money on the hook.”Related
The director of Montréal c’est électrique, Simon Pillarella, is out of town and was unreachable for comment.
Rotrand said that with all the reports of free tickets and free upgrades given to fans who purchased cheaper tickets, the race probably generated very little revenue from the sale of tickets.
“There doesn’t appear to have been any major sponsorships, so I think we can safely assume that Montreal will be on the hook for most, if not all of the line of credit,” Rotrand said.
That would already bring the cost to taxpayers up to $34 million, and that doesn’t include other unknowns such as the cost for extra policing and the free access to the city’s public transit system over the weekend.
Rotrand said it’s also unknown if there are additional costs for city services or employees working overtime.
On Monday, Jacques Aubé, the executive vice-president of race promoter Evenko, wouldn’t say how many of the 45,000 spectators bought tickets.
Tickets to watch Formula E from the stands cost between $45 and $131.50 for a single day, with a family package going for $32 per ticket.
Société de transport de Montréal president Philippe Schnobb said it was too early to tell how much the free ridership had cost the STM, but estimates peg the cost at $1.1 million.
Plante said she’s worried the loss of revenue at the STM could lead to service cuts or a fare hike to make up the shortfall.
“All those questions (about extra expenses) just demonstrate not only how there is a lack of transparency, but also how the mayor improvises with our money,” she said. “Just making decisions without consulting, before making sure that we are able to pay for this.”
Rotrand said he was writing to the president of the city’s executive committee to ask for details about the expenses surrounding the race, particularly the line of credit.
He said the city could take a large financial hit and is worried it could have an impact on services to citizens.
“Until we get a full report that can be scrutinized … not all the questions that need to be asked can be asked,” he said. “There are legitimate questions to ask, and we are running into a stone wall.”
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