Recreation Minister Terry French. — Telegram file photo by Joe Gibbons
The West Coast Training Centre closed its doors at the end of June, despite a black-and-white campaign commitment from the PC party that it wouldn’t do it.
On the lawn in front of the building, people placed paper tombstones and a sign that said, “Here lies our health and well-being, thanks to the PC government.”
Recreation Minister Terry French said the decision to eliminate funding for the West Coast Training Centre was about saving money, even though his party specifically promised to keep funding it during the 2011 election campaign.
The move will save the province about $300,000 per year.
In the PC party Blue Book, the Tories said, “we will continue to provide grants to our elite athletes, continue to support high-level competitions and continue to maintain the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre (Powerplex) and the regional training centre in Stephenville.”
Less than two years later, French said the government just can’t afford to do it.
“In our own lives, in our own households, we all come up with financial things. People’s jobs change, people’s income changes, and we have to scale back a bit. This is strictly a case of that,” French told The Telegram. “We never sat around the campfire and said, ‘OK, how are we going to put the gears to Stephenville.’ That wasn’t the case at all. This is just strictly a fiscal issue that we came across.”
Nearly halfway through its four-year mandate, The Telegram has been doing an ongoing analysis of PC party election commitments. Previously, acting Advanced Education and Skills Minister Kevin O’Brien refused to do an interview with The Telegram about whether his party is still committed to eliminating post-secondary student loans and replace them with grants for students.
In an interview last week, Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy said the pledges in the Blue Book weren’t actually promises.
“You use the word ‘promise.’ I’m not sure the Blue Book can be described as a promise,” he said. “It’s a blueprint or a platform as opposed to an absolute promise.”
But west coast Liberal MHA Eddie Joyce said that during the 2011 campaign, people in his neck of the woods certainly took the West Coast Training Centre commitment in the Blue Book to be a promise.
“This was a commitment made by the premier to keep this open. This wasn’t something that (PC MHA) Tony Cornect told someone on the side of the road,” Joyce said. “This was the premier in the Blue Book, and if the premier doesn’t follow through what’s in the Blue Book, I guess Jerome Kennedy is right that these aren’t promises, that these here are just things that we’re going to say.”
Joyce said the training centre is at the core of a lot of activities in the Bay St. George area.
“Look at the number of top athletes that came from Stephenville, through judo, through taekwondo, through badminton and through other sports. They all went through the regional training centre in Stephenville,” he said. “That was the focal point where they were training and where they had the access to training.”
New Democrat MHA Christopher Mitchelmore said even up his way, at the tip of the Northern Peninsula, people are feeling the effects of the closure.
He said there’s a significant taekwondo program in the area, and it relied partially on the Stephenville facility.
“There were over 300 youths that had signed up to take the classes. They attend competitions in Stephenville at the West Coast Training Centre, and a number of them have moved on to attend national events,” he said. “Having that centre closed certainly puts a big concern about where taekwondo is moving in the future. Having that venue is not an option.”
French said he’s still hopeful the building may open back up with someone else running it. He said the province has offered it to the Stephenville community with $300,000 for repairs and improvements to the building.
But Joyce said that’s not right; he said there’s rumblings that there’s asbestos in the building, and the provincial government should fix it up before they hand it off to a new operator.
Despite the fact that the PC party committed in the Blue Book to keep funding the West Coast Training Centre, French said the province just isn’t in the business of running regional recreation facilities.
He said a better model would be like what happened in St. Anthony, where the province paid to build a new arena, and then handed it off to the town.
“We staff the place, see? We actually pay for people to be there and program the facility, plus we pay for the maintenance of the building,” he said.
“Here we are in Stephenville paying for staffing and programming in a community whereas every municipality in the province would love to have that situation.”