If the provincial government is in the mood to save some money, it could take Targa Newfoundland’s word for it that the annual road race brings approximately $16 million into the province’s economy.
For a week or more, several dozen drivers, their exquisite cars and their crews spread their wealth — in hotels, restaurants, stores, pubs, etc. A Porsche must be fun to drive, but a lot less fun to sleep in. So, plenty of money is spent during the event.
The Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation has issued a request for proposals from consultants to conduct a study into the financial benefits of Targa.
It is a foregone conclusion: rich people visiting the province are good for the economy.
The main money issue that should be addressed is whether the provincial government should continue giving Targa Newfoundland $75,000 per year. It’s not as if the participants need help from taxpayers to obtain a hot lunch.
In all likelihood, with its $600,000 annual budget and 30 sponsors, Targa Newfoundland won’t be able to make a convincing case that it needs to dip its nozzle into the public trough.
Typically, the proposed study will ask easy questions that will give answers the government — and public — will like hearing.
But the study should shift into a higher gear, if you will, and broaden its scope to look at issues of safety and legality.
Ever since Targa Newfoundland was established a decade ago, the discussion has mostly been about money and economic benefits. Safely and legal issues have seldom received the attention they deserve.
Let’s start at the beginning: by what authority does the provincial government close 2,200 kilometres of public roads — intermittently over seven days — and hand them over for exclusive use by a private group?
What are the legal ramifications of this? Has the government absolved itself of legal liability if a member of the public is seriously injured or killed during Targa Newfoundland?
Or, if the government could be liable, has it purchased insurance as a precaution against potential lawsuits? If so, how much does that insurance coverage cost? Is that cost included in the $75,000 annual grant to Targa, or is it an extra expense?
Too many politicians in Newfoundland have fawned over Targa for too long. They should take a look at what has occurred in other jurisdictions.
Whichever consultant wins the contract to produce the report for the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation could start by summarizing the situation in Australia, where Targa has been controversial for years.
The East Coast Targa event ceased in 2005 after politicians in eastern Australia withdrew their support.
Targa Tasmania has been targeted by several councillors in Hobart, the island’s main city. In 2008, they tried to withdraw municipal support for the event, but were defeated in a 7-3 vote.
Closer to home, Targa is aiming to establish a race in Western Canada. Targa Canada West is scheduled to take place this spring in B.C. But last year, residents of Kelowna circulated a petition opposing the event, and the city council voted to not support the race.
In Newfoundland, some municipal leaders have questioned the glowing rhetoric that so often surrounds discussion about Targa. Several towns in the past few years have withdrawn permission for the race to be held within their boundaries, due to concerns about safety and unacceptable inconvenience to residents.
The government’s study would be more beneficial if the winning consultant is instructed to obtain information and input from these various other jurisdictions. That way, all the pros and cons of hosting a Targa event can be addressed and, presumably, presented to the public. The issue involves a lot more than just money.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.