Feds will join committee to save Grand Prix but won't change tobacco law
ALEXANDER PANETTA AND BILL BEACON, Canadian Press
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
(CP) - The federal government will join a Quebec-led effort to save the Canadian Grand Prix but won't change a law banning tobacco advertising, Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting in Ottawa, Chretien said a deputy minister for regional development would be appointed to a committee that plans to lobby Formula One teams and officials to keep the lucrative motor race in Montreal.
Media reports have suggested it could be Martin Cauchon.
On Monday, the Quebec government announced plans to form a committee with representatives from the federal and provincial governments as well as Montreal's tourism bureau and chamber of commerce to try to save the race, which brings thousands of tourists and an estimated $80 million into Montreal each year.
The governments want Formula One to exempt it from a rule requiring races to allow tobacco advertising. A similar exemption has been given to the French and British events.
Both Ottawa and Quebec City, meanwhile, have refused to exempt the race from a ban on tobacco sponsorships due to take effect on Oct. 1.
"Like the (Quebec) provincial government said, there is no question of changing the law," said Chretien. "If a contractual arrangement can be reached, all the better.
"The law is the law. What do you want me to tell you?"
Formula One is expected to bring back the Belgian Grand Prix in Montreal's place now that Brussels relaxed its anti-tobacco laws.
A coalition of Montreal merchants has organized a demonstration later this week to push the federal and Quebec governments to do the same.
It wants the government to put off the tobacco sponsorship ban until Aug. 1, 2005, when a similar law is to take effect in the European Union.
The merchants represent business associations from Peel and Crescent streets, St-Laurent Boulevard and Petite Italie in the north end, whose businesses are usually overflowing during Grand Prix week.
However, federal Immigration Minister Denis Coderre, who represents the Montreal riding of Bourassa, said economic pressure won't change the government's mind.
"The Canadian Grand Prix is worth $80 million a year, it's important," Coderre said in Ottawa. "But we've made choices as a society.
"These choices include an anti-tobacco law."
If the law were relaxed for the Grand Prix, other events with tobacco sponsors will ask for the same.
Eugene Lapierre, tournament director for the Tennis Masters Canada event, is looking for a new sponsor to buy naming rights for du Maurier Stadium, which will no longer be able to carry the name of the cigarette brand.
"We've known all along this was coming and we prepared for it, but if the government grants an extension, I hope it's not just for the Grand Prix," said Lapierre.
He added it should not be difficult to find a non-tobacco company to buy naming rights for the stadium, but the tournament also remains without a title sponsor.
Canadian Grand Prix promoter Normand Legault said this week the best chance to keep the race is to convince Formula One teams to agree to add an extra race to the 2004 schedule.
That would bring the total for the year to 18 events, one more than teams are contractually obliged to race in.
Legault hopes to persuade the teams that an extra race would allow F1 to keep the same number of events at which tobacco ads are allowed while maintaining the race in Montreal, which has among the highest worldwide television ratings because it is shown in prime time in Europe.
Lobbying of teams and officials is expected to be intense at the next Formula One race in Hungary from Aug. 22 to Aug. 24.
© Copyright 2003 The Canadian Press