A taxpayer advocate is sounding the alarm over the Quebec government’s “risky gamble with taxpayers’ money.”

Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is set for a significant overhaul with the announcement of a new $870 million roof, a project spearheaded by the Quebec government and expected to be completed by 2027. 

The announcement was made by ministers Caroline Proulx and Chantal Rouleau, alongside Parc Olympique president and CEO Michel Labrecque, at a news conference on Monday morning.

The stadium was built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. Having existed for almost 50 years now, the stadium had previously made headlines for the issues with its roof. Quebec Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx said that the first retractable roof, installed in 1988, was a disaster, as numerous tears appeared soon after installation. A second retractable roof was installed a decade later, which tore off in a snowstorm in 1999.

Officials have been looking to replace the roof again for more than 20 years. 

“After the indifference of previous governments, we decided to settle the matter once and for all,” said Proulx. 

Nicolas Gagnon, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Quebec director, said that cost overruns have become par for the course with the Olympic Stadium. The Olympic Stadium and its adjacent structures were expected to cost $250 million. In the end, it was built for approximately $1.3 billion in 1976. In 2023 annualized dollars, Gagnon said this represents nearly $4.8 billion.

Proulx highlighted the current state of disrepair, noting that the latest data on the roof show it currently has 20,000 tears. 

“The images of the tears circulating around the world are frankly embarrassing. It’s starting to be hard to love our stadium in spite of everything,” said Proulx. 

According to Proulx, if nothing is done, the roof would have to be dismantled within a year or two, leading to the complete closure of the stadium. She said closure is unthinkable given that the stadium is a cornerstone of economic and tourism development in Quebec.

She said that the current government is doing what no government has done before by restoring the stadium, a national and international landmark, to full functionality by replacing the current roof with a new fixed, rigid, and reliable one. 

Proulx said the decision to invest in a new roof, rather than demolish the stadium, was influenced by several factors, including the complexity of the structure’s location above the Montreal metro and the presence of leased office spaces within the stadium’s tower. The government estimates demolition would cost $2 billion.

Currently, the stadium faces limitations, with events being cancelled if more than three centimetres of snow are expected. Proulx said that the stadium can only be operational for a period of 120 to 180 days a year, limiting the stadium’s most lucrative months — from November to April.

The new roof is expected to address these challenges, enabling the stadium to host events year-round without weather-related disruptions.

The new design features a fixed roof with a translucent strip and a skylight, enhancing the stadium’s aesthetic appeal and functionality. The project’s budget breakdown includes 18% for dismantling the old roof, 12% for constructing the technical ring, and 69% allocated for the assembly and installation of the new roof. The new roof is expected to last 50 years. 

The Legault government said that replacing the roof and implementing the Olympic Park business plan will generate nearly $1.5 billion over ten years, according to CTV News.

Gagnon said the government has provided little support for these numbers.

“It’s a risky gamble with taxpayers’ money,” he said. 

“If the government is so sure that the stadium’s renovations will attract more promoters and events, why not consider a partnership with private companies willing to take the risk?”