Before considering expansion (beyond Ottawa), the CFL should start a 4 team D-League. Each team would serve as a minor league team for 2 CFL teams based on geography.
Victoria: Leo's and Stamps
Saskatoon: Esk's and Riders
Maritimes: Al's and Argos
Quebec city (or Ottawa for now): Ti-cats and Bombers
*Import ratios would mirror the CFL with the possible exception of each CFL team having to supply 1 Canadian QB to it's minor league affiliate. Each CFL team would contribute half of the imports and half of the Canadians.
*It would drum up some interest in Canadian football in some potential expansion cities and give the Commissioner a way to gauge that interest (as well as potential owners).
*Import rookies would have to play at least 4 games in the D-league so that they aren't learning the rules in the CFL on the fly.
If it was successful you could add 4 more teams so that each team has it's own minor league affiliate. In the west add Red Deer and Thunder Bay. In the east add London and Windsor.
we already have some trouble getting guys to come north, though.. unless the salaries for a d-league are basically equal to CFL salaries, how many people are going to want to come just to play in the d-league?
Sell them on the idea of getting 2 Thanksgivings. Even if they make the CFL there is a 75% chance of this. Or the fact that they have the opportunity to continue their football career while getting to spend their summers in Canada. Did I mention the 2 Thanksgivings? One would have to be a fool to pass up such an opportunity. It would weed out the dipsticks that are doing it just for the money and not the love of the game. Obviously, it would be lower caliber players. Like Minor league baseball, or hockey. A few hot prospect and some Minor league lifers.
I don't think that a nationwide D-League is all that practical. The travel costs would be prohibitive. Most of the D-leagues in other sports are bus leagues. A D-league could possibly work in Ontario/Quebec especially if you used CIS facilities. In order to make a D-league viable, you need to find an area with 4-8 facilities within a decent drive. Attendance will probably be not that large regardless of where you place the teams, so the focus should be on development of players and controlling costs.
Why does the D-League have to be in Canada? How about a spring league in the southern US?
Two divisions, one in Florida/Georgia, one in Texas/Arizona. 8 teams playing CFL rules, no non-import ratios. Lets the Americans see CFL rules, gives us a supply of import talent to draw on, we can throw our NI rooks into the mix, and let them cut their teeth against some good opposition.
I'm sure a "semi=pro" league down there could find a fan base pretty quick, and having it in the US it would mean the salaries would be a lot lower, as well as expenses (how hard is it to find a football stadium to use on Thursday Nights in the spring in the southern states? And the travel costs are minimized, no interdivisional play until the playoffs...
And, if it flys, then a third/fourth division as previously proposed...