Quebec Paying for Being in the Hinterland To the Rest of Canada

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIMarch 15, 2010

28 Mar 1995:  Defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn of the Quebec Nordiques (left) goes for the puck during a game against the Buffalo Sabres at Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York.  The Sabres won the game, 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Quebec City's quest to get its old NHL team, the Nordiques, back has been stalled—at least temporarily.

To recap the current status:

  • Quebec has public support—80,000 signatures on a petition to get the team back.
  • Quebec has a first-class investor fronting a bid: Quebecor.
  • Quebec has civic support; the mayor is willing to pledge $50 million for a new arena.
  • Quebec has talked to Gary Bettman, who is urging an NHL-size arena be built that is projected to cost $400 million.
  • Quebecor has hired a company to do a feasibility study.

And there it ends.  Quebecor has the money to front a franchise bid, but not enough to make a bid and build a new arena.

The upcoming feasibility study will ask 1,000 people—hopefully, they are from the 80,000 who signed the petition—if they approve building the new arena, if they will buy tickets, etc.

The purpose of the study is to attract private investors and government funding.

Quebec wants the rest of the province and Canada to split the remaining $350 million cost.  To make it seem more "national," the construction is being billed as necessary for a future Quebec City Winter Olympics bid.

It will be highly unpopular with the rest of Canada—and possibly with the rest of the Province of Quebec.

Canadians don't want to use public money to fund what most see is a private enterprise.  They also don't want to use public money to build an arena for a league that many view as anti-Canadian.

So Quebec needs to get more private funding.  That's how the arenas in Montreal and Toronto were funded—and countless other private sports facilities across Canada.

Now Quebec's recent past may fatally catch up to it.

Quebec is hoping a favorable feasibility study will attract other investors from Quebec to come aboard.  But what if not enough of them do or can't?

Quebec will be forced to seek funds elsewhere—from the rest of Canada or abroad—and this presents a political and financial dilemma.

Since before Confederation, Quebec City has had little contact with the rest of Canada outside the province's boundaries. 

When "English Canada" has had contact with the Province of Quebec, it has usually taken place in cosmopolitan Montreal.

Quebec is homogeneously French.

The nationalist and separatist movement centers in and around it.

Now its desire to be back in the NHL makes things awkward.  To get back in, it is admitting that it needs "English" money.

It now has to go, cap in hand, to those people it wants to separate from—whom they put through two referendums and narrowly lost to.

How many financial friends do they have outside the province?

Although there are many—perhaps the majority—in the rest of Canada who, for the sake of national unity, want to welcome Quebec, there are others who will be less easily placated.

They are not going to be favorably impressed with a city and region that has been electing BQ and PQ candidates for the past 40 years.

As a price, they might demand that these separatist parties be given a thorough back of the hand.

Quebec has been changing a little of late.  It has elected some Conservatives in the last elections.

It successfully staged its 400th anniversary celebration in 2008, which attracted many visitors from outside the province.  It asked Paul McCartney—against separatist opposition—to perform.

Quebec discovered it liked being "big league" and getting tourist dollars.

But to get the Nordiques back into a proper NHL arena, the sports fans will have to battle two social forces—the traditional isolationist, French, separatist, nationalists from within who feel threatened by outsiders and oppose any move toward cosmopolitanism, and those in the rest of Canada whom they have alienated.

One way of partially solving the problem would be to get ex-Nordiques president Marcel Aubut more involved.  He has a lot of credibility in the rest of Canada.

It's a tough battle—it also being the story of a small city trying to emerge for the first time into the "big leagues" on the world's stage.

Outside of the anniversary festival, it is the first time Quebec has tried to fund a major financial project.

Except for Hamilton, Quebec is the best choice for getting another team in Canada.

So far, it has followed the logical steps toward getting the team back: public support, civic support, a major investor, and the NHL's blessing.

It now has to find enough funds for the bid and new arena.  This is the crisis point, which will make or break everything.


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