Recently some of my articles on Not Your Average Hockey Blog (NYAHB) have received a big boost in readership thanks to the referrals of ZoneNordiques.Com. So I checked out their website as well, pushed the translation button, and noted some of the articles and issues they like to read about. Before proceeding further with this article, I’d like to thank ZoneNordiques for recommending me. Hopefully their readers enjoyed my articles whether they agreed with me or not and that they will continue to read and enjoy articles on NYAHB.
Having a pressure group to get the Nordiques back is not something new. When I was writing for Bleacher Report, I used to feud with the Winnipeg Jets pressure group, the Manitoba Mythbusters over the size of the new Winnipeg Arena which I considered too small (I still do). Nevertheless I was booster of Winnipeg getting back into the NHL and I am a supporter of Quebec and Hartford getting their teams back too. All three cities did not lose their franchises because of lack of fan support. They lost their teams because of ownership and arena issues. I’d like to see cities that really love hockey get an NHL franchise instead of doubtful franchises like Arizona, Miami, Columbus, etc. where the game has to taught.
As anyone who has read NYAHB since I’ve joined knows, I’ve written lots of articles about the Quebec Nordiques situation. Unfortunately, in Quebec’s case, there are other factors besides ownership and arena that are preventing the Nordiques from returning. The main reason why the NHL is stalling on Quebec is that the owner of Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau has made bad enemies on the NHL Board. He was already a suspect owner in the eyes (certainly for the Canadian franchise owners) of many Board members by his political support for the separatist provincial political party, Parti Quebecois. Then when his company competed with Molson Breweries to own the Montreal Canadiens and lost, Peladeau made inappropriate racial remarks about Geoff Molson, the new owner and also tried to obstruct the business dealings of one of Molson’s associates.
That finished Peladeau with the NHL long before construction started on the Videotron, or even when Quebecor announced it would try to bring back the Nordiques. Unless he publicly apologized to Molson and showed repentance like St. Paul, the NHL wanted no part of him, no matter how much money he is offering. They cannot afford to have a public racist on the Board. The recent election of Geoff Molson to the NHL Executive Committee shows that the Board is prepared to back Molson to the hilt.
It was a stupid thing for Peladeau to do, considering he has extensive dealings with “English Canada”, especially through the Sun Media chain which Quebecor owns. One wonders if he was ever really serious about bringing back the Nordiques. While doing research on the Nordiques situation, I came across an article in Macleans Magazine on the Internet which described Peladeau’s relationship with Molson. Immediately upon reading it I discarded the fiction of the NHL’s “official” position, that Quebec was rejected because of league conference imbalance and a low Canadian dollar. You don’t turn down $500 million without good cause. The NHL is rejecting Quebec because they find the potential owner unsuitable.
Hopefully Molson is only anti-Peladeau and not anti-Quebec City. The league may have shown its real attitude to Quebec by allowing it to host an exhibition World Cup game. Molson has no need to be anti-Quebec City where his company sells a lot of beer. He also wants a chunk of that $500 million expansion fee. Gary Bettman and the NHL’s reputation is also on the line after offering terms for readmission to Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg. What they want is either Quebec to be owned by a non-political, non-racist, French Canadian, or someone from the United States or “English Canada” that Quebecers will accept. The NHL wants Quebec City but not Peladeau or anyone like him.
That brings me to the main point of this article: Quebec was turned down for non-sports reasons. They were turned down because of social and racial issues. The Quebec Nordiques situation is simply the tip of the iceberg. The very future of Quebec City is indirectly wrapped up in this issue.
First a brief history. Quebec City has always been a hinterland with few direct dealings with “English Canada”. When the Loyalists started “English Canada” just after the American Revolution, few settled in the Quebec City region. The “melting pot” where English and French citizens intermingled was mostly Montreal. Quebec City remained a homogenous French Canadian city and remained suspicious about English Canadians and “English Canada”. This is reflected in the Quebec separatist movement. Most of the separatist support comes from the interior of Quebec that has few dealings with the rest of Canada. The movement has largely been built on suspicions, fears, ignorance, myths, and people not knowing about each other.
There is a precedent for this situation, American blacks and whites. Watch any documentary about 1950s rock music and you will hear people talk about how rock and roll, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, etc. broke down racial barriers and brought people together. Music, sports, and other common hobbies and pleasures always has the potential to do this.
Quebec City had little dealings with the rest of Canada until the Nordiques came along and Quebec City sports fans got a taste of WHA and NHL competition and loved it. When the Nordiques left they yearned for the team to return from day one. The Sakics, the Goulets, the Stastnys, the Hunters, were Quebec’s version of Elvis, Chuck, Jerry and Buddy. Through the Nordiques. Quebec City is opening itself to a different world.
That world means professional sports played by multi-racial teams in cosmopolitan, not homogenous cities. That means that “foreigners” will not only play in Quebec City but live there too forming their own “Westmounts”, “Little Italys” and “Chinatowns”. Are French Canadians prepared to accept and tolerate these “foreign communities” within the walls of Quebec? Furthermore, many of these new residents may not like the restrictions that Quebec provincial governments have placed on minority languages and other rights and react against them.
There are broader implications as well. There were petty little things like racists complaining when Paul McCartney was chosen to play in Quebec City during its 400th birthday in 2008. If Quebec wants the Nordiques back, that kind of behavior and thinking has to go. What if Quebec City decides it wants the CFL, the NBA, and MLB? None of these leagues are going to expand to Quebec if it means getting involved in social, racial, and religious controversies. And certainly Quebec will not be awarded top international competitions like the Olympics if it has an image of restricting minorities. And other potential money-making events like international conventions and a World’s Fair will not happen if Quebec gets a bad image.
Nevertheless this is the new world that the Nordiques symbolize, that Quebec wants to enter. It can be quite a traumatic experience. It may mean constant interracial interaction. It can mean interracial marriages. It can mean neighborhood integration with French Canadians who may have never even spoken to an English or foreign Canadian in their entire lives suddenly living next door to someone with a strange language and customs. It can mean French Canadians sharing provincial and municipal political power with others. A French Canadian community that has been for the most part insular for its entire 400 year existence will be opening itself for wide social change by getting the Nordiques back and other cultural and sports events. There will be more direct dealings with “English Canada” and the United States through the Nordiques. There will be more attempts to market Quebec City in the United States and “English Canada” to get tourist dollars and investment. Quebec will have to project itself as a friendly, inviting city to come and visit, not a narrow, forbidding one that restricts minority languages and rights.
There are serious implications even with just a new revived Quebec Nordiques. For starters, you can forget that the Nordiques are just “Quebec’s team”. The Nordiques have fans from every part of Canada and even in the United States. It would not surprise me to find out that the majority of “English Canadian” hockey fans are in favor of a returned Nordiques. And a smart Nordiques management are not going to be just marketing to French Canadians. It will probably be decades before the Maritime provinces get an NHL team of their own, so it makes sense for the Nordiques to pose as the Maritimes team as well. The Maritimes are already tied to Quebec hockey through the Quebec junior league. There will probably be seats reserved in the Videotron for Maritimers to buy and come to Quebec City to spend tourist dollars, and that means more direct contact between native Quebec City residents and the outside world.
So Quebec City is at a crossroads. If it wants to remain the insular, French Canadian community of its past, then bringing back the Nordiques could be a real threat to its existence. Many cherished ideas and behaviors will indeed be challenged. For the pure Quebec City non-racist sports fan who just wants a local team to cheer for and identify with, there will be no problems and a returned Nordiques will be a day of joy. But for those who want to use the Nordiques as a symbol of “French Canadian Quebec nationalism” and wish to maintain the “purity” of the city and the province, a returned NHL franchise might prove to be a mixed blessing.