There must have been many times in the past 40 years, when anglophone Quebecers who had their language and their rights under attack by various Quebec provincial governments, most notably the Parti Quebecois must have muttered to themselves, “Someday, somehow, you’ll pay”. And unfortunately through the Quebec Nordiques, these days right now are some of those days.
Quebec recently opened its beautiful Videotron arena which is NHL ready but the Nordiques have not returned. The main reason is that the owner of Quebecor, which was trying to become the franchise holder of a new Quebec City team, Pierre Karl Peladeau made inappropriate racial remarks about one of the NHL Board of Governors, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson concerning his suitability of owning the Canadiens. These remarks were probably offensive not only to Molson but to most of the NHL Board of Governors, Canadian and American who speak English. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had no choice but to turn down Quebecor’s bid.
Peladeau has never retracted his remarks nor made any attempt to publicly apologize to Molson. It was a very strange and stupid thing to do. His company has many holdings and dealings with “English Canada” most notably the Sun Media chain and he has to work with English speaking Canadians all the time. But he has an itch for politics and is a firm supporter of the provincial party, Parti Quebecois which has twice tried to take Quebec out of Canada by referendum.
One wonders if he was ever really sincere about becoming an NHL owner in the first place. Based on his remarks and actions, one must conclude that he wanted to get into the professional sports business simply to advance his political career and give his company a higher profile in the province of Quebec.
After he made a failed attempt to buy the Montreal Canadiens, he made his remarks about Molson which doomed any chance to join the NHL in any capacity long before he publicly announced that his company would try to bring back the Nordiques. His support for the Parti Quebecois made him a suspect bidder in the NHL Board’s eyes and then his remarks about Molson merely confirmed their worst fears about him. The situation called for tact and understanding, tolerance and the building of bridges between parties. Instead Peladeau simply blew things up taking the dreams of every Nordiques fan with him. The utter ridiculousness of publicly denouncing a man on racial grounds and then seeking to become his business partner on a Board of Governors was the height of absurdity.
In public, the NHL pretends that they turned down Quebec because of the low Canadian dollar and that the league conferences are unbalanced. But they want Quebec back in the league and they want that $500 million expansion fee.
Gary Bettman is now in an uncomfortable situation. In 2010 he offered terms to Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford for returning to the NHL and during the 2010-2016 period he consorted with the Quebec City mayor, the Quebec Provincial Premier and other people of influence in Quebec. He knew all along that Peladeau was an unsuitable bidder and probably privately told the mayor and the premier to keep building the arena while he handled the ownership problem. There has never been any public condemnation of Bettman by the mayor and premier though they have every reason to do so.
The problem is that there are few rich French Canadians whom Bettman can turn to who would be suitable owners for the Nordiques. Recently Patrick Roy resigned from the Colorado Avalanche. He may be part of a future Quebec City ownership group.
But the story of the current Quebec City ownership crisis does not begin with Pierre Karl Peladeau. Ironically it begins with one of the most notorious incidents in NHL history, the Maurice Richard riot of 1955.
Richard punched a referee and was suspended for the remainder of the NHL season by anglophone NHL president Clarence Campbell, costing him the chance of capturing the scoring title which he would never win. The incident was used as an excuse by fans to start a riot in what some historians have said was the first move of the emerging Quebec independence movement
Richard became a symbol of “Quebec French Canadian nationalism”. Ironically this was the last thing he wanted. He was a quiet man who simply wanted to play professional hockey. He even publicly said that if he was traded by Montreal, he would be happy to play for some other team. He hated being a political symbol. In later life, he was happy to make commercials in “English Canada” and to make appearances at NHL old-timers games across Canada. The author was fortunate to be present at one such appearance in Oshawa, Ontario. Richard was clearly the most popular ex-NHL player there. No one else came close to the ovation that he received proving that he was a hero and legend not only in Quebec but right across Canada. And he was only the referee at the game!
Meanwhile “French Canadian Quebec nationalism” progressed through the “Quiet Revolution”, the violent FLQ terrorist years (with bombings, the failed attempt to blow up the Statue of Liberty, and the October Crisis of 1970 when a Quebec cabinet minister was kidnaped and murdered), into the political years of Parti Quebecois government with its punitive legislation against the English language in Quebec and the two attempts to take the province out of Canada by referendum. Thousands of anglophone Quebecers left the province as a result. The discriminatory legislation still remains.
And it is this history that prevents the obvious solution to the current Quebec Nordiques financial ownership problem, investment by anglophone Quebecers, Americans, and rich Canadians from “English Canada”. Outside ownership is not unprecedented. The Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators are owned by Torontonians Dave Thomson, and Eugene Melnyk. When the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball were formed in 1977, much of the financing came from Montreal.
And the Quebec Nordiques with a proper NHL arena like the Videotron are a wonderful investment opportunity. Their market includes almost all of Eastern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces which are tied to Quebec through the Quebec Junior league. There is no problem with a fan-base. The fans are fanatical. They have the best rivalry in the NHL with Montreal, and others with Boston, a returned Hartford, and possibly Ottawa, Toronto and Buffalo. Quebec City is the coming city of Canada with increased wealth and prosperity. Building the Videotron is a symbol of this. Soon Quebec will have over one million residents.
Gary Bettman and the NHL Board including Geoff Molson know this. That is why (besides the $500 million expansion fee) they want Quebec back in league. But there is no possibility of them accepting a public racist on the NHL Board and the choice of finding a suitable owner is limited because the choice has to be made on racial grounds.
Ironically probably the vast majority of anglophone Quebecers, and people from “English Canada” are sympathetic to the Nordiques fans and want Quebec City back in the NHL too. But no anglophone investor from inside or outside of Quebec is going to dare risk investing money, no matter how wonderful a Quebec Nordiques franchise is because they are afraid of retribution by racists through a Parti Quebecois government.
Here again Peladeau is a deterrent. No English speaking investor is going to put up money while Peladeau can be elected to the Quebec Legislature and pass vengeful laws that can make operating an NHL franchise impossible. Similarly is any English speaking NHL governor in financial difficulties (supposedly the Carolina Hurricanes) going to move his franchise to the capital of the Province of Quebec when that hangs over his head?
Right now the racists are winning the battle to return the Quebec Nordiques to the NHL. If it was not for racism, Quebec would probably have a suitable NHL owner already and the city would be celebrating and looking forward to 2017. Instead the anglophones who were victims of the racists and said, “Some day, somehow, you’ll pay” are now saying, “See I told you so.” And the Quebec Nordiques fans – many of whom are not racists at all – and their English speaking sympathetic supporters in Quebec and right across Canada are the losers.