The Bottom Line: The NHL Is Quite Prepared To Live Without Quebec City If They Have To

Let’s recap briefly. The NHL turned down Quebecor’s bid not because of the imbalance of the conferences or the low Canadian dollar which is the public explanation they give, but because the owner of Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau made insensitive and inappropriate remarks about the owner of the Montreal Canadiens, Geoff Molson, concerning his suitability of owning the team because he is an anglophone Quebecer. Peladeau made these remarks about Molson after his company lost its attempt to own the Canadiens to Molson Breweries.

Peladeau was already a suspect potential owner in many of the NHL Governors’ eyes because of his support of the separatist provincial political party, Parti Quebecois which has passed restrictive legislation against the English language in Quebec in the past. His remarks confirmed their worst fears about him and when Peladeau announced that his company would now actively support a new arena for Quebec City and the return of the lost Quebec Nordiques, any bid by Quebecor was doomed to failure long before any construction of the new Videotron began unless Peladeau apologized and became reconciled with the NHL Board. He made no attempt to do so and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman turned down Quebecor’s bid without a second thought.

In 2010, Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their NHL teams in the 1990s, Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg and offered them terms for readmission to the league. Winnipeg is back in and now Quebec is trying to comply.

The NHL and Gary Bettman are by no means anti-Canadian though many Canadians like to cling to that myth. Probably the majority of the NHL Board including Geoff Molson wants Quebec City back in the league. They like the Videotron, they want the Montreal-Quebec rivalry back and they want that $500 million expansion fee. But they cannot tolerate a public racist on the NHL Board. Naturally Gary Bettman would back Geoff Molson to the hilt against Pierre Karl Peladeau.

While the Videotron, costing nearly $400 million taxpayers dollars was being built, Bettman was seen consorting with the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial Premier. Probably in private he told them that Peladeau was an unsuitable owner but to keep building the arena while behind the scenes he would handle the ownership problem.

But since the decision to accept Las Vegas and reject Quebec, there have been no public announcements. To show that they favor a returned Quebec team, the NHL played one of its World Cup exhibition games in the Videotron. Everything in this matter must needs be done behind the scenes. It is suspected by this author, that the resignation of Patrick Roy from the Colorado Avalanche is really a step to put together a potential ownership group involving him. At the exhibition game, Roy confirmed that he would do all he could to get a team back in Quebec City.

The problem is the same one that existed back in 1995 when the Nordiques left Quebec, the only change being there is no longer an arena problem. But back in 1995, no new owner stepped forward to save the Nordiques and they left for Denver.

They are several solutions to this problem but they are being hampered by Quebec history and racism. Before going into specifics it is important to remember that Quebec City has been like a “hinterland” in its relationship to “English Canada”. It has been mostly a homogenous French Canadian city. The “melting pot” where French and English Canadians have lived side by side and intermingled has been mostly Montreal. But now Quebec, the emerging city of Canada, soon to have over one million residents, has had a taste of being a member of the NHL and wants more. But NHL teams are composed of multi-lingual players and owned and managed by racially tolerant people. That makes French Canadian separatism and racism passe and intolerable.

The ideal solution is to find a suitable non-racist French Canadian owner(s), but there are few such persons around. The very fact the owner should be French really puts a hamper in Bettman’s efforts to find a suitable Quebec City owner behind the scenes. The other obvious solution, accepting help from anglophone Quebecers, Americans, and rich people from “English Canada” is virtually closed. It is not unprecedented. Ottawa and Winnipeg are owned by Torontonians but nobody is going to step forward – even though a Quebec City team is a sure winner, a wonderful investment opportunity, one of the better NHL teams – when they fear French Canadian racists, perhaps even headed by a vengeful Peladeau himself, acting through a Parti Quebecois Provincial Government, passing vengeful legislation against them.

The fact there is still official silence in this matter by the NHL shows how difficult it is proving to find a suitable owner. Bettman would love to bring back a Quebec City team for 2017, Canada’s 150th birthday, and Quebec (Bulldogs) being one of the founding clubs of the NHL in its own Centennial anniversary. But because of the ownership problem, there is now a stalemate.

And this stalemate shows that there are limits to what the NHL will do. Despite Bettman’s invitation in 2010, despite finally having a suitable NHL arena, despite his promises to the Quebec City mayor and Provincial Premier and other important people, despite his encouragement of spending taxpayer on a new arena, despite the fact that Bettman and the majority of the NHL Board including Geoff Molson want Quebec City back, despite the $500 million expansion fee, the NHL will not tolerate an unsuitable owner.

While Bettman and others will continue to work behind the scenes to bring back the Nordiques, the NHL is quite prepared to continue to live without them including that $500 million expansion fee. There are three choices; a suitable French Canadian owner appears; Quebec accepts and tolerates a team owned and operated by “foreigners”; or Quebec remains outside the NHL.

The continuing silence, the need to work behind the scenes makes it virtually impossible to know if any progress is being made. The only thing that is known for sure is the NHL’s policy: Quebec we want to love you, but there is a limit to our love. Canada may allow you pass discriminatory legislation, may allow you to make inappropriate remarks about its other residents, may allow you even to separate – but we will not. Either you conform to our standards – meaning that you will be owned and operated by tolerant non-racists with no political bias – or you will remain like some Victorian child with your nose pressed to the glass pane of a candy shop in the shivering cold, on the outside looking in forever.

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