It started with the fans. Now they may have to finish it. How badly do the Quebec Nordiques fans want their team back?
The NHL wants the Nordiques back. There is no problem with the fan-base and Quebec finally built a suitable arena, the Videotron.
The problem is at the ownership level. The owner of the bidder for a new Quebec NHL franchise, Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau is unsuitable in the NHL’s eyes. His company tried and failed to buy the Montreal Canadiens, and when he failed, he made inappropriate racial remarks about the new owner, Geoff Molson and then made no attempt to apologize or reconcile with him. Peladeau was already a suspect potential owner in the eyes of many of the NHL Governors because of his known support of the separatist provincial political party Parti Quebecois which has passed discriminatory legislation against the English language in the Province of Quebec in the past. His remarks merely confirmed their worst fears about him and made NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s rejection of Quebecor’s bid automatic long before a single shovel started construction on the Videotron.
That left Bettman in a bind. In 2010, he made a tour of the three cities who lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford and offered terms for readmission. Also, probably in private, he told the Quebec City mayor and the Provincial premier that Peladeau was an unsuitable owner, but to keep building the arena using taxpayers’ dollars while he found a suitable owner for a returned Quebec franchise.
But he faces the same problem that occurred in 1995 when the Nordiques left Quebec: There may not be a suitable French Canadian owner who wants to own an NHL team. If no such person exists, that leaves only one option left; Quebec must accept financial help from outside, either from native anglophone Quebecers, Americans, or investors from “English Canada”. And as mentioned in a previous article, despite his offer to Quebec in 2010, despite his promises to the premier and mayor, despite a great arena like the Videotron, despite a bidder offering the $500 million expansion fee, and despite the majority of the NHL Board including Geoff Molson wanting the Nordiques back, the NHL will not tolerate an unsuitable owner. They want a Nordiques team owned, managed, and coached by tolerant non-racists, with no political bias. Until such an owner appears, the NHL is quite willing to carry on without Quebec – probably forever.
So the question on whether Quebec gets the Nordiques back may rest on whether Quebec City is prepared to accept an owner from outside the province. Such ownership is not unprecedented. Ottawa and Winnipeg are owned by people from Toronto. When the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball were created in 1977, much of the financing came from Montreal. But no help is going to come to Quebec if an outside investor fears retribution from racists, acting through a Parti Quebecois Provincial Government, perhaps led by Peladeau himself. The result is the current stalemate.
Gary Bettman must need work behind the scenes to resolve this matter so it is difficult to know what is going on, if there is any progress being made. It is suspected by this author that the resignation of Patrick Roy from the Colorado Avalanche may be part of Bettman’s plan to build an ownership group around him.
But things would be a lot easier and faster if Quebec City were to accept an owner from the United States or “English Canada”. And if there are not suitable French Canadian owners available, that is what might have to happen for Quebec to get a team.
There is nothing wrong with the Videotron or the fan-base. The Quebec City market includes all of the eastern part of the Province of Quebec plus the four Maritime provinces. Quebec is the coming city in Canada, firmly entrenched as the seventh largest city in the country. Soon it will have over one million residents. Quebec City with a proper NHL size arena like the Videotron, which it never had before, is a sure winner, one of the stronger and better NHL franchises. It is a wonderful investment opportunity. But all potential outside investors fear French Canadian racists.
So maybe it is time for Quebec Nordiques fans to speak up. First of all they have to decide if they themselves are willing to accept an “English owner” and if they do, then they have to tell the NHL, particularly Gary Bettman, and outside investors that they are willing to accept such ownership. Finally and most importantly, they have to tell all their politicians at every level; municipal, provincial, and federal – particularly Peladeau – that any attempt at passing discriminatory legislation that impedes the operation of a returned Nordiques under English ownership is unpopular and will be politically punished.
It was the Quebec Nordiques fans that have brought matters to this stage in the first place. Ever since the team left in 1995, the fans which had always loyally supported the team wanted the Nordiques back. Eventually 80,000 of them signed a petition that let the politicians know that steps to bring back the Nordiques, including spending tax dollars on a new arena was popular and would win votes. Now the fans have to speak out about the ownership issue and let the politicians, investors, and the NHL know what they want.
This issue is not just confined to the NHL. The CFL, NFL, MLB, NBA and major league soccer are not going to come to Quebec if there are racial and political issues involved. The Olympics and other top international sports events will not be awarded to Quebec if such controversies raise their ugly head. The very future of sports – perhaps even more – in Quebec is at stake.
Right now there is a stalemate over the ownership issue and the NHL has shown by its rejection of Quebecor that it is prepared to wait indefinitely until a proper owner ever appears. But Nordiques fans could hasten the day for a returned team if they are willing to accept outside ownership and let the politicians, investors, and the NHL know it. When the Nordiques left in 1995, the puck was left in the fans’ end of the ice until they got things moving. Now the puck is back in their corner of the ice again and they have to speak up once more if they want a Quebec Nordiques again. Let the same question that started this article finish it. How badly do Quebec Nordiques fans want their team back?