Bringing Back The Quebec Nordiques Is More Than A Sports Issue

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 a 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.

Quebec

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.

Videotron

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.

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8 thoughts on “Bringing Back The Quebec Nordiques Is More Than A Sports Issue

  1. LOL Have you even ever been to Quebec City??? Leave myths and Canadian politics behing, go there and see for yourself. Thousands of American tourists flock there every day and well, by allaccounts they seem to have quite a good time. The locals are very friendly and do not hesitate to revert to English, even if you are attempting to converse in French. Quebecers are a warm, welcoming and generous people, whether you are English/American, or any other nationality. AND THE MAJORITY OF FOLKS IN QUEBEC CITY DON’T EVEN VOTE FOR SOVEREIGNIST PARTIES!!! Of course if you’re really looking, you’ll find racist, backward-thinking narrow-minded people in Quebec City… No question about that. But then as far as i know you get to find some racist, backward-thinking, narrow-minded people just about everywhere -and that includes hockey blogs, apparently.

    • Thanks for responding Mike. Yes I have been to Quebec City a couple of times in the 1970s and I agree with everything you say. I saw all the sights from the Citadel to St. Anne de Beaupre. If Quebec was not tolerable and enjoyable, I would not recommend it for expansion. I also went on a bus trip to Florida with my mother in 1971 where half the bus came from Montreal and the other half where we were from came from Toronto and we much preferred the more lively Quebec people.

      Quebec is the coming city in Canada, firmly entrenched as the country’s seventh largest city. Quebec with a rich owner and a proper arena (both of which did not exist when Quebec was in the NHL 20 years ago) is a sure winner, one of the better NHL franchises. But the NHL cannot afford even a sniff of racism on the Board, and Peladeau was an automatic rejection. You cannot express remarks with even a faint hint of racism in a key position like that. Imagine if an NBA, NFL, and MLB owner made an inappropriate remark about black people. All hell would break loose.

      But the point of this article is not about people like me who come to visit Quebec for a few days and stay in a hotel like a tourist. It is about settling in Quebec and living there permanently which could be quite different. Very few people are like Gary Carter who loved playing for the Montreal Expos because it gave him the chance to learn a new language. Eric Lindros did not want to have anything to do with Quebec. Many people just don’t want to be bothered or even lack the talent to learn a new language or culture. They want to live in their own little communities where they feel safe and comfortable. Toronto, where I used to live is probably the most multinational city in the world and is full of sizable communities like that. But Quebec is probably the only sizable French speaking city in North America and so far it has no significant ethnic communities. Bringing back the Nordiques opens the door for this to happen. How will Quebecers who have never had such a thing react? How will outsiders who don’t speak French react? It has the potential to be peaceful, loving, and tolerable but also to be explosive and traumatic. As mentioned in the article, music, sports, and hobbies have the potential to change the social fabric so there is more here at stake than just bringing in a sports franchise.

    • Thanks for responding Mich. As I mentioned to Mike, I have visited Quebec in the 1970s and I wouldn’t support a returned Nordiques if I didn’t find Quebec enjoyable and tolerable. But it is quite different to come as a tourist for a few days instead of living there permanently day to day. Quebec has never had a significant ethnic community in its midst like Toronto and other North American cities. How will native Quebecers react? How will the outsiders who don’t speak French react? Some sports figures like the late Gary Carter would see this as a great opportunity while others like Eric Lindros don’t want anything to do with it. It has the potential to be a great learning, tolerable experience or an explosive, ugly thing. In any case, bringing back the Nordiques has the potential to bring about significant social change.

  2. I think you forget a couple of major points about Péladeau. 1) He is no longer running Quebecor, although he remains the largest shareholder. 2) Quebecor, through its TVA tv channels(including TVA Sports, is the official broadcaster of the NHL for French TV across Canada (though admittedly it is predominantly watched in the province of Quebec). so if your theory is that the NHL doesn’t want to do business with Péladeau, well, they already are.

    • Thanks for responding, Peter. If Peladeau is still the majority shareholder, he still has the most clout in Quebecor whether he is actively running things or not. He still has the ability to step in decisively at almost any time. Your point is well taken about TVA, but there are probably too many strikes against Peladeau for him to be admitted to the Board. The NHL also continued to do business with Jim Balsille even though they were clashing in the courts over Phoenix. If your theory is right, the NHL should not have any problem admitting Peladeau to the Board. You don’t turn down $500 million. But they do have legitimate qualms about him.

      Imagine if an NBA, MLB, or NFL owner made a racist remark about black people. All hell would break loose. Peladeau was already a suspect owner in the eyes of many NHL Board owners because of his Parti Quebecois association and his remark merely confirmed their worst fears about him. No North American professional sports league can afford to have even a sniff of racism about them. Probably not only Molson but the majority of English speaking Board members were offended by Peladeau’s remark. And Molson has a further beef because Peladeau interfered with a business transaction by an associate of Molson’s. He won’t stomach Peladeau on the Board unless he repents and apologizes and the Board is prepared to back Molson all the way.

      Suppose Peladeau became Quebec’s owner and then publicly blamed the Nordiques defeats on the non-French Canadians on the team or still worse made accusations of a racist nature about personnel on somebody else’s team. The NHL cannot afford to have that happen. In the NHL’s eyes, that fear outweighs any current business deal they may have with Peladeau. Peladeau has made himself odious to the NHL. They’ll be glad to take his money, but they do not want him as an up front symbol of the NHL.

  3. The big thing that has changed since Quebec City built the arena is the Canadian TV deal with Rogers. A $500 million expansion fee is a lot of money but the Canadian TV deal is worth almost $500 million *every year*. So far, Rogers has been losing a bundle on it. So in order to get that sort of price again when the deal expires in 2025, the NHL needs to sweeten the deal. How better than to add a new Canadian team with 82 more games to show? But if the NHL adds another Canadian team now, the NHL is basically giving away those 82 games to Rogers for free, and then has nothing to negotiate with in 2025.

    Of course, Bettman will never says this publicly because it would be bad public relations. So he makes excuses like the conference balance (which has never bothered the NHL before) and the drop in the Canadian dollar (which has nothing to do with anything, but is a concept that unsophisticated hockey fans might understand).

    So expansion to Quebec is coming, but unfortunately not for another decade.

    • Thanks for responding Goaltender. You are right that it is a money deal, but it is only in an indirect way. The problem is image and its impact. The NHL cannot have anybody who can be labeled a public racist on its Board. Peladeau’s remarks are just too offensive and he has never retracted them or tried to reconcile with the Board members he has offended. That he uttered them proves he is untrustworthy and the NHL will not take a chance on him making other similar remarks in the future if he is allowed to join the Board. I agree with your last paragraph that the “official” NHL excuses are phony but they are being used to cover up the Peladeau problem NOT because of any television problem. It has nothing to do with Rogers.

      The only thing you are right about in your first paragraph is that the Canadian franchise owners in the NHL do not like to share television money. I have written about that in several articles both on this blog and others. Actually the city this practice is hurting the most is Hamilton, not Quebec. The NHL wants Quebec back in the league NOW, not a decade from now. Here is the evidence.

      1. Gary Bettman made a tour of Winnipeg, Quebec and Hartford in 2010.and offered them terms of readmission if they complied. He would not defer Quebec unless the arena and owner, in this case the latter were unsatisfactory.

      2. Quebec was given a World Cup exhibition game by the NHL. They would not have been given a game if the league disliked the fan base, the arena, the Canadian dollar, or if it bothered Rogers as you contend.

      3. If the NHL wants to expands to Quebec they (including Geoff Molson) wants that $500 million NOW.

      4. If they want to relocate to Quebec instead, they want to get that over and done with NOW.

      5. The longer this crisis drags on the worse the NHL and everybody else looks.

      6. Everyone wants the Quebec-Montreal rivalry restored.

      7. As the new census states (read my 2 articles) Quebec now has over 800,000 residents and its total market extends from half way to Montreal to and including the 4 Maritime provinces. Even back in 1995 when Quebec lost the Nordiques, it was an excellent market. What it lacked was a proper arena and wealthy ownership. If it was good back then, with the new arena, it’s unbeatable now. The NHL wants that market back NOW.

      Unfortunately this ownership crisis is serious enough to block what everyone wants, and the NHL is prepared to wait indefinitely until a suitable owner appears. It has nothing to do with Rogers. As an Nordiques fan, your best hope is that the NHL either finds a rich native Quebec, French Canadian investor or that Quebec can accept an investor from outside the Province who cannot speak a word of French. And the sooner the better. Feel free to comment again.

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