It has gone on long enough. The issue should be faced honestly for once. Racism, whether French, English, or some other ethnic version should be eradicated from the NHL once and for all. It is hurting the game. It is hurting the fans. The thought occurred to me when I read about the hiring of Claude Julien for the second time by the Montreal Canadiens.
Julien is a good coach and I predicted that he would be back in the NHL quickly though not as fast as this and in such a surreal manner. But Julien is also of French Canadien descent and there lies the problem. He is good but is he the best coach available? As with too many choices made in Montreal Canadien and the would-be returned Quebec Nordique history, the decisions are based on race. Julien actually comes from Ontario but is acceptable to a Quebec based team because he is French Canadian.
When Scotty Bowman was coaching the Canadiens during some of their glory years, he used to complain that the Montreal press would zealously scrutinize every game roster he chose, usually on racial grounds. It is ridiculous to have to coach with that unnecessary racial pressure. The last time Montreal attempted to hire an anglophone coach, Randy Cunnyworth, he was virtually driven out of Montreal. Cunnyworth may or may not have been a good coach, but the language/racial issue may have doomed him before he coached a single game.
In contrast, I remember when that most French Canadian of Montreal goalies Jacques Plante, was acquired by that most English team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. He soon became the toast of the town in some ways BECAUSE he was French Canadian. His successor was the great French Canadian goaltender, Bernie Parent. Maurice Richard, the greatest French Canadian hockey hero ever said he had no qualms about being traded to another team. He hated being a symbol of “French Canadian nationalism”.
Ironically the two teams that suffer the most by French Canadian racism are Montreal and the hope-to-be-returned Quebec.
General Manager Marc Bergevin may have wanted to fire coach Michel Therrien much sooner but there were no good French Canadian coaches around until the Bruins obligingly fired Julien. There may have been good English speaking coaches available who are even better coaches than Julien, but Bergevin has to consider public relations as well as coaching ability and so his choice has to be made on racial grounds.
This unnecessary scrutiny based on race means that other key positions like president, general manager, scouting, public relations, etc. have to made on racial grounds. Montreal may not be able to hire the best employees available. It has not won the Stanley Cup in 23 years. How much has racism hurt the team?
But the city that is currently suffering the most because of racism is Quebec. For the sake of repeating it for the umpteenth time, the NHL turned down Pierre Karl Peladeau’s Quebecor bid to restore the Nordiques because he made unacceptable racial remarks about NHL Board member Geoff Molson and tried to obstruct the business activities of one of Molson friends (Forget the “official” NHL reason about imbalanced conferences and low Canadian dollar).
Now Gary Bettman has to find a suitable owner for a returned Nordiques behind the scenes. But there may not be any suitable, non-racist, rich French Canadians around who want to own an NHL team, especially with an expansion fee of $500 million.
The obvious solution is to get financial help from outside the province like Ottawa and Winnipeg have but nobody from either “English Canada” or the United States wants to step forward and invest in a Quebec City team because they fear the vengeance of French Canadian racists through an elected provincial government. I have mentioned many times that Quebec City with a proper NHL arena is a marvelous investment opportunity, a sure winner, an unquestionable money-maker, one of the NHL’s better franchises. But if a provincial government supported by racists passes legislation making it impossible to operate an NHL team owned by investors from outside Quebec, nobody will come forward to start the Nordiques again.
But the problem is deeper than the current crisis. Take away the racial issue and what could have happened? Go back to 1995 when Quebec City lost the Nordiques. Even back then, Quebec City with a proper NHL arena and a good owner would be a winner. But no rich French Canadian stepped forward to save the team and the Nordiques moved to Denver.
But with no racism, an investor(s) from outside the province might have stepped forward and solved both the ownership and arena issues. Then the future Videotron might have been built back then without a single taxpayer dollar being spent and Quebec would not have lost its team at all.
Go forward through the years when the NHL expanded and there was no proper arena and no rich French Canadian investor for Quebec City. An investor from outside the province might have come forward and Quebec could have been restored on each of these occasions. It may not have been up front, but behind the scenes, racism has been hurting Quebec City’s chances at returning to the NHL all along.
The irony is that probably the majority of Quebec Nordiques fans in the Province of Quebec are not racists at all and just want their team back to cheer for again. Probably the majority of people from “English Canada” want the Nordiques back too. But a narrow minded minority – it has happened with different things all through history – has imposed its will on what most people want, and fears, bigotry, elitism, and ignorance are winning again.