When one thinks about it closely, nobody can want the Quebec Nordiques back and be a Quebec separatist. Nobody who wants to see the Quebec-Montreal NHL rivalry rekindled can support the Bloc Quebecois, the Parti Quebecois, or any other separatist organization and all it implies. Bringing back the Nordiques is diametrically the opposite of Quebec separatism. There is a good chance it may come down to a choice between one or the other.
First, consider the nature of Quebec separatism. It is the effort of a group of people who have become so alienated with the rest of Canada that they want to go their own way, preferably in their own sovereign state. Furthermore the issue takes on an ethnic taint. It is supposed that the separatists are descendants of the original settlers of New France, French speaking, who believe that their language and other rights are being threatened and can only be safeguarded in their own sovereign state where the French language and other traits that they associate with being a Quebecois will be dominant. All they want is to be able to go their own way and be left alone by what they term “English Canada”.
What is revealing and eye opening is where the strength of this movement is located. It would seem logical that this movement should be located in western Quebec, particularly in and around Montreal where most French-English interaction takes place. Interacting with English speaking people would give French Canadians ample opportunity to become disenchanted with Canada by being directly affronted and insulted by boorish, ignorant, English speaking Canadians creating bad impressions who deliberately try to exploit and humiliate them. But it is not. The strength of the separatist movement is in the center of the province of Quebec, by people who have very little contact with “English Canada”. Evidently, intermingling with English and other ethnic groups may actually forge positive bonds, friendships, a common sympathy, a shared existence, an understanding of each other that transcends both language and religion.
Surprising as this may be, it is not unprecedented. In fact it was a key element in one of the most significant episodes in Canadian history, the War of 1812. That war was an unpopular war on both sides of the border. Americans who lived closest to Canada, in New England, upper New York State, and Michigan hated it the most. They shared common experiences with their Canadian counterparts. Many had close friends or kindred on either side of the border. The people who hated Great Britain and her colony of Canada the most lived in faraway Kentucky and similar regions. It was easier to create myths, to blame a faraway people with whom they had little contact for their economic and social problems, about their bad relationship with the Indians, about anything they wanted to pin the blame on. (Note: If anybody is interested in learning more about this, I recommend reading Pierre Berton’s double volume set about the War of 1812.)
The situation in Quebec today is exactly the same. If things go bad, it is easier to pin the blame on faraway Ottawa and “English Canada”. Fears get intensified by creating myths and distorting actions by people whom they know almost nothing about and have little contact with. Quebec separatists want “English Canada” to go away.
But in 1972, Quebec City, the would-be capital of a sovereign Quebec got to try WHA and then NHL hockey and loved it. When they lost the Nordiques in 1995, they were heartbroken and have wanted their team back ever since. When they built the Videotron arena at taxpayer expense, it seemed that they had a returned team within their grasp. But the NHL does not like the prospective owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau, a known supporter of the Parti Quebecois. They do not want to be involved in any political, racial, ethnic, or religious controversy. So the Quebecor bid was turned down.
Actually Quebec separatists are now in an absurd situation. They want less contact with “English Canada” but bringing back the Nordiques will certainly increase it. North American professional sports are played by “liberals” – multiracial teams played in cosmopolitan cities – fundamentally the opposite of what the Quebec separatists stand for, a separate country that is ethnically and lingually homogenous. Reviving the Nordiques means not only inviting outsiders to play in Quebec but live there too. It is likely that minority ethnic communities, “Little Italy”, “Chinatown”, “Westmount” will form within Quebec City, exactly the opposite to what the Quebec separatists want. Bringing back the Nordiques means turning homogenous Quebec City into the type of “melting pot” city, Montreal is.
In previous articles, I have written about the absurdity of Peladeau himself. He supports the Parti Quebecois, publicly insults a member of the NHL Board, and then seeks to become a partner of this man on the NHL Board of Governors. He claims he is a separatist but then has his company Quebecor invest in Canada by buying the Sun Media Chain, giving him employees from the west coast to the east, helping his company to make a profit. Now he probably has to speak in English partly every day. And if Quebec leaves and Canada breaks up, what will happen to his profits? If the Parti Quebecois gets some of its goals, his investment is going to turn sour.
If the Quebec legislature under a Parti Quebecois government seeks to enact legislation that further restricts minority rights, that is going to make things uncomfortable for any “outsider” to own, manage, coach, and play in Quebec City. Nobody will want to live and bring their families to live in Quebec if they are going to feel threatened. The NHL and other professional sports leagues do not want any such controversies. Nor will Quebec attract needed outside investment, tourists, other international sports events like the Olympics, a World’s Fair and international conventions if they get a bad image.
It may come down to a basic him or me situation. Either Quebec gets the Nordiques and follows a “liberal” path or it remains in the current deadlocked state with the decision about returning the Nordiques to Quebec being postponed by the NHL indefinitely. Bringing back the Nordiques means opening Quebec City to new “outside” experiences and influences, hopefully that Quebecers will enjoy. And it may also be the beginning of the end of the narrow path of Quebec separatism.