Hey Quebec City, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

Winnipegers have a mighty comedown ahead of them when they finally see what the Thrashers look like on the ice, but kudos to them for having seemingly landed a reincarnation of the Jets without making fools of themselves in the process. Because that’s an apparently rare way to go about dealing with the NHL. In Quebec City, for instance, the Nordiques saga has officially crossed over to the surreal.

Before we get into this, I should make something clear: those of you who know me may have occasionnally (okay, repeatedly) heard me say people get the government they deserve. And it’s certainly true that I’m a firm believer in the idea. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what my fellow Quebecers could possibly have done to earn the politicians they’ve got.

The latest twist in the sorry Nordiques gong show started earlier this month, when a former city manager for Quebec City announced he would mount a legal challenge to the legitimacy of the sweetheart deal the municipal government negotiated with Quebecor. Under the agreement, the media conglomerate secured the exclusive rights to manage the NHL arena, which the city and province have already said they will build with public funds, in exchange for a pittance in rent. Denis de Belleval claims the agreement amounts to an “illegal” subsidy worth $40 million a year to Quebecor. (I haven’t seen de Belleval’s figures, but my own back-of-the-envelope calculations put the total investment by both governments at more than $500 million over 25 years, not including borrowing costs, so we’re in the same ballpark.) And the province, as it were, agreed with him, at least initially.

Laurent Lessard, the province’s municipal affairs minister, announced this week that government lawyers had ruled the contract illegal. That should have sent everyone back to the drawing board, but Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume, who has staked his reputation on bringing an NHL franchise back to the city, would have none of it. He’d seen this hurdle coming as long ago as March, when he asked the province to make changes to the law. (The province refused.) So when the inevitable happened, Labeaume did the next best thing: he started looking for politicians gullible enough to help him pass a private bill that would exempt the contract from legal challenges.

Amazingly—or perhaps not—it wasn’t hard to find one. The bill drafted by Labeaume has been put forward by Parti Québécois MNA Agnès Maltais. The measure would permanently bar judges from ever ruling on the deal if it’s put before them by people like de Belleval, i.e., the people Labeaume thinks should pay for Pierre Karl Péladeau’s $400 million rink.

For Labeaume’s bill to even get a hearing in the National Assembly, it needed the approval of all 125 provincial MNAs. That should have ensured its demise. It’s hard enough to get a bill passed by the legislature as it is, never mind getting unanimous consent. But a funny thing happened on the way back to sanity: politicians started getting cold feet and no one wanted to that guy or that gal responsible for bursting the Nordiques bubble.

Within the span of no more than a few hours, all the bill’s opponents changed their tune. Eric Caire, an independent MNA from the Quebec City area, said on Thursday the bill was a non-starter, that he wouldn’t discuss protecting “a deal that was struck illegally.” But later that afternoon, Caire agreed to hear the bill. The ADQ made the same crass political calculation—that standing in Labeaume’s way would make them the mayor’s whipping boys. And after a meeting with Labeaume, Québec solidaire’s Amir Khadir came away similarly enlightened and dropped his objection.

Even Labeaume hadn’t expected such a dramatic turnaround. He was in the process of telling reporters how those who’d objected to the bill had made a “grave mistake” that would “hurt the region” when he found out everyone caved. “Bravo!” he said.

So where does all this leave us? The bill exempting the contract between Quebecor and the city from legal challenges still has to be approved by unanimous consent of the National Assembly. But its opponents better cross their fingers something even more outrageous about the contract comes out during the hearings because the idea of it—the very notion of putting a dodgy contract above the law precisely because it’s legally dubious—is apparently not a valid reason to toss it out at first sight. If it had been, the debate would never have gotten this far.

The title of this post is a reference to Johnny Rotten’s final words at the last-ever gig by the original Sex Pistols. The cynicism he’d been trading in had by then become all-consuming and was, in his own words, “no fun.” So he quit. Here’s hoping Labeaume, Maltais, et al. have the decency to do the same.




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Hey Quebec City, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

  1. Don’t blame the Bedouins for this one. It’s Maclean’s fault. The Québec National Assembly spirit of solidarity has its roots in the Bonhomme Carnaval magazine cover page of months past.

  2. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what my fellow Quebecers could possibly have done to earn the politicians they’ve got.

    I often say the same thing about the media.

  3. Very interesting… I don’t know if this is explained in the articles that Phillipe links to (mon Français est, how you say, sh*tty), but could someone explain to me both how it is that the contract is “illegal”, and why it is that one needs the unanimous consent of the National Assembly to override that illegality?  I’d appreciate it.

    • It is a private member’s bill that must be inserted immediately on top of the Agenda probably explain why unanimous consent is required (although it is not explicitely spelled out in the article).

      As for the illegality of the agreement between la ville de Québec et Quebecor, it could be legal or not, nothing has been proven. That’s what Québec City’s exCEO wants to find out by bringing the matter before the courts, which is what the private member’s bill wants to prevent.

    •  It is illegal because:

      - law enjoins that the City must collect municipal taxes from the renter. The contract with Quebecor explicitly states that this will not happen.- a City can not limit its powers of taxation, especially by a simple commercial contract. The contract states that the City will pay back to Quebecor for ANY future taxes whatsoever which may apply to Quebecor.
      - law forbids a City from building with the express end of renting out the building.This is what the City is now doing.
      - law forbids explicitly Cities from helping directly or indirectly a commercial enterprise. Here the City is helping indirectly to an extraordinary amount Quebecor.
      - law has rules for building which amount to collective ends. This project goes counter to that.
      - the project as formulated is beyond the lawful realm of application of a City’s powers. It is beyond its competencies.

      The fact that this contract came into being without a formal a formal bidding process, contrary to the City’s own regulations, is all that is discussed in the media. It is a very minor point compared to the whole list outlined above.

      You can read more at http://www.amphitheatre-quebec.org

      • stop your propraganda M.MivilleDeChene.  The city’s attorneys, as does the MAM, judge this contract IS legal.  The City is asking for a private bill because very few peoples like you, peoples who don’t want to say who back them, are threatening the city and risking to block and completly break the dream shared by the veryvery large majority of citizens.

        You shouldn’t have this power.  Shame on you!

        •  If it’s legal, as you state, it should easily stand up in court. But that’s not happening, because I suspect AlainMivilleDeChene is correct in asserting that it’s not legal.If I were in QC I would be more concerned that this deal pretty much will ensure that nobody will put any time or money into the Nordiques, they will be a miserable failure on the ice, yet the owners will be guaranteed a profit from the taxpayers.The Winnipeg dream is coming true only because of the extremely hard work of a whole bunch of people in the private sector. The government was not involved at all.

          • I’m not convinced a team in Quebec City would be doomed to failure, provided it’s properly managed and marketed. But that’s a gut feeling more than anything else.

            Plus, in spite of my spirited objections to the way this process has been conducted, I *want* to see the Nordiques back in the league. I’m a Habs fan and if every single game between the Canadiens and, say, the Florida Panthers, could be magically transformed into a Habs-Nordiques matchup, I would probably never leave the house again.

            But there isn’t a contract imaginable—especially one between the public and private sectors—that should be granted immunity. The notion is so far out of the realm of the acceptable, I’m still surprised the argument against it has to be made.

          • I also doubt that a new Nordiques team would be doomed to failure. A firm salary cap *should* mean that even if/when the Canadian dollar loses value, organizations should still be able to field a relatively competitive team – I think what sunk Canadian teams in the ’90s and early ’00s wasn’t so much the weak dollar, but that a few teams (Tor, Det, NYR, Dal, Col) had the resources to buy every single high priced free agent every off season. The salary disparity was enormous and was only going to get worse – well run Canadian teams ran the risk of becoming training grounds for players who would eventually sign with one of the big teams (see: Edmonton). That kind of situation just guts a smaller market and saps the will of the fanbase.

            p.s. as a fellow Habs fan, I’m *almost* willing to turn a blind eye to whatever shenanigans are needed to get the Nordiques back in Quebec…but only if they promise me that a Stastny will be head coach :)

          • I’d also love to be able whip out my old Mats Sundin Nordiques jersey again. And *if* they were properly managed and marketed, I see no reason why that couldn’t happen.

            The reason I don’t see this happening is that once the taxpayer is responsible for bringing the team in, governments will bail them out at every turn, because it’s not like cutting them off at any point in the future will become politically popular. And if you don’t need to win or fill the arena to be financially viable, there’s no reason to spend resources on things like a competent management team.

            IMHO, of course.

  4. I’m sure it’s already been discussed at length – but what exactly was the problem with the Intense Debate commenting platform that made it necessary to scrap?

    (I barely had a chance to enjoy the rarified air that came with a 100p rating :)

    • My guess is that it was too cumbersome to load with the page, especially once the number of comments started accumulating. It sometimes took my computer a half a minute to load a page, and I don’t have a slow computer.

      Verdict’s still out for me on this Disqus option. For one thing, it seems to have scared many of the commenters away. Maybe that was the intention. Maybe Wherry couldn’t take the heat. I don’t know.

      I ended up liking IntenseDebate. But it is an intricate commenting system.

    •  Disqus is more reliable, has a lighter footprint performance wise, and is becoming “the standard” in the WordPress world. Also, I think The Thumbs were ridiculous.

      • I sooo want to thumb that down right now. LOL

        I think knowing the community’s opinions on both good and bad was a useful outlet and gauge.

        I almost never click approval anymore, because it seems to one-sided.

        God forbid anyone get their feelings hurt eh? It’s only politics after all… LOL

    • I discussed it a little bit here (though I’ve since lost track of the comment thread that followed): http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/05/09/ch-ch-changes/

      I’m a bit leery of derailing this thread, but the short version is that the change makes the comments way easier to manage and therefore makes my life easier. If you (or anyone else) have any questions or suggestions regarding comments, don’t hesitate to drop me a line: philippe [dot] gohier [at] macleans [dot] rogers [dot] com.

      •  Thanks for the reply, that’s sort of what I suspected.

        Still, miss those points though…. ;)

        • I’m with you brother. What’s a society without the interactive cues we give each other?

          Just a mushy mess, that’s what.

          • Yes, this “like” business is sooooo facebook circa 2010 ;)

      • Wait a minute, Gohier.  You mean to tell me that the comments section got f*cked up because you’re too lazy to do your damn job?

        Seriously, though.  Are you planning to import old comments, or are you just planning to delete them all periodically?  Are you going to put the comments section on the same page as the article?

        • Yes. At least two problems I currently have with the Disqus setup on Macleans:

          1) E-mailed replies with links do not take you directly to the comment in question, but only to the original blog article. Very hard to track comments that way.

          2) The Disqus dashboard page stopped posting replies to my comments. Not sure why. It also doesn’t take you to comments directly but, again, only to the original blog article. That the comments are on a separate page might be the reason for that, too.

          Having said that, Macleans seems to make a better effort at making its blog comments sections much more open and interactive than other Canadian news sites do, so I think that should be applauded. Thank you.

  5.  This stinks so bloody much, you’d have to think Quebecor might have second thoughts about being associa–

    Sigh, never mind…

  6. So many misinformations in this article!  You based your judgment on Lessard’s mistake.  And you never said once that the Ministère des Affaires Municipales came back on this to say the contract was LEGAL. 

    • The ministry has said no such thing. Even Labeaume acknowledges the only way to make the contract 100 per cent legal is to change the law:

      “As of right now, I am not able to guarantee [the contract is legal]. When we’re not sure that something is legal, but we can’t say that it’s illegal, what we do in life is what the ministry said yesterday, we change the laws.” (Le Devoir)

      I’d tell you to try again, but I really won’t mind if you don’t.

      •  M. Gohier: Do you really think that Mayor Labeaume have done this deal on his own with M.Peladeau?  Because that’s what you are letting imply. City’s attorneys has for sure say to Mayor Labeaume the contract was right.  Look for article 2 and 7.1 of the C-47 law, you’ll see they did respect the law.  And the article C-573 of the C-19 does not apply here since it’s not an expense the city is doing, the city is getting about 200M$ from Quebecor.

        But, since we don’t build arena every year, there’s still some grey zone that only a judge can rule right or not. This is why Quebec city is asking for a private bill, from which, some has made a brain shortcut and conclude:”If the city is asking for a private bill, something must be wrong.”

        But NOTHING has been prove to be wrong in this contract so far.  There’s only a very very small group of citizens threatening the city.  And if this group is honest in their attempt, they should be more than happy to see the Assemblée Nationale du Québec ruling it.

  7.  You know what, why don’t you mind your own business. We’ll manage ours over here. Easy to bash on us, no that you’ve got your “Jets” back. But don’t forget what happened to Atlanta. 1st they had the Flames and lost them to Calgary. 2nd they… had the “Trashers”…..And lost them again. Hope this curse won’t happened to any town in Canada. We should stick together and support every canadian city that is trying to bring our national sport back into our borders.

    • You can be sure every Canadian, through federal transfer payments, will be propping up the Quebec provincial government as it plays fast and loose with other people’s money on what should be a private business venture.

      Gee, MYL, when you describe it like that…

  8. I do not know about the title of the article for there was NO ONE other than Winnipeg that was available to sell the Atlanta team to.  Winnipeg had the fans, the building and the financing.  Winnipeg Overcame Bettman. La Ville de Quebec has the fans but no financing and no building available RIGHT NOW. There was no competition.  Mind you Mayor Labeaume seems good competition to our Mayor Katz for absurdities, grandiose plans and total lack of leadership.    

  9. Report make good expression in visitors and tourist. Quebec set well situation of market for holidays and different travelers.

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