Long live the Nordiques! (But let someone else pay for them) - Macleans.ca

Long live the Nordiques! (But let someone else pay for them)


The chips appear to be falling into place for Quebec City as it looks to revive the Nordiques franchise. The province announced Tuesday it would kick in about $180 million to build a new home for the as-yet-non-existent franchise, adding a plea to the feds to do the same. And if the Conservatives have no plans to fund the rink, they’re doing a brilliant job of hiding it—their Quebec City MPs were out and about sporting vintage Nordiques jerseys on Wednesday:

“As far as a new arena is concerned, our government is very interested to know if this can be done,” John Babcock, a spokesman for Transport Minister Chuck Strahl, said in an e-mail Wednesday.

“As the prime minister has clearly said, we would be very happy if (the) Nordiques could make a comeback to Quebec City.”

On the political front, Pierre-Karl Péladeau (the presumed owner of the new Nordiques) couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect set of circumstances to extract money from all three levels of government. Quebec City’s mayor, Régis Labeaume won the last mayoral election with a Stalin-esque 80 per cent of the vote after making his pro-Nordiques pitch a central part of his campaign. Given Labeaume’s immense popularity—the man’s a demi-god in la vieille capitale—it’s hard to imagine a better politician to be seen cozying up to. Moreover, absolutely no one wants to be seen as the politician who put a stick in his wheels. And if it takes a new arena to win a public handshake with the mayor, Jean Charest and Stephen Harper seem all too willing to oblige.

The result is that if it was money that drove the Nordiques out in 1995, it’s politics that’s bringing them back. But while a $400 million rink is permanent, the politics that built it are ephemeral. Things are likely to be radically different by the time the Nordiques 2.0 are lacing up in their new barn.

Let’s assume, as it seems increasingly safe to do, that the Nordiques get the combined $350-$360 million they’re asking for from the feds and the province to go along with the $40-$50 million the city has pledged to pay for a new arena. Let’s also assume the NHL is willing to either add a new franchise or move an existing one —La Presse‘s François Gagnon suggests Atlanta and Florida are ripe for the picking—to Quebec City. And finally, let’s assume all this happens in time for my beloved Habs to be once again beating the snot out of the Nordiques by the start of the 2014 season. (For the sake of comparison, the Pittsburgh Penguins needed about four years to sort out the financing and construction of a new arena. Of course, they already had a franchise, but whatever.)

By then (i.e. when the bills come due), if he’s still prime minister, Stephen Harper will be in his eighth year in power and on (at least) his third consecutive mandate. In the past 50 years, only Pierre Trudeau has served four mandates and even then, they weren’t consecutive. If history is any guide, Stephen Harper’s run in the prime minister’s office will be on its last legs.

Jean Charest, meanwhile, would have to win a fourth consecutive mandate to still be premier, which would be rather astonishing given the record-breaking animosity towards his government.

The most interesting player in all this, though, may be Gilles Duceppe, who publicly joined the Nordiques bandwagon weeks before Charest and Harper did. If he’s still around, a 67-year-old Duceppe would be in his 24th year in Ottawa and his 17th as party leader. Seven years will have passed since Duceppe announced he was leaving the Bloc to run as PQ leader before quickly changing his mind. It’s possible the incredibly resilient Duceppe will still be around, but if he’s not, the political landscape in Quebec will be totally different without him, making the ongoing race for those precious, winnable Quebec City seats an anachronism.

In other words, Charest, Harper, and Duceppe, are spending $400 million to score points in what could very well be their last respective election campaigns, for gains that will be temporary if they materialize at all. Don Martin and other critics of the arena can deride Quebeckers as “happily-bribed” all they want, but the quid pro quo that statement assumes is hardly obvious. What, exactly, have Quebeckers promised to anyone in all this, except to gladly take all the rope the feds, the province, and the municipality are handing out? After all, the Bloc and the Conservatives can’t both win Quebec City, and it’s unlikely Charest could win power again even if he were running against Satan himself dressed up in Maple Leafs jersey. The only one with a reliable shot at coming up roses is Labeaume.

But hey, at least Charest, Harper, and Duceppe will have tried and they won’t be on the hook no matter what happens with the team. And besides, what’s $400 million between people who aren’t even friends?


Long live the Nordiques! (But let someone else pay for them)

  1. If the Feds pony up for a new arena, it should be on the condition they name it the Pierre Trudeau Arena.

    • There's already the Pierre E. Trudeau Airport in Montreal, I think that's enough.

      • Try "Here lays Stephen Harper" Arena.

        • How about Harper's Last Stand and one of those Canada Action Plan signs carved in stone.

    • Over our dead bodies

    • Pick whatever name you want–just as long as it's some sort of federalist hero or icon ('The Charter of Rights and Freedoms Arena? Stephane Dion Stadium?) My point was that if the federal government–i.e. Canadian tax payers generally–are paying for a stadium in Quebec, there should be some reminder of federalism . . .

  2. If Harper actually does pitch in on this, I think it will backfire in the rest of the country. And the backfire could be quite spectacular.

    • Agreed. This is going to be ugly.

    • So everybody wins! Quebec gets its arena, and everybody else get rid of Harper!

    • I think Harper won't support it and let (even encourage) his Québec MPs huff and puff about their support. Hence, Harper preserves his marbles in other provinces and his MPs aren't alienated my Québec voters on the issue.

  3. Ignatieff's euchred again! He's got to back Harper and Duceppe on this or what few Liberal hopes are left for the great comeback in Quebec are squashed!

    • BS. although you will be happy to know, I assume that Libs are already cheerleading for Harper to dump $175M into a potential hockey team. not an actual hockey team. a potential team! 1

      the Cons consistent poll leads have finally evaportated after a summer of team Harper shooting themselves in the foot and the Libs seem to context to play along with Harper some more. who do they think will get points among those that like this if/when the funding flows? the team of CPC MPs in Nords jerseys and whoever delivers the cheque, or them cheering on the sidelines? more importantly, why are they not hammering the CPC as reckless behind the chequebook for even considering this when the federal government is running a deficit that we are not expected to relieve in the near future?!?! mans the Libs can be daft at times.

      • The Libs can play coy and demand money for other arenas around the country. When the CPC doesnt deliver, watch the tsunami of anger against the CPC grow.

        • or they can make the point that I think will 1) resonate more broadly; and 2) make clear the difference between them and the party they 'oppose': that this is reckless in our current economic state, that the government of canada has already made clear in the past that we are not on board to finance sports teams (see the Senators for example who paid for their own highway offramps), and that they won't throw pork to buy votes (however poor Liberal performance has been on the past ((very poor))). but you know, whatever.

  4. I didn't see anything about whether or not the funding from government would be conditional on the city landing an NHL franchise. If it is, as I suspect it would be, then this isn't going to cost taxpayers a dime.

    • I'm not sure I understand. Is it going to be like Field Of Dreams, only in reverse? Once the Nordiques come, an arena will emerge from a cornfield?

      • If they come, they will build it.

        I can only speculate at this point, but I'd say what the people who will be making the bid want are guarantees of funding from the government for an arena that they can take to the NHL. A new arena doesn't necessarily have to be immediately ready for the team. Ottawa got a team despite not having a new facility for them to move into but there was a deal in place beforehand to build a new facility that was essential to the city successfully landing the expansion franchise.

        • Actually, that's the beauty of it: they really are pitching it as a build it and they will come. More precisely, build it and the Nordiques *and the olympics* will come.

          Man, is Labeaume having a blast out of this whole mess. Both Charest and Harper are currently in a loose loose situation, even tough Charest's lob toward Harper was a good way of managing an exit route.

          But Labeaume? If it doesn't come to happen, it's the feds / prov fault, if it works, it's because of Labeaume's relentless commitment.

          He is good.

        • Ottawa landing the franchise had nothing to do with the arena. Read Gil Stein's book "Power Plays" – he re-prints his notes from the expansion presentations. The only reason Ottawa got a team was that they were one of the two bids who said they'd pay the $50 million unconditionally.

          Hamilton was the front-runner until they balked at the last second and offered $35 million plus deferred payments. The NHL owners basically kicked them out the back door at that point.

  5. This is such stunning news. What a fantastic turn of events. It turns out there is such a surplus of wealth in the federal and Quebec provincial coffers, that two levels of government seem eager to shower Canada's prettiest city with these new-found riches.

    Because you'd have to be an idiot to want to max out the credit card beyond the credit limit for a silly luxury. No fool would do that, right?



  6. Bravo to Conservative MP Maxime Bernier for skipping the shameful vote buying-photo op.

  7. Long live the Nordiques! (But let someone else pay for them)

    Yeah, that fits. I offer you the current broader reality:

    Vive le Québec! (en autant que le Canada anglais paie la facture)

    • I don't see this as a Quebec vs. ROC issue and I don't think it's fair to portray it that way. It's not like Quebekers aren't going to be on the hook for this arena. They pay federal taxes, too, not to mention the fact their provincial government is funding as big a chunk as the feds. Quebeckers will be stuck holding the bag as much—more, in fact—than anyone else.

      This is bad policy, point à la ligne.

      • Yes if there was a formula of how funding got dispersed from province to province than sure. This would allow the country to see that the feds funded A but Quebec did not get funding B as a result.
        Already we have equalization that gives Billions to Quebec.

      • Well, ok. Note I called it a broader reality, because Quebec has been a provincial welfare bum (to steal & adapt Lewis' phrase) since, like, forever.

        And when Quebec has greater difficulty funding its insanely generous social programs because it fed the white elephant here at Colisée Deux… oooh, hello equalization!

      • The issue, Philippe, is that arenas throughout the rest of Canada – and even Quebec – have been most recently built with private money and a minimal of government involvement. Everyone learned the lessons of the Big O and SkyDome, and therefore Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal built new arenas with largely private funding, and it's generally worked out well for all parties involved.

        Also, to sell this based on a 2022 Olympic bid is ridiculous. Do you REALLY think the IOC is going to award an Olympics to Canada before the US gets another one? It was 22 years between Calgary and Vancouver. That means 2030 at the earliest.

  8. Speaking as a "Manitobain" and a "Winnipegois" might i suggest that this new arena get the same amount that the Federal government paid out for the MTS Center which would be about 14 millions plus inflation (16 to 16 million). Pas un sou de plus!

    • And dont' forget the feds have also committed funds to the new Bomber stadium.

      • I do not remember the exact amount but let's not forget also the 100 million for the Human rights museum plus a 9 million annual operating grant. But regardless of the amount the federal government will or will not pitch in where is the private sector investment? Je ne fait que demander une question.

    • That's about the same amount as the ACC got in Toronto – which was more of a donation of the derelict Canada Post building than anything else.

      Oh, and the ACC cost ~$265 million to build. What's caused the price of an arena to grow by $130M since then?

  9. “'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”

    Thomas Paine

    No Paine, know gain, eh Mr Harper?

    • and Coderre is cheering for getting $$$ out the door asap! christ….

  10. K Dougherty, Montreal Gazette, April 30 2003, reporting on the swearing-in of Charest's first cabinet:
    Premier Jean Charest and his 24 new ministers were sworn in yesterday with a mandate to serve citizens and "re-engineer" the Quebec government for the first time since the Quiet Revolution, 40 years ago.
    "In giving themselves their first government of the 21st century, Quebecers have turned the page on this model of government," Charest said, referring to the interventionist model of the Quiet Revolution that made government a big player in the economy.

    Seguin won a round of applause when Charest said his finance minister will remove from Quebecers the title of "highest-taxed people on the continent."
    Charest added that his government would restore transparency to public finance.
    "I want Quebecers to know what we do with each dollar that we collect," the premier said.

    "You will count on entrepreneurship and not state intervention," Charest said. The Liberal government plans to slash subsidies and tax credits to business that rose to nearly $4 billion a year under the PQ.

    • (this is a duplicate comment; the original is chez Wherry)

  11. Why not put it to a referendum – in the rest of the country.

    • I wish I could have voted for the 500 millions spent for the olympics and the 1 billion spent for the G20's party.

    • This is a genius tactical move.

      This quebec thing is going to backfire big time in the rest of the country.

      Harper thinks that he can save 3-5 seats in Quebec with this buy off. How many seats are they going to lose in Ontario, Manitoba and BC because of this? I cant believe that it is even being considered.

      • The only thing is if ALL the other parties support it as well. Then what?
        Conservatives could just stay home election day I suppose.

  12. I have voted for the Conservatives since 2004. Before that, Reform.

    If Harper does this, I will do everything in my power to prevent Stephen Harper from being elected again. The very notion of this makes me incensed.

    This goes against absolutely EVERYTHING the Reform and Conservative movement in Canada stands (stood?) for.

    • ty Simon. it is refreshing when principles still matter.

    • Harper lost my folks vote with the census(My dad was a Math Teacher)….he lost my sister when he blew 1 billion on the fake G8…….and he will lose my vote now too……….frankly I would LOVE to have the Progressive Conservative party back…..sigh

  13. Remember folks, it isn't just Quebec City that needs a new arena. Calgary, Edmonton, and Hamilton all need new arenas (Winnipeg probably needs an expansion for the MTS Centre). And Saskatchewan, Hamilton and Halifax all need new football fields. But that's only about a billion and change that they need to spend on Canadian sports pride.

    • So what you're saying is that we can get all those stadium for the price of one G7 and one G20 meeting? Seems like an easy choice to me.

      • Well, I can sell you a rubber ducky (slightly more useful than the G7 / G20 meetings) for a billion dollars too, but that doesn't make it a good investment.

      • Not the way this is costing out.

        New arenas for Calgary and Edmonton* – $800M
        New multi-use stadium in Toronto – $600M, minimum; more realistically, if it's built to NFL specs because Rogers is still insane and thinks they're a Ralph Wilson coronary away from landing the NFL, $1 Billion.
        Hamilton's football stadium is already being built due to the Can-Ams, so that's already spent. Figure a bare-bones Regina stadium at $150 Million.

        So, let's see here. $1.5 – nearly $2 billion, and that's with me being stingy and assuming that the NHL won't reverse 30 years of history, tell their most powerful team to screw off, and put a team into Hamilton, in which case you clear $2 billion easy.

        And, of course, that's also assuming that Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal don't demand new soccer / CFL stadia.

        * – Hamilton doesn't need a new arena. THE NHL WILL NEVER PLAY A (non-neutral-site) GAME IN HAMILTON.

  14. I'm still waiting to vote for the first politician with the guts to ban the use of any public funds to build playgrounds for billionaires.

    • Take a look at everyone who was in government during the 90s. The ACC, GM Place and then-Corel Centre were all built with a minimum of public funding.

      As has been noted, the feds and Ontario even made the Sens pay for a new exit off the 417 for their arena.

  15. @RunningGag: So what you're saying is that we can get all those stadium for the price of one G7 and one G20 meeting? Seems like an easy choice to me.

  16. The maths add up. $100 million payroll at 40% or $40 million of new tax money per year into the various governments. The beauty of it if it is a franchised moved from the US, it is at their expense.

  17. Quebec have had his chance with Montreal, and what has happened : a disaster, first and last time in olympic's history the stadium wasn't done for the opening ceremony, and a long lasting financial disaster.
    "It would be good to have another olympic … in Quebec" YES for its union and mafia who would receive fresh money from Canadian taxpayer as it always goes in Quebec.

  18. Thank you for the response. It is appreciated.

    Good point about the financial fiasco in Montreal. It's to be hoped that those in charge will have learned from past errors.

    Yet, if my memory is correct, I do remember that there were financial 'concerns' about the other two Olympics (Vancouver & Calgary) and most other Olympics in different sites in the world.

    So, it may be that, with any large project like that, there will sadly be people that abuse of the occasion. I live in Sudbury Ontario and our example is the local super hospital which took almost 20 years to build. You should have read the commentaries on that.

    Again, thanks for your response. At least it shows that some people actually do consider the comments of others concerned with the same issue.

    God bless you.

  19. What did the federal government contribute for other NHL arenas? Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto,Montreal, Vancouver?

    QC should expect the same treatment.

    • Not sure about Calgary and Edmonton since they were in the 70s-80s, but Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver were built with minimal public funding. I know the only public contribution to the ACC was the land, which was about $15 million at the time but is probably more like $30 million today.

      I'm still not sure how the Bell Centre was financed. I'm leaning privately since Molson's still owned the team and Gillette bought it at a steal when he purchased the Habs, but I'm willing to admit being wrong on that score.

      I think the only building that's been financed with a lot of public money in recent years was BMO Field in Toronto, and I don't think the Feds put a penny into that.

  20. The 2022 Winter Games have no chance of landing in Quebec. None. Think about it – do you in any way believe that Quebec will get a shot at them before another U.S. bid comes through?

    2014, Russia. 2018 will be Pyeongchang (all but confirmed – three-time losers, up against a no-name French ski resort and Munich, which is likely just setting up for a later bid). 2022 is going to likely be between Quebec and Colorado.

    In other words, start making reservations for Denver. Canada's next turn up in the rotation will be either 2030 or, more likely (as the games have to go to Europe and Asia in between), 2034.