Sports  The right connections

The possible return of the Québec Nordiques has complicated political implications

Correction appended on October 30, 2010

Many citizens of Quebec and Canada as a whole have shared the same aspiration: for hockey to return to Quebec City. Since the Nordiques left in 1995, there has been an uncomfortable void in the Quebec sports landscape, forcing many easterners to reluctantly root for the Canadiens, while others disengage entirely from NHL hockey. With recent reports of efforts to bring a team back to Quebec, the mere possibility of the league’s return to the city has many giddy with anticipation. Seemingly neglected, however, is Pierre Karl Péladeau – the potential beneficiary of a new franchise – whose political and moral background should give serious pause to Quebec residents and hockey fans as a whole. This issue brings up an important question in sports: as a fan, where is your money going? Franchise ownership for political purposes has begun to rear its head elsewhere, with Quebec’s candidacy making it the next target for this woeful practice.

Péladeau, head of Quebecor Media (the parent company of Vidéotron), has made no secret about wanting to own a prospective Quebec City hockey franchise. According to Canadian Business, Péladeau’s net worth is in the vicinity of $415 million after taking over his father’s company. Yet Péladeau wishes to not only own a Quebec franchise, but to have the Harper government provide upwards of $175 million to build the arena. This does not include the estimated $175 million in provincial funds and $50 million in local city funds proposed for Quebec’s new $400-million arena.

Indeed, on top of the modern standard of government-funded assistance, Péladeau’s potential coup strangely includes no funding of his own nearly half-billion dollar fortune. In essence, the Quebecor CEO’s proposal enables him to pocket the profits from a nearly guaranteed sellout crowd each game, all while repaying the province of Quebec nothing. Perhaps this is the going rate for the gracious gesture of hands-off ownership of an NHL team while reaping its profits. These profits would undoubtedly be used in part to get Péladeau’s TV network brainchild, right-wing news outlet Sun TV News – colloquially known as Fox News North – off the ground.

Not surprisingly, it is also widely assumed that (as with most owners) many of Péladeau’s expenses and assets related to the team would be deemed tax-free by the government of Quebec in exchange for “revitalizing” the economy of Quebec City; an economic practice that has not yet proven effective in the past. This blatantly unnecessary use of public funds reeks of right-wing, so-called “small government” hypocrisy.

This is not the first time that sports owners’ tactics have coincided with political interests. In exchange for the potential media support, Harper has expressed an interest in funding Péladeau’s viability as an NHL owner with taxpayer money. Dick DeVos, CEO of the Orlando Magic, is an outspoken member of the extreme right-wing portion of the Republican Party in the U.S., having funded groups that, according to sports writer Dave Zirin in Dissident Voice, support and aid “reparative gay therapy, anti-evolution politics, and other ‘traditional’ family values.” Reality, it seems, continues to elude DeVos’s political and social beliefs.

Other owners with controversial political ties include the Arizona Diamondbacks’ principal owner Ken Kendrick, who misled the public regarding his stance on the now infamous SB-1070 immigration-law in Arizona. Again according to Zirin, while stating that he was opposed to the borderline fascistic legislation, Kendrick hosted a fundraiser at the Diamondbacks’ ballpark, Chase Field, for Arizona state senator Jonathan Paton in his Congressional bid – Paton being one of SB-1070’s most outspoken supporters. Not surprisingly, Chase Field was built primarily (over 70 per cent) with public funds, giving Arizona taxpayers the privilege of hosting Paton’s fundraiser. Mercifully, Paton was defeated in the Arizona Republican primary a month ago. Nonetheless, given these precedents of sports team owners supporting social injustices, one shudders to imagine what Péladeau’s new arena and TV network would give him as far as political sway.

Perhaps repeated blows to the head from his silver spoon resulted in a concussion; more likely, Péladeau’s greed simply has no capacity or sympathy for the cut-and-dry economics of a publically-funded stadium. The onus now lies upon Stephen Harper to deny this blatant cash grab and prevent further usurpation of public funds. In a CTV News report, Harper’s former top aid, Tom Flanagan, said the proposed funding of an arena in Quebec “has the potential to create backlash not just in the West, but all across the country.” Indeed, public dissent will need to rise to the surface to prevent a heist of this magnitude by both Péladeau and the enabling Harper.

Sports are a funny thing. Blind hope normally has no consequences, serving only to either validate or ignore a fan’s faith. Though those desires may be granted, the outlook would worsen on a moral and economic level for Quebec. Under the current proposal, hockey’s return to Quebec would invoke much stronger emotions than nostalgia. If the public bears the brunt of the investment, should they not also reap the benefits? In the meantime, for those still in favor of a team relocating to Quebec under Péladeau, a simple word of caution: be careful what you wish for.

The original article wrote, “Dick DeVos of Xe (formerly Blackwater), owns the Orlando Magic. Every ticket stub used to see players like Dwight Howard also funds the mercenary organization whose presence in Iraq remains as substantial as DeVos’s enthusiasm for wealth disparity.” DeVos is not officially connected with Xe. The Daily regrets this error.