Quebec’s premier is defending his government’s decision to spend up to $7 million on two NHL pre-season games as opposition parties decry what they say is a poor use of public funds amid other economic and fiscal challenges.
Quebec plans to spend between $5 million and $7 million to bring the Los Angeles Kings to Quebec City for two pre-season hockey matches against the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers next year. The outcry over the move intensified when the Montreal Canadiens confirmed they would have been willing to play those same games for free.
“It’s important to invest in leisure, whether it’s sports or culture,” François Legault told a Friday news conference in Rivière-au-Renard, Que. “I don’t know if you know, but the people of Quebec City would like to have a hockey team.”
Legault added he hopes the venture will showcase the arena at Quebec City’s Videotron Centre and inspire the NHL to install a franchise in the provincial capital, which has been without a team since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Denver in 1995.
“I hope that Mr. Bettman is going to come visit during the games,” confessed Legault, referring to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “What we’re aiming for is to say, we have a, I would say, world-class arena. It’s time that the NHL agrees to give a franchise, to have the return of the Nordiques.”
“The people of Quebec City like hockey.”
Opposition party leaders, meanwhile, assert that the expenditure is inappropriate as inflation squeezes household finances and several public sector employee unions prepare to go on strike to demand higher pay.
“It’s true, in Quebec, we love hockey,” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for leftist party Québec solidaire, wrote on Facebook Friday. “But Mr. Legault, do you know what Quebec families love most of all? Feeding themselves. Not having to choose between buying vegetables and buying bus tickets. Not getting poorer by working in our public services.”
Québec solidaire critic for sports Vincent Marissal also condemned the move during a Saturday interview, saying it makes no sense to subsidize multimillion-dollar entities like the NHL during the economic stresses at play in Quebec.
Marissal said he agrees “it’s a shame” the Nordiques’ departure deprived Quebec City of an NHL team, but questioned whether the Kings’ matchups would do anything to lure a future franchise.
“It would be foolish to think that to use public money for two hockey games — pre-season hockey games with a team from L.A. — that it would help in any way to get an NHL team back,” he said.
Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party “has lost all sense of priorities,” Quebec Liberal Party interim leader Marc Tanguay said in a Wednesday social media post, in part referencing stalled talks with public sector unions. “The $7-million subsidy of Quebecers’ money for two NHL pre-season games is indefensible,” he added.
Legault said Friday the subsidy pales in comparison to the $3.7 billion it would take to meet the unions’ demands.
“We’re not talking about the same amounts.”
— By Thomas MacDonald in Montreal, with files from Marie-Eve Martel