Jacques Boissinot The Canadian Press Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard (right) during a press conference on November 14 2023, at the Videotron Center in Quebec, alongside Luc Robitaille, president of the Los Angeles Kings.
With the subsidy of $5 to $7 million for the Los Angeles Kings to come to Quebec, Finance Minister Eric Girard says he is taking a “step” to bring the Nordiques back to Quebec — an objective that has a 10% chance to come true according to its estimates.
The granting of millions of dollars to the professional hockey team almost monopolized the question period on Tuesday, in addition to creating dissension in the CAQ caucus.
At a press briefing, Minister Girard admitted that he would have liked to pay less for the Kings to come to the Videotron Center. This project constitutes “a step aimed at promoting Quebec’s candidacy for the return of a team to the National League [de hockey, NHL]”, he then explained. At Salon Bleu, he said the return of the Nordiques would be the “ultimate payoff” for that expense. His argument was brought down in flames by the opposition.
When announcing the subsidy, Mr. Girard said there was “no signal for the NHL.” However, “implicitly”, he thought the opposite, he explained on Tuesday.
Mr. Girard estimated the probability of an NHL franchise establishing itself in Quebec at 10%. There is “a chance in two” that the league will launch an expansion project in the next five years, calculated the “minister of the Nordics”. “There are at least five cities that would be candidates”: Atlanta, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Houston and Quebec. The probabilities that Quebec will have a franchise are therefore 10%, concluded the economist.
“Against my values”
Mr. Girard also said he took note of the “very negative reaction” regarding the granting of a subsidy of 5 to 7 million for the arrival of the Kings in the national capital in October 2024. “Where the criticism is legitimate and solid, it’s at the cost level,” he added. He later said he would have “preferred to tell you it was going to cost between 2 and 5 million.” However, the government “tried to negotiate downward, [but] it was that or nothing,” he explained.
Prime Minister François Legault recognized that the subsidy to the Kings “is not unanimous.” Except that “there are governments that have invested 400 million in an amphitheater. And we would like this amphitheater to serve its purpose, that is to say possibly having Nordic matches,” he continued.
Unanimity, among other things, is not expressed within the Coalition Avenir Québec caucus. “It’s against my values,” MP Luc Provençal said of the subsidy. “It is against the values of the citizens of Lac-Saint-Jean and I am part of Lac-Saint-Jean as a citizen,” also said the namesake of the Minister of Finance, MP Éric Girard.
< p>The mayor of Quebec, Bruno Marchand, mentioned that “every year, there are between 50 and 55 major events in Quebec” which receive, on average, “around $100,000” of public money. “Do the math: five million divided between 50 events gives them $100,000 more each,” he said. He compared the wait for the return of the Nordics to that of “one who, after being left behind 25 years ago, still hopes for the return of his wife.”
Paid meals and travel
The subsidy granted by Quebec will be used, among other things, to pay for travel, accommodation and meals for the teams who will take to the ice at the Videotron Center, confirmed Minister Girard. The millions must also cover the deficit of Gestev, which organizes the event at the request of the government. The funds will also be used to compensate for the “lost revenue” of the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers, who would have hosted the Kings if they had not come to Quebec.
Faced with criticism, the minister clarified that there was no question for the government of renouncing its financial commitment, as demanded by the opposition parties. The minister even intends to do it again. “Ideally, we would have other major league events,” he said. He said he hoped to host the Women's World Hockey Championship in 2029, the World Junior Hockey Championship in 2027 and added that the Montreal Canadiens “are welcome if they want to play season games regular [in Quebec] in 2025.”
The minister rejected criticism from his CAQ colleagues, who attacked the “timing” of his announcement. “I’m letting go of the timing question a little., because I think it has to be said that, in a year, [the hockey teams] will be here, because we have to sell tickets,” he said. The deal for the Kings was reached in September, and it was made by a very small group of people, Mr. Girard suggested. The elected official wanted to avoid a leak, like the one which derailed, in 2022, a project aimed at welcoming the Senators to Quebec.
Remains that the project went through the council of ministers, since a decree was necessary to confirm the mechanics of the subsidy, drawn from the National Capital Region Fund (FRCN). The use of this fund, the management of which has been devolved for years to the City of Quebec and the MRCs, requires the establishment of a call for projects, and these projects must meet a series of criteria.
“Professionals from the Quebec government wrote the contract. We have a resolution from the Treasury Board, a resolution from the Council of Ministers,” assured the minister, to attest to the validity of the process. Québec solidaire officially asked the Auditor General of Quebec, Guylaine Leclerc, on Monday to investigate the process of awarding the subsidy to Gestev. The Parti Québécois and the Conservative Party supported the Québec solidaire approach. The Liberal Party considers this to be superfluous, but does not temper its attacks on this “very bad decision”.
With François Carabin and Sébastien Tanguay
Teams can “pay for lunch,” says Ciccone
Liberal MP Enrico Ciccone, himself a former National Hockey League (NHL) player, declared that Mr. Girard was harming a possible return of the Nordiques to Quebec by subsidizing the arrival of the Kings. “When you see, in the NHL offices, that the State is obliged to pay a team to come and play hockey, well that [suggests] that it is not solid enough, when it is false “, he said. “When you spend money, it’s like you’re asking for a team. »
Mr. Ciccone believes that it is unprecedented for a government to pay for the expenses of hockey players. “Are the teams able to pay for lunch? I think so,” he said. “It is not up to the government and the State to pay an industry that is billionaires. »
“I heard Mr. Girard say: “We are going to pay for the players’ meals”. There is no one in Quebec who will agree with that,” also said the parliamentary leader of Québec solidaire, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. He described Mr. Girard’s arguments as “pathetic.” “So he bets 7 million with a 10% chance of success? I don’t know… These people are supposed to be accountants, I find it audacious,” he quipped. He also mocked the minister's argument, which justifies his subsidy by praising the high quality of the Kings' Quebec players, such as Pierre-Luc Dubois and Phillip Danault. “He spoke with the coach to make sure on which line Phillip Danault was going to play? It is the coach who decides who is in the line-up, it is not the Minister of Finance of Quebec. I'm sorry, but this is absurd. It’s taking Quebecers for suitcases,” he lamented.
At the Parti Québécois, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon also unraveled the minister’s argument. “There is no causal link between throwing public funds out the window to bring in the Los Angeles Kings [and the return of the Nordiques],” he said. Other cities got games “for zero dollars,” he noted. “I have not heard any justification for why we, in Quebec, are among those who give public funds for exactly the same product,” he added.
Marie-Michèle Sioui and Isabelle Wear