Ever since the Caquis came to power, their government has been constantly putting their foot in the door when it comes to sports. Who knows why.
Two years ago, Prime Minister François Legault stunned the hockey world by assembling a panel of personalities he should find the magic recipe that will allow Quebec to develop more NHL players within a few weeks.
A few months earlier, in March 2021, the prime minister was in favor of using taxpayers’ money to build a baseball stadium to house a team – controlled by an American billionaire – that would split its local games between Tampa and Montreal.
According to the Prime Minister, this stadium would generate such significant economic benefits as to justify the financial participation of the Quebec government. That’s the problem numerous studies have shown that there is no economic advantage fund a stadium or amphitheater for a professional team, and survey after survey, between 96% and 98% of American economists supported the same thing.
In the end, big baseball saved Quebecers this cost by rejecting the surreal and risky concept of sister cities.
We can also recall some strange decisions made during the pandemic. As this directive of the former Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, who banned students who were part of the school team from playing their sportswhile they enabled their classmates, members of civilian teams, to continue their activities.
Also during the pandemic, there was this 18 million subsidy to QMJHL teams to compensate them for unrealized ticket sales. Meanwhile, aid to all sports federations amounted to crumbs.
It was earlier this week Finance Minister Éric Girard who sowed consternation among Quebecers announcing that a subsidy of 5 to 7 million will be paid so that the Los Angeles Kings will play two preliminary games in Quebec in early October 2024.
Unjustified from an economic point of view, this announcement seemed so incoherent and resonated so negatively in all spheres of Quebec society that many observers expected François Legault to intervene to repackage everything.
However, the Prime Minister decided to return it instead. While visiting a nursing home in Gaspésie, Mr. Legault defended this subsidy to the American team, arguing that
it is also important to invest in free time, be it sports or culture and that the visit of the Kings is important
because people in Quebec love hockey.
As if the leaders of the NHL have been living in a cave since 2015, Mr. Legault added that his government sees these preseason games of the Kings as an opportunity to show them the Videotron Center.
Imagine the face of Gary Bettman, who preferred Las Vegas and Seattle to Quebec during his league’s last two expansions—and who allows the Arizona Coyotes to play in a 4,600-seat arena—when he learns there is a modern amphitheater in Quebec!
We talked about it with colleagues Alexandre Coupal and Marc-Antoine Godin on Tellement Hockey on Friday morning.
Godin believed it was this type of initiative that could undermine Quebec’s possible bid to return to the NHL.
How can you argue that your market is strong enough to support a team if you have to extend government subsidies to fund pre-season games?he asked.
Furthermore, the reaction to this announcement has been so negative that it seems very possible that a good percentage of hockey fans will choose to stay home instead of paying twice (tickets and tax) to go see a Kings game. If the stands are empty, it will damage the government’s credibility as well as Quebec’s possible candidacy.
But at the end of the day, whether the stands are full or not, it will never be justified to spend between 5 and 7 million to show two hockey games from which there will be no economic benefit.
Given the position defended by the prime minister, Luc Robitaille is officially the last adult in the room. The last person who can make the necessary decision in this matter.
Los Angeles Kings President Luc Robitaille and Quebec Finance Minister Éric Girard.
Photo: The Canadian Press / Jacques Boissinot
The president of Kraljevo was simply looking for a place to play the preliminary games next fall because his team’s amphitheater will be under renovation. Robitaille has lived in Los Angeles for decades. He is not connected to the political debates that are taking place here, and he must have believed that the visit of his team would create tremendous excitement in the capital.
But Robitaille now knows his Kings are welcome, but not at the expense of taxpayers. And he notes that his organization has found itself at the center of a sad situation that is none of its business.
So he would do everyone a favor by rising above the fray and deciding to take his training camp elsewhere.