Québec politics and the Montréal Canadiens

Published by Mark on Saturday, September 18, 2010 — View Comments

Montreal Canadiens, mid-1940s

Image via Wikipedia

No doubt sport and nationalism go hand in hand. We love to see the local athlete succeed in the arena. We love it more when the local team does well. We don the colours and speak in terms of “we won” and “they can’t beat us”.

Yet, this week’s comments from Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois and PQ culture critic Pierre Curzi about the Montreal Canadiens are seen by many to have crossed the line.

Mme. Marois laments that she’d like to see more Quebec-born francophones on the Habs roster. M. Curzi goes even further, suggesting that le bleu-blanc-et-rouge has been co-opted, infiltrated by federalist forces and stripped of it’s power as a symbol of Québec and Québec nationalism.

It comes as no surprise that both the Government of Canada and management of the Montréal Canadiens would dismiss these accusations with a laugh. Some folks love conspiracies, but to think that the government has systematically taken over the Canadiens and stocked the team with non-Francophones in an effort to keep Québec separatists at bay is really too much. Perhaps in an effort to make it less obvious, rather than only farm boys from the prairies, those dastardly federalists have stocked the team with Americans, Czechs, Russians, even made sure the previous captain was a Finn.

Perhaps the PQ would like to see a return to the rule where the Habs were allowed supplemental draft picks of Québec players (of which few of those players actually went on the play in the NHL). Or better yet, a return to the old territory system, where the Canadiens would automatically own the rights to any hockey-playing kid aged 12 and up within the province of Québec.

Conversely I wonder how the separatists would react if they were told that a corresponding rule were also to be put in place, where Montréal would be prohibited from acquiring players such as Sid Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Sedin, Joe Thronton, Jarome Iginla, or anyone else not Québec-born.

What’s hard to understand is the timing of these remarks. At a time when the provincial and federal governments are discussing funding to build a new arena in Québec City, with an eye to luring an NHL team back, the Parti Québecois accuses the federalists of trying to destroy a Francophone icon. Doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. Wouldn’t they refuse federal money if they were worried about the influence of federalism? Maybe the PQ are trying (misguidedly) to explain the 17 Cup-less seasons by blaming the outsiders. Maybe they are trying to guilt Vinny Lecavalier and Roberto Luongo into signing with MTL. Or maybe the PQ is just so out of touch that they don’t realize that hockey players come from all over the world, not only Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières.

As a kid, I watched the teams of Cournoyer, Lafleur, Lemaire, Savard and Lapointe rule over the NHL. Amazing how those ‘Flying Frenchmen’ managed to do it carrying what must have seemed quite the burden in Shutt, Robinson, Dryden, Gainey and Jarvis. And sad the PQ feels the need to remind us all that some people still judge you by where you come from.