QUEBEC CITY: The Quebec election heated up with the announcement Tuesday that the Winnipeg Jets would be moving to Quebec City for the start of the 2016 NHL season. PQ chief Pauline Marois and star candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau were on hand with Commissioner Gary Bettman at a news conference held at the site of the new Quebecer Liberté arena.
The news was the most startling event of the election thus far with the shockwave felt far beyond Quebec.
Pauline Marois was ebullient as she donned the new Nordique Liberté uniform. "This day is one for all Quebecers to rejoice over," she said to cheering crowds. "It is just one more thing a PQ government can help bring to Quebec."
The Quebecer media conglomerate bought the Winnipeg Jets early Tuesday morning from the True North owner Mark Chipman. The Winnipeg Jets had just suffered a collapse against the Anaheim Ducks 5-4 after leading for two periods. In a terse statement, Jets owner Chipman said he had sold the team because it had been causing him health problems related to his heart.
Commissioner Gary Bettman welcomed the new Nordique Liberté team and said it would be good for the NHL to have the old rivalries back such as the one against the Montreal Canadiens. "The NHL is stronger for this move. We did not do it lightly and we will miss the Chipman family and Winnipeg being part of the NHL. However, we do understand Mark Chipman's reasons as well as the fact that no suitable owner could be found in Winnipeg."
Bettman stayed out of the politics of the Quebec election. "This is not about any election. This is about the NHL and I believe the new Quebec Liberté will bring excitement playing in their new $400 million Quebecer arena for the 2016 season."
PQ star candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau will become governor of the new Nordique Liberté team. It raised immediate concerns again about his business interests running afoul of rules in regards to politicians and their private holdings. Provincial Liberal leader Philippe Couillard welcomed the return of the NHL but warned that Peladeau should not receive a free pass from the rules just because he owns the Quebec City team.
The ecstatic joy felt in Quebec over a return of hockey to the capital was in turn greeted with outrage and sorrow in Winnipeg. It was only three years prior that the Winnipeg Jets returned to the city after an absence of 15 years. The surprise sale caught everyone off guard including Manitoba premier Greg Selinger who now must contend with a large investment in the MTS Centre with no NHL and, as it turns out, no AHL team to play in the arena. The purchase of the Winnipeg Jets by Quebecer includes the majority of the MTS Centre property plus the Saint John's Ice Caps. The intention of the new Nordique Liberté is to leave their farm club team in Newfoundland.
Greg Selinger responded in shock that his government would look at all options for the MTS Centre including possible penalties for moving the team. "We are in grief right now and will have more to say on the subject at a news conference Friday."
Fans in Winnipeg rallied at Portage and Main at noon. The crowd reaction was one of anger and resignation. One fan at the Dollarama on the famed Portage Avenue shrugged his shoulders. "The team sucked anyway," said John Gray as he counted loonies after his purchase. Still it was hard not to notice the Burmistrov Jets uniform as he walked down the steps into the darkened pathways of Winnipeg's underground concourse.