This will make for an interesting chapter in his hockey book
-Stephen Harper, 2000
-Stephen Harper, today
Off the top, let me say that I'm not dead set against the idea of the government playing a role in the return of the Nordiques. I'm a sports fan, and the first website I ever made up was a tacky little "Save the Expos" tripod thing - I get what it's like to lose a team. So if we were talking about a loan or investing a few million dollars to get the Nords back, I think the payoff would be worth it.
But the proposal on the table is for $185 million, and it comes with no guarantees of a team. Gary Bettman has blocked several attempts to move teams north and likely would again.
It simply isn't a good investment and it's no secret the only reason Harper is even considering it is to save his Quebec City MPs. Choosing politics over policy isn't anything new for Harper, but I'm not even sure this is good politics. Consider the ramifications.
Money for Quebec City could rekindle memories of Mulroney's CF-18 deal in Winnipeg. In Alberta, where the Flames and Oilers are looking for new arenas, the editorialists are already describing this move as "almost Liberal in its optics". That's about the worst insult the Calgary Herald can dish out. And if Roughriders fans are willing to drive hundreds of miles, paint themselves green, and wear watermelons on their heads in support of their team, surely they might be willing to change their vote if the Tories choose Quebec over Regina.
Then, what do you do with Hamilton (and the many swing seats in the region), if they get a team? Does Balsillie get the same housewarming gift as Peladeau? And, as the joke goes, if Hamilton gets an NHL team, we can be sure Toronto will want one too.
Given all this, we should not be surprised to see many Conservatives skating gingerly. Maxime Bernier has broken ranks, though that's not a huge surprise - the man breaks ranks with the Conservatives over decisions on what to serve for dinner at their caucus retreat. More concerning for Harper are the "anonymous" western MPs voicing their displeasure.
I can understand the alure of the Quebec City swing seats. But this is a government that has been bodychecked on massive deficits, G20 spending, and an expensive jet contract. If Harper's plan is to run on his credibility as a sound financial manager, then he's skating on thin ice.
And while it's tempting to end this post with the "thin ice" line, I do have to add that it's positively baffling the Liberals haven't given more than a shoulder shrug on this one. They have nothing in Quebec City to lose but their deposits - hell, I'd imagine there are at least a few Quebec City residents who'd rather their tax dollars go to childcare than Karl Peladeau. The Liberals were burned on this issue in 2000 and they've been handed a golden opportunity for payback. As they say - if you've got a clear shot, take it.