Ice hockey and politics in Quebec are two things that all most go hand in hand. Last season there were demonstrations outside the Bell Centre over the appointment of American Randy Cunneyworthy and you can go back to furry Maurice Richard started with his ‘Il est incompetu’ comment.
Now the sport and the politics of the French speaking province have collided again. As part of its manifesto for the upcoming provincial elections the Parti Quebecois has included its desire to start a ‘national’ ice hockey programme for the province. Ultimately this would lead to the formation of a Quebec side at the world championships. Although there could a sting in the tail.
The idea is nothing new. International teams that do not represent a country per say exist in other sports. Rugby League has the New Zealand Maori team whilst one of Lacrosse’s best international teams is the Iroquois Nation yet neither are countries in the traditional sense. Even soccer has a Basque team and it could be argued that the England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland teams are in the same mould.
These sides play an important roll for the people of these minorities. The team represents a focal point for nationalistic pride and support whilst often highlighting a cause. In the past the Montreal Canadiens have provided this as Barcelona do for the Catalans in soccer. However with NHL expansion and the draft system the Canadiens no longer have that same control over their junior development. The sport still thrives though just without a central outlet for French Canadian Pride and it is obvious that the PQ is taping into this and with a lead in the polls it may become a reality.
In theory all that is needed is an independent governing body to be set up and for an application to the IIHF to be approved. But this side would not become worldbeaters over night. The likes of Roberto Luongo, Martin St Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Patrice Bergeron who have represented Canada would not be illegible unless they played for 4 straight years in Quebec and also the side would have to start at the bottom of the World Championship ladder.
New players coming through the system however would be and Quebec has consistently produced 16 – 20% of the NHL workforce since 1945. This has even increased since 1993 at a time when many more Europeans have made the NHL. With a dedicated development programme for Quebec this number could well increase in coming years. The sting could well be though if these players choose to represent Canada instead as migrants from within Canada but living in Quebec take advantage of the system.