In an ideal world, bringing two NHL pre-season games to Quebec City would not cost up to $7 million in public money, said the province’s finance minister while standing by the plan that has raised eyebrows and sparked controversy.
Last week, the Quebec government announced plans to bring the Los Angeles Kings to Quebec City for two pre-season games at the Videotron Centre — one against the Boston Bruins and another against the Florida Panthers.
Several critics, including opposition parties, have blasted Coalition Avenir Québec government’s move, describing it as careless, given the province’s fiscal challenges.
“I heard and took note of the severe criticism, the very negative reaction,” Finance Minister Eric Girard said Tuesday, before reporters peppered him with questions.
He said he would have loved for the games to cost $2 million less and tried to negotiate a lower number.
“It was that or nothing,” Girard said, adding that the project was his idea.
“I assume total responsibility for it,” he added.
Gestev, a property of Quebecor, is the organizer of the event and the recipient of the subsidy.
Girard said the province is committed to paying up to $7 million to compensate for financial losses.
On Tuesday, the minister said those losses are expected to be tied to player travel and accommodations as well as money paid to the Bruins and the Panthers who are losing out on ticket and concession sales for games that would normally have been played in their home arenas.
Québec Solidaire, one of the opposition parties at the National Assembly, is expected to table a motion on Tuesday asking the Quebec government to cancel its plans to subsidize the event.
Girard said next year’s games are part of a process of potentially bringing an NHL hockey to Quebec City.
He defended the project by saying Quebec City would be hosting a high quality product.
He pointed to the Kings, Bruins and Panthers as being among the better teams in the league this season. He also said the fact the pre-season games will be played close to the start of next year’s regular season increases the likelihood that all three teams will put their best players on the ice.
In the case of the Kings, the player rosters would include Quebecers Pierre-Luc Dubois and Philip Danault, Girard pointed out.
This week, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers are on strike, forcing schools across the province to shut down and a slowdown in health and social services.
When asked about the timing of the announcement for the $7 million plan for pre-season NHL hockey, Girard appeared to downplay the price tag’s relevance to the labour dispute.
“There’s $8 billion on the table,” he said, referring to the province’s offers. “If you tell me that all that’s missing to wrap up negotiations is [seven million], we’ll give it up right away.”