Conservative MPs and ministers from Quebec donned vintage Nordiques sweaters in a show of support for a proposed $400-million arena in Quebec City that depends on Ottawa for nearly half of its funding.
The plans for a new Colisée, which is essential to getting an NHL team back in the provincial capital, poses a major political challenge for the Harper government. Ottawa has rejected calls to fund sports infrastructures in other cities across Canada, and stands to face a backlash over a $180-million expenditure in an era of cost-cutting.
Still, the Conservatives appeared open to the proposal on Wednesday, one day after the provincial government agreed to pay 45 per cent of the costs. The mayor of Quebec City, Régis Labeaume, has made the project his No. 1 priority and is working hard to get matching funds from Ottawa.
The Conservatives' most visible step in favour of the project occurred in Quebec City, where members of the party's Quebec caucus wore Nordiques sweaters for the media. Most of the province's 11 Conservative MPs have seats in and around Quebec City, as well as eastern parts of the province, where they are facing tremendous popular pressure.
Conservative MP and Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn said there is a frenzy in Quebec City these days as the population wants to get rid of the scars that came with the Nordiques' departure for Colorado in 1995.
"As MPs, we cannot ignore the wishes of the population that wants the Nordiques to return," he said in an interview. "In addition, our political formation, the Conservative Party, has received important support in Quebec City."
However, Mr. Blackburn pointed out it would be easier to obtain federal funding if there was a private-sector company involved, for example, in purchasing naming rights to the new arena.
"It's clear that it can't just be state money. There needs to be partners," he said.
Mr. Blackburn added the government cannot afford to let this matter devolve into a bitter battle between Quebec City and the rest of the country, where cities like Edmonton and Hamilton are also looking to build or upgrade hockey rinks.
"The objective is not to divide ourselves," Mr. Blackburn said. "We are in a big country, there are needs everywhere, and it's up to governments to find avenues to meet the population's expectations."
The office of Transport Minister Chuck Strahl, who oversees Ottawa's infrastructure program, said the government will study a recent report into the project.
"As far as a new arena is concerned, our government is very interested to know if this can be done," said John Babcock, a spokesman for Mr. Strahl. "As the Prime Minister has clearly said, we would be very happy if [the]Nordiques could make a comeback to Quebec City."