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Fans back Quebec mayor's NHL bid Add to ...

It turns out there's more than just the easy and the hard way to get things done - there's also the Labeaume way.

And as the denizens of Quebec City have understood since 2007, when they swept an excitable former mining and high-tech executive named Régis Labeaume into the mayor's office, his hectoring, relentless approach can be weirdly effective.

Labeaume's efforts to secure financing for a new multipurpose arena for the city - to play host to an NHL team and serve as the centrepiece for an Olympic bid - should get a strong shot in the arm on Saturday with La marche bleue, a rally that is expected to draw 50,000 or more people to the Plains of Abraham.

On Friday, volunteers were putting the finishing touches on the outdoor venue as Labeaume shuttled from interview to public appearance to interview and local radio stations switched to special programming to promote the event.

"Wall-to-wall hockey, that's what it's going to be like ... I think there are going to be tens of thousands [in the crowd]" said former Nords coach Michel Bergeron, who will be in attendance, and who said "I was among those who thought when the Nordiques left that NHL hockey would never be back, but I guess times change."

The rally will be a boon for nostalgia buffs: Former Nordiques great Peter Stastny will be on hand with brothers Marian and Anton - it'll be the first time in 25 years the three have made a public appearance together - as will a contingent of 20 or so former teammates, including former fan favourite Alain Côté.

Hockey allegiances in Quebec can still be broken down according to one's opinion on Côté's disallowed goal against the Montreal Canadiens in the 1987 division finals (most people east of Drummondville will tell you it should have counted).

That the day will be capped with an NHL preseason tilt between the Habs and New York Islanders at the bedraggled Colisée that was once home to the Nords might be ascribed to coincidence - if someone other than Labeaume were pulling the strings.

Some Canadiens are more eager than others to see a team in Quebec City (Montreal-born forward Mathieu Darche joked "I've always hated the Nordiques ... and no, [Côté's]wasn't a good goal").

Teammate Michael Cammalleri, for his part, said "Quebec City should have a team. I hope they get one soon," suggesting he would have joined the crowd had the schedule permitted.

The afternoon rally's guest list includes media magnate Pierre-Karl Péladeau, widely considered the would-be owner of an eventual NHL team. The event will also be a magnet for politicians of all stripes; federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josée Verner, who represents a Quebec City riding and has been the target of an intense lobbying effort, will be there, as will Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, and a full roster of provincial government cabinet ministers and opposition officials.

As the pressure mounts on Ottawa to kick in for the new building - the city has pledged $50-million, and the province says it will cover 45 per cent of a new $400-million facility - Labeaume casually poured a few litres of lighter fluid onto the pyre this week.

On Thursday Labeaume announced the city is borrowing $25-million to cover a tender process that will be launched in January - federal money or no.

"You think?" he said at a news conference when it was suggested the move paints Tory MPs from the region into a corner. "Everyone's got their ears pricked up, we're waiting for the blue march."

With reports from The Canadian Press

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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