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The Globe and Mail

HNIC chooses to drape itself in the flag and not politics

There was no talk of pleasure domes full of ice in the 13-1/2 hours of often-touching Canadiana on Saturday's Hockey Day in Canada on CBC. Yet nothing could be more reflective of the heart of modern Canada than the current debate about using public funds for a new hockey arena in Quebec City.

For once, the old provocateur Don Cherry understood how divisive the issue is, steering clear of political fights with Quebec on Saturday in favour of junior players pounding each other senseless for the approval of Himself and hoary Yukon poetry. The rest of the voices from Whitehorse also avoided the tetchy topic of whether political expediency will trump the expressed desire of Canadians to keep their national sport and tax revenue separate.

Hockey Night in Canada's reluctance to air the topic in the midst of its annual feel-good marathon is understandable. The Tories' desire to shore up their Quebec seats with a little short-term pork threatens the long-term survival of the minority government and its conservative principals. Best to leave the bucks-for-pucks argument in the lap of Stephen Harper, whose affinity for the national broadcaster is suspect at best.

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The mainstream media opining on Quebec's proposed pleasure palace have framed the dilemma for the ruling Conservatives: Deny public funds for an NHL-ready building in Quebec City or else fork over money to the sports building projects proposed in Regina, Calgary, Edmonton and Hamilton. But that quid-pro-quo misses the real bottom line. Most citizens of the other affected cities-- particularly those in the West-- don't want public funds used no matter how they're obtained.

In the Tory heartland of the West, the effort by the Tory government to funnel cash to the Quebec City arena project through gas-tax revenue is viewed as another appeasement of Quebec's profligate approach to finance. Arguments that the provincial government will fess up most of the cash for the new Colisee are also met with derision. Quebec already uses its estimated $ 8.3 billion in annual equalization payments (60 per cent of the national total) to offer half-priced tuition, free in-vitro fertilization and $7-a-day daycare to its citizens, the Ottawa Sun reports. Harper's base sees a glittering hockey dome as another extravagance the province can't afford without a cash infusion from others in Canada.

How Harper, the one-time Reform party firebrand, resolves Quebec's latest demand for pork will have enormous implications in the rumoured upcoming election and the life of his government. Whether Don Cherry and Hockey Night In Canada take on the topic during next Sunday's heritage Classic in Harper's hometown of Calgary will be fun to watch.

A fitting Proverb

"It was a miracle of rare device, A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Xanadu

Honest Speech

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While the cat got Cherry's tongue on Saturday, Mario Lemieux had no trouble enunciating his disgust at the NHL's Slap Shot week just past. The Pittsburgh co-owner said his continued participation in the league may hinge on whether the league ends such thuggery with more significant punishments than those dealt out this week by league disciplinarian Colin Campbell. Lemieux's clarion call leaves little question about his opinion. What can be questioned is why hockey opinions such as Lemieux's don't find a voice on HNIC or the other TV hockey programs on TSN or Sportsnet. Surely he's not the only former player who feels this way, and yet we never hear this perspective from the chorus of P.J. Stocks, Mike Milburys or Nick Kypreoses clogging the screen.

Somebody Bet On The Bay

Didn't notice that Hudson's Bay Company was a sponsor of Hockey Day, but host Ron MacLean certainly gave the company thousands in promotion as he wore the company's iconic coat throughout the day. Now if we can only convince Peter Mansbridge to do The National in Roots apparel, we might have a solution for the CBC's funding concerns.

Talent Search

The current sports-radio battle between The FAN and TSN has sparked a search for talent on both sides - in particular, who will replace Andrew Krystal (FAN) against Mike Richards (TSN) in the morning drive, and who at TSN takes on the indomitable Bob McCown in the afternoon drive.

One person both sides should be looking at closely in some capacity is young Brian Hayes, who's currently returning Bill Watters's service on AM 640. The son of radio vet Bill Hayes (and nephew of John Derringer), Brian may be the most assured young talent to arrive in some time. He fences admirably with Watters, he's got the sports knowledge needed and is poised beyond his years. With AM 640 likely getting out of sports radio soon, he's worth locking up by the big boys.

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Jim Reed

Finally, we get static here at Usual Suspects for our occasional insistence that reporters actually call both sides of the story before leaping into print. If we're persnickety it's because of people like Jim Reed, who passed away this weekend at age 75. Reed was a stickler, and any of us who worked with or beside him at CTV or CBC respected him for it. When it came to journalism, the three-time Gemini winner was old fashioned in the best sense of the expression. He was about getting the story right, not getting the scoop. No better sign-off than that for a member of the business.

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