The Quebec League, which recently convinced four provinces to change their employee standards laws to keep it from paying its players minimum wage, has its hand out again and is looking for millions of dollars in relief money from the Quebec government to cover the cost of playing next season in empty arenas. And the government is listening, but there’s a caveat. If junior hockey operators want the money, they’re going to have to do a better job of protecting the young players to whom they pay poverty wages by changing their fighting rules.
According to the excellent reporting by Alexandre Pratt of La Presse, QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau met with Quebec’s minister of education Isabelle Charest last week to ask for about $20 million to cover lost revenues for next season for the 12 teams located in the province. According to La Presse, the minister was amenable to the idea, but only if the league did something to curtail fighting.
When reached by TheHockeyNews.com, Alice Bergeron, a spokesperson for Charest, confirmed a meeting did take place. “What I can confirm is that we did have some demands from the league for financial support for the upcoming season,” Bergeron told THN.com. “I’d rather not disclose the amount.”
Bergeron also confirmed that the money would only come on the condition that the league do something to curtail the number of fights it has. According to hockeyfights.com, the 18-team QMJHL had 323 pre-season and regular season fights last season, which was just two fewer than the 20 team Ontario League had, but substantially fewer than the 22-team Western League, which had 528 fights.
And this is where things get interesting. According to La Presse, QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau responded by proposing a rule change that would see fighting be penalized with a 15-minute penalty rather than a five-minute major and a player would be suspended one game after five fighting majors in a season. (It’s important to note, however, that just nine players in the league had five or more fights in 2019-20.) The league’s board of governors voted 10-8 in favor of adopting the new sanctions, but in order for a rule change to pass, it needs to be endorsed by at least 12 teams.
There seems to be some confusion over whether the governors were aware that the funding was tied to changing the fighting rules. According to La Presse, Courteau was aghast that the sanctions were not passed. There is also talk that the league will likely hold another vote on the matter in the near future. However, there’s no guarantee that the sanctions will go far enough for the government’s liking. One source said the government knows it has leverage in this matter and intends to use it. In fact, it has been suggested that Charest, who was not at all impressed with the results of the QMJHL vote, could very well increase her demands in exchange for funding. Charest, a former world-class short-track speedskater who won a silver medal in 1994 in Lillehammer and bronze both in 1998 in Nagano and 2002 in Salt Lake City in the 3,000-meter relay, has been consistent in wanting to see the QMJHL do something to curtail fighting.
“What we’d like from the league is that the active leaders in this matter show some good faith because we think we’ve shown good faith in the whole process,” Bergeron told TheHockeyNews.com. “And since February, the minister’s position on this matter has been very, very clear. We’re very open to discussing with the league, but we do want to see some good faith on their part.”
The QMJHL announced in August that it intends to open its season Oct. 1 and play a 60-game schedule in 2020-21, saying that games in Quebec will be played with no fans. Whether there will be fans in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, where six of the league’s teams are contingent upon details that are being discussed between the league and provincial governments.
Charest’s desire to see the league curtail fighting had some rather unlikely allies from the hockey establishment. One of them was Georges Laraque, the former NHL enforcer who reportedly said on his Montreal radio show that he had recently been convinced the league had to reduce fighting. Another was Patrick Roy, the Hall of Fame goalie and GM-coach of the Quebec Remparts, who told Le Soliel that it is time to do something about fisticuffs. “The minister has reason not to be happy,” Roy said, “but at the same time, certain people opposed (to abolishing fighting) don’t realize what public opinion wants and public opinion wants to stem fighting.”