The great Hugh MacLennan told Canadians in a landmark novel published in 1945 that Canada was a nation of two solitudes.
There are two ways of precipitating a crisis of blood-curdling proportions in this nation: have an Orangeman stamp on the Fleur-de-lis or suggest changes to the game of hockey.
Mr MacLennan dealt, more or less, with the former and I`ll talk about the latter. The closest thing to a national religion in the frozen north is hockey. Canadians live and die with the national World Junior team, the women`s national hockey team (current Olympic champions), and the men`s national team (current Olympic and Worlds champion). Since our run of five straight World Junior gold medals ended in 1997 Canada has an eighth place finish, a bronze, and four silvers. That`s considered good by Swedish standards but Canadians feel these recent failures warrant a federal government inquiry.
However matters become tricky when the subject of money arises: we worship the game but don`t ever pass the collection plate.
Consider the Winnipeg Jets, now the rag-tag Phoenix Coyotes. Word seeped out they might be leaving town and every Winnipegger had a nervous breakdown. Much pushing and shoving followed; the Jets` future dimmed. Schemes were hatched, zealots pleaded with wealthy men, a season ticket campaign was launched, a frenzied media assault turned loose to no avail.
Finally the crux of the matter stood revealed: the Winnipeg Arena guaranteed any owner an unbroken run of red ink. City hall was besieged and the mayor waffled - and that decided the matter. The Jets were doomed with the first hint of public money. The Jets took off for Phoenix, landing amidst a flock of snowbirds who cared as little about the transformed Coyotes as Winnipeggers mourned their loss.
The Quebec Nordiques, now Colorado Avalanche, were clasped to the breast of every francophone Quebecer with the fervor of a mother bear protecting her cub. The Nords were the anti-Montreal Canadiens. Games between the two teams were brutal affairs, often producing sublime hockey. But Quebec had another of those small arenas. Ownership hinted a sparkling new rink built with public money would suit them just fine. A mob of season ticket-holders escorted the team out of town. The federal Chretien government tried to slough money to the six Canadian NHL teams a couple of years ago. The angry response panicked the Chretienites so much they backtracked the next day.
Three teams have found a way to cage a few dollars. Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames receive certain tax revenues which should keep them in pocket money. Albertans weren`t thrilled however since the money was torn from the wallets of visiting hockey players, some sort of entertainment tax, well, shrug-shrug, what`s a poor toolpush to do?
British Columbia being British Columbia, the government devised a devious plan - run a lottery for the Canucks. Shrill hyperventilating from the anti-gambling crowd; think of the impact on our children; tax on the poor, and all those other catch-phrases. Protesters were knee-capped when a run of 200,000 tickets sold out in hours, forcing a second printing.
The Canucks play to sell-outs and have an entertaining club. No one is looking askance at the couple or three mil which will be dropped on the face-off dot.