Northern Ontario MPs defend historic alliances

Ottawa – Fans crying “off-side” over blacked out regional French language broadcasts of the Montreal Canadiens have allies on Parliament Hill.   With the NHL set to drop the puck on a new season Wednesday, New Democrat MPs Claude Gravelle and Carol Hughes are teaming up with Northern Ontario Hab fans to boo the league’s new Canadian broadcast arrangement that is blacking out RDS coverage of the beloved team in large parts of the country.

"The RDS national broadcast of many Canadiens’ games will be blacked out because the NHL has decided that all of us in the north are a market that is attached to Toronto,” said Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravelle. “This makes no sense and they are just losing viewers because hockey for us was Richard, Béliveau, and Lafleur, and now it’s Desharnais, Price and Subban.”

Gravelle said he is told that Hab fans will see only about half of the games they are used to unless they fork out extra money for the NHL’s Centre Ice package – and even then, there is no guarantee the blackouts won’t still be in place on that more expensive option.

Gravelle says RDS is getting no end of complaints but that is unfair since it’s not their fault.

“This is about billions of dollars in TV deals,” said Gravelle. “Gary Bettman could care less about the people of Northern Ontario or our hockey history.”

Gravelle isn’t the only MP who feels the new broadcast regime is penny wise and pound foolish.  Carol Hughes sees the potential for fans walking away from the game if the league tries to force new allegiances on them.

“Montreal has a huge fan base here and it isn’t just limited to the Franco-Ontarien community,” said Hughes. “Regional markets don’t work for a team that’s cheered right across the country.”