Canada last week preserved its tattered soul and, in the
process, saved the economic bacon for its pro sports franchises
when 50.6% of voters in the primarily French-speaking province
of Quebec rejected sovereignty. A oui vote in the referendum
might have created a new hockey power--a national team with Mario
Lemieux, Raymond Bourque and Martin Brodeur could have been
medalists in the 1998 Olympics--but it would have undermined
professional sports throughout Canada.
Had the separatists won, financial analysts agree, the Canadian
dollar, trading at .766 of the U.S. buck on Monday, would have
become the currency equivalent of the New Jersey Nets. For the
Montreal Expos, the Toronto Blue Jays and the NBA's Toronto
Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies--all teams whose revenue is
primarily in Canadian dollars but whose payrolls are in U.S.
dollars--the cost would have been substantial.
Consider the Expos, who last year had to purchase $20 million
U.S. to cover their payroll and other expenses. Additional
millions lost in exchange if the Canadian dollar plummeted might
have forced major league baseball's favorite farm club to trade
off even more of its star talent.
The seven NHL teams in Canada, which pay only a few of their
players in U.S. greenbacks, would have lost less on this
exchange but almost as much in the long run. Canada's game
already is drifting south (SI, March 20), what with the Quebec
Nordiques' having moved to Colorado and the Jets set to depart
Winnipeg after this season. A fragile economy and a
featherweight currency, which would have resulted from the
breakup of the 128-year-old Canadian confederation, would have
hastened the migration of free agents to the States and put
Canadian teams at even more of a competitive disadvantage. Vote
oui and flee.
The political climate in the Great White North, however, remains
tense, the future muddled. Charged comments by Quebec premier
Jacques Parizeau (he said "money and the ethnic vote" had
deprived French Quebecers of their country, then resigned the
next day) helped further rile the embittered sovereigntists, who
lost a 60%-40% vote in a 1980 referendum. They've promised
another plebiscite on independence. The Canadian sports
establishment, not to mention 20 million Canadians outside
Quebec, may have given a relieved sigh when the razor-thin non
victory was announced. But they have little to cheer.