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Quebecor: Prospect of an NHL team in Quebec City has taken a hit; will keep trying

Quebecor chief executive Pierre Karl Peladeau speaks to shareholders at the company's annual meeting Thursday, May 26, 2011 in Montreal. The media empire that wants to bring an NHL team to Quebec City said Tuesday that the prospects appeared somewhat diminished by political delays and legal threats. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

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Quebecor chief executive Pierre Karl Peladeau speaks to shareholders at the company's annual meeting Thursday, May 26, 2011 in Montreal. The media empire that wants to bring an NHL team to Quebec City said Tuesday that the prospects appeared somewhat diminished by political delays and legal threats. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

QUEBEC - The media empire that wants to bring an NHL team to Quebec City said Tuesday that the prospects appeared somewhat diminished by political delays and legal threats.

Quebecor said it would keep trying to bring back the Nordiques—but declared that the task had become harder.

"The optimal conditions for ensuring the return of a National Hockey League team are no longer aligned and the extra delays could compromise the ultimate objective," Quebecor head Pierre Karl Peladeau said in a statement.

The company issued that statement of disappoinment after the Quebec legislature delayed passage of legislation related to the plan.

The bill was aimed at squashing any potential lawsuit against the deal, struck between the media company and Quebec City, on naming rights for the arena.

Legal experts have called the legislation unjustifiable; some members of the Parti Quebecois, who described the bill as unethical, have even quit the party rather than support it.

The bill is supposed to protect the multimillion-dollar deal against any lawsuit from opponents who say it contravened local contracting guidelines.

Premier Jean Charest has now announced that he will not use the parliamentary tactic of closure to push the bill through the legislature. Debate on the issue is now delayed until fall.

Both Mayor Regis Labeaume and Quebecor have been saying it's critical to get the legal protection immediately, so that the pursuit of an NHL team can continue.

They both expressed disappointment at Tuesday's announcement. However, both said they won't quit—even if the task will be tougher.

"Despite a result that isn't the one we would have wanted, I'd like to thank all the (parliamentarians) who gave their support to this bill and I would like to assure the public that we will continue to deploy all necessary efforts to make this project a success."

The company statement said that, while Quebecor will continue working to get a team, it will need to "take into account" recent events—like the legal threats—while drawing up a final contract.

The deal, as originally presented by Peladeau and Labeaume at a March news conference, called for Quebecor to hand the city $110 million to $200 million over 25 years for the right to name and manage any future arena.

The dollar amount would depend on whether Quebec later gets a pro hockey team.

The Quebecor statement Tuesday, however, seemed to suggest the deal conditions remain in flux.

The actual contruction of the arena will occur entirely with public funds, at the provincial and municipal level. After examining the issue for nearly a year, the federal government refused to get involved.

Quebec City's pugnacious mayor certainly wasn't quitting the fight—neither the battle to get an NHL team, nor the one against his political opponents who questioned the legality of the deal he struck with Quebecor.

"We're obviously disappointed by this turn of events," Labeaume said.

"Clearly, some people decided to stop Quebec City's progress. That being said, we're not throwing in the towel. We will continue to work hard.

"And, ladies and gentlemen, we'll see each other in the fall."

After that extremely brief statement the mayor spun on his heels, walked away from the cameras, and marched up the city hall staircase.

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