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Bell says deal to buy Leafs' parent company won't affect its interest in the Habs

TORONTO - Bell says it will continue its minority ownership position in the Montreal Canadiens in the wake of its investment in the parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"Our investment in (the) Montreal Canadiens has been tremendous for Bell in our markets in Quebec and quite frankly that investment will be maintained,'' BCE president and CEO George Cope said Friday.

Cope says Bell will work with the NHL "to accommodate any of their needs."

Bell is one of the minority partners in the Molson family group, which owns the Canadiens. It has an 18 per cent share of the Montreal club, which plays at the downtown Bell Centre.

Martine Turcotte, Bell's Quebec vice-chair, also has offered assurances for Canadiens fans.

"Bell is absolutely totally committed to its relationship with the Montreal Canadiens," she told The Canadian Press.

"That's why we structured the transaction in a way which we believe will satisfy the NHL rules on cross-ownership."

Turcotte noted that, according to NHL ownership rules, a shareholder who controls more than 30 per cent of one NHL team cannot be involved in another franchise.

Under Friday's deal, Bell bought 37.5 per cent of Maple Leaf Sports&Entertainment, the Leafs' parent company.

But Turcotte points out that the pension fund of the company's employees is picking up part of the ownership.

"We approached it from a direct participation by Bell of 28 per cent in the MLSE," she said.

"We also have the BCE Master Trust Fund, which is an independent trust that deals with our retirement employees and where they are taking a 9.5 per cent participation."

Bell's contribution will total $398 million, which represents a 28 per cent equity interest in MLSE. The BCE Master Trust Fund will contribute $135 million toward the MLSE acquisition.

Turcotte added that Bell doesn't expect any major changes that could have an impact on the company's relationship with the Canadiens.

The deal will also see Rogers buying a 37.5 per cent stake in MLSE.

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