NHL hockey might be a step closer to returning to Quebec City after the legislature on Wednesday passed a law that protects an arena deal between Quebecor Inc. and the municipal government.
Bill 204 is aimed at preventing future legal challenges against the naming-rights and management agreement for a proposed $400 million, NHL-ready arena.
The provincial capital is finalizing the deal with Quebecor, owner of QMI Agency and the Sun newspapers.
Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau said the deal could be great news for hockey fans.
"We now have all the necessary tools to reach the objective we set out to bring the Nordiques back to Quebec City," he said in a statement. "The population of Quebec City and all hockey fans can count on our unwavering determination in our ongoing representations to the National Hockey League."
The new arena is set to be completed by 2015, though it's not clear if or when a team could return to the city.
The Nordiques left for Denver in 1995 to become the Colorado Avalanche. The municipal and provincial governments pledged money earlier this year for the arena and are actively lobbying the NHL in the hopes that an American franchise can be relocated.
The bill to protect the arena deal was not without its opponents -- more than a dozen opposition MNAs voted against the bill. But they were greatly outnumbered by Premier Jean Charest's Liberal majority.
The new law fast-tracks a deal-in-principle reached in February between Quebecor and the city, ensuring that construction can begin soon enough to meet the 2015 completion date.
The law says the arena project "is of an exceptional nature" and that "the intervention of the legislator will allow the project to start up immediately."
Quebec City's former general manager, Denis de Belleval, has asked a judge to cancel the agreement, claiming that the parties didn't respect provincial tendering rules.
Others, including independent MP Andre Arthur, have criticized the decision by Charest's government to finance the arena without a guarantee the NHL will ever relocate to the province.