The biggest story in Montreal for the past week or so has not been the bridges that might be on the verge of collapse nor that global warming may be causing our non-white x-mas. Or heaps of other stories that might be seen as important. Mais non, the story of the week is that the Canadiens have replaced their coach with their assistant coach who ne parle pas francais.
So, of course, the letters in the English newspapers say this is not a big deal, that the letters in the French press say it is. But I wonder how much of this is a media and elite creation as opposed to the public? It does come on the heels of various other nationalist/language events, such as Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointing a serious of unilingual folks to top federal positions. Thus, there may be heightened sensitivity at a time where the parties focused on the defense of French are at low ebbs.
It is easy for me as an anglophone to say that the bridges are more important than hockey simply because hockey only harms those who are involved in the game (Crosby and his concussions) whereas bridge/tunnel collapses can kill and that threat is costing Montreal and Quebec a great deal.
Still, the Canadiens are more than an ordinary hockey team, but a key component of Quebec (and Canadian) identity. That the local team has a coach who cannot speak in French is purely a problem for the public and the press, as the team only has a couple of Francophones on it and nobody complained when the guy was just an assistant coach. The problem is that there are a limited number of Francophone coaches, and speaking french is neither an asset or a disadvantage when it comes to winning. But if you restrict the pool of candidates, you might be putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage.
The real question, then, may become: do Quebeckers and Montrealers prefer a decently performing team where the coach speaks French or would they prefer an excellent team where the coach does not? The good news is that they really do not have to choose. The team's players are ok enough that the quality of the coach does not matter much. So, restrict the pool of candidates for the coach (and team captain), satisfy the bored media and the underemployed nationalist politicians--the Cup is not coming to Montreal next spring regardless of whether the coach speaks French, English or Urdu.