QUEBEC CITY - A controversial bill to protect the Quebec City arena project has passed its final vote in the National Assembly.

In the final tally 98 MNAs voted in favour, with 14 voting against and 5 abstentions.

Bill 204 declares that an agreement granting the Quebecor media empire control over the arena is perfectly legal.

The move aims to block any potential lawsuit.

The deal would give Quebecor control of an estimated $400-million building in exchange for $33 million cash down, just over $3 million more per year and a promise to give the city 15 per cent of the arena's profits.

Support among the public for the bill appears to be divided along geographic lines.

A Leger Marketing poll conducted in June showed that 83 percent of residents in and around Quebec City supported the proposal.

But a CROP poll showed that across the province 60 percent thought it was a bad deal -- with nearly 7 out of 10 Montrealers thinking Bill 204 should be scrapped.

Legislation prompted defections from PQ

The private member's bill sponsored by PQ member Agnes Maltais caused chaos within the ranks of the PQ earlier this year when party leader Pauline Marois announced all members would have have to toe the party line.

That decision brought to light dissension within the ranks of the party, and four MNAs left the PQ rather than be forced to support something they oppose.

After the defections and several emotional caucus meetings, Marois finally decided she would allow a free vote on Bill 204.

In the final two votes on the bill, the MNAs who defected, Jean-Martin Aussant, Louise Beaudoin, Pierre Curzi and Lisette Lapointe voted against the sweetheart deal, as did eight members of the PQ and Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir.

PQ MNA Bernard Drainville said he voted against the bill for ethical reasons.

"It's the perception of favourable treatment," said Drainville. "It's certain that this bill, the way it was introduced, the way it was brought forward, my constituents are very uneasy with this."

No guarantee of an NHL team

Maltais, who presented the bill, said she was responding to voters in her Quebec City riding.

"Listening to the people, it's clear that they desire a hockey team in Quebec City," said Maltais.

Even if the arena is built, the NHL has said repeatedly that there is no plan to move a team to Quebec City, or to expand the league.

Former ADQ member Eric Caire, who was very critical of the bill earlier this year, voted in favour Tuesday night, saying he had received many letters and phone calls from his constituents saying they supported the arena project.

Meanwhile the former Director General for Quebec City, Denis De Belleval, who launched the legal proceeding to stop the arena that prompted the creation of Bill 204, is disappointed with the process.

In his 28 page document demanding the courts annul the deal De Belleval explains that the arena contract was issued without any public bidding process and that the contract amounts to the city of Quebec giving one of the largest companies in the province, Quebecor, $40 million each year for 25 years.

The City of Quebec has responded with a 7 page legal brief which De Belleval says is clearly inadequate.

"There's no list of expenses, no verbal directives, nothing at all," said De Belleval.

The bill is expected to have its final reading and become law later this week.

With files from The Canadian Press