11/04/2014 06:11 EST | Updated 01/04/2015 05:59 EST

Bridge faceoff pits Maurice (Rocket) Richard against explorer de Champlain

OTTAWA - A massive faceoff is possibly looming in the naming of Montreal's new bridge: Canadiens legend Maurice (Rocket) Richard against famed French explorer Samuel de Champlain.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel said in the Commons on Tuesday that no final decision has been made on whose name it will bear.

The bridge is federal jurisdiction and would replace the current Champlain Bridge, one of the busiest in the country and a key route for motorists between Montreal and its populous south shore.

Montreal La Presse reported a few days ago that Lebel has decided to pay tribute to Richard, who had a glorious career before eventually dying in 2000 at the age of 78.

That possibility has angered Opposition politicians in Ottawa.

The Conservatives are trying to create "a diversion around the debate on tolls," said Liberal MP Stephane Dion.

They also want to give the impression it will be a new bridge when it opens in 2018 to make it easier for them to ram through the notion of tolls, he added.

"They hope the Liberals will be criticized for our position but, no, I believe the majority of Quebecers and Montrealers will agree with us," he said in a telephone interview.

Dion hailed the crucial role de Champlain played in founding Quebec and Canada, saying the father of New France shouldn't be elbowed aside by the hockey giant.

"There are different ways to honour Maurice Richard and everything he represents — all his determination and spirit. Samuel de Champlain is at the very core of our history."

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair echoed a similar sentiment and said de Champlain's name shouldn't disappear from any new bridge.

He said the name debate amounts to a Conservative smokescreen so the Tories "don't have to talk about real business."

The issue also surfaced at a news conference French President Francois Hollande and Premier Philippe Couillard held on Tuesday.

After mentioning de Champlain in his Commons speech on Monday as the founder of "a new country, your country," Hollande refused to get involved on Tuesday other than to say "France is not putting pressure in naming bridges, streets or avenues or in taking away names."