Sunday, 11 September 2011

Jets back under Dippers vindicate McFadyen?

The Black Rod is Winnipeg's hermetically sealed Hard Right blog. There you get to see the musings of a group of "citizen journalists" (all with strikingly similar writing styles) who huff and puff about the happenings of this great city and province.

A post on McFadyen has two features. It recognizes that the NDP have succeeded in defining the campaign issues thus far, but claims that the return of an NHL Franchise to Winnipeg vindicates McFadyen.

On May 31, 2011, Mark Chipman announced that NHL hockey had returned to Winnipeg. The Jets were back. The news electrified the province. It should have had Hugh McFadyen doing cartwheels at Portage and Main. He should have bought every billboard in town to carry his face smiling ear-to-ear and the message "I told you so" to every voter in the province.

Because McFadyen was the only politician who even dreamed that the return of the Jets was a possibility.

It's right there on the record. It had been the centrepoint of his 2007 provincial election campaign. And it cost him the election.

Four years ago McFadyen ran on a bold theme: if we can dream it, we can do it. And the biggest dream in Winnipeg, certainly, was to have the Jets back.

("Hugh McFadyen's dream plan to win the '11 election" - The Black Rod)
Let's look at the history of good ol' PC NHL promises and why they're (rightly so) electoral poison.

The first Winnipeg Jets left this city in 1996, 8 years into the Tory government of Gary Filmon. The Provincial Tories had won re-election in large part by exploiting the "Save the Jets" campaign to get young male voters, despite the immense damage their austerity programs were doing to the consumer base of this province.* The Jets still left.

So, it turned out that very specific public policy didn't bring back the team.

Next election, with the scandal of certain Tory staffers trying to run independent aboriginal candidates to split the centre-left vote and without the cheap ploy of saving the Jets, Filmon lost. The NDP wins, the macroeconomy improves, and Manitoba experiences steady, modest growth with a strong public sector. Canada, more generally, is doing well.

The issue of the Winnipeg Jets is brought up again in 2007, by new PC leader Hugh McFadyen:

If the Progressive Conservatives are elected the next government of Manitoba, they will work to "bring back the Winnipeg Jets," the party's leader announced Monday.

"People, I think, have been reluctant to become too hopeful and too optimistic because of the negative experiences of the past," PC leader Hugh McFadyen said Monday.

"What we're saying is, 'Let's be bold again. Let's start to think optimistically about our future.'"

McFadyen used the MTS Centre, the new arena in downtown Winnipeg, as a backdrop for his announcement. The arena had 15,000 empty seats, which he said helped to illustrate the 35,000 people he said have left the province since the NDP came to power in 1999.

“We need to increase Manitoba's cool factor if we want our young people to stay," he said. "The first step is to bring back the Jets."
("Tories vow to help Winnipeg Jets return" - CBC, 2007)

Now, what was the relevance of the oh-so-unpopular policy of getting back the Jets? According to The Black Rod, at the time:

It wasn't about the Winnipeg Jets, a hockey team.
It was about dreaming of a Manitoba that could afford NHL hockey, that could strive to be strong enough to attract the entrepreneurs needed to support a team. The Jets were a symbol, not a goal.

The goal was to build a Manitoba you could be proud of and which your children would value, not run from.

(2007 Black Rod)

Okay, so this "big idea" was about fostering winning economic conditions in Manitoba and turning the Keystone into a province that people could return home to. The 2007 Black Rod went on to express scepticism about Winnipeg being able to afford an NHL team in the near future, which was (or seems to be have been) unjustified.

There's a problem. Although McFadyen didn't specify when the Jets would return, he still seemed to imply that NDP policy wouldn't get the job done. The NDP, in 2007, had an interesting response:

"There's one person who can do this: it's Gary Doer," said campaign co-chair Andrew Swan.
"He's shown time and time again with projects coming to downtown Winnipeg that he's got the ability to partner with business leaders, with our universities, with other levels of government to get things done."
It's too early to estimate the likelihood of an NHL team returning to Manitoba, Swan said, although he did say public funding could be part of that discussion.
(2007 CBC article)

McFadyen wasn't the "only politician who dreamed the return of the Jets was a possibility". The NDP's 2007 campaign made it clear that, although the likelihood of immediate return was uncertain, the Dippers were the party for the job. This assumes that the job is possible!

The fact that NHL returned under an NDP government, which didn't politicize the issue as much** as the Tories did, vindicates the Dippers more. Doer may not have been the man in office to make the deal happen, but Manitoba's steady, modest growth under his administration and that of his successor ensured that Winnipeg could host an NHL team.**

Manitoba's steady, diversified way of growth was criticized by PCs and Liberals as too slow and dependent on equalization payments and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy  called it "stagnation". The Opposition parties promised rapid growth and instant tickets out of "have-not" status. The Frontier Centre envied the financially-driven capitalism of places like Iceland. Others lamented the rapid growth in other provinces.

Years into this recession, Manitoba's reliance on many industries and willingness to use a strong public sector to buttress the labour market in downturns is paying off. The workers, the consumer base of the economy, are doing better than elsewhere in Canada and Winnipeg now has the market for an NHL franchise. The unsustainable growth of other districts and the financial bubble in other countries has burst. Manitoba's bottom-up economics is looking pretty good. The Government's project of strengthening the fundamentals to realistically grow rather than trying to emulate the roller-coaster economy of other districts has paid off - Winnipeg can afford an NHL Franchise again because of general economic conditions fostered by broad economic policy (as opposed to specific "goodies" pledged to the League) as well as good luck.

In short, because a new "Morning in Manitoba" happened under the NDP rather than the PCs, The Jets coming back is a major blow to McFadyen.

ENDNOTES
*He was willing to give $37 million to projects to keep The Jets in Winnipeg, but that was a lost cause with the general state of Winnipeg's consumer base during the bad ol' days of 1996.

**Although there still is more politicization over the NHL announcement than there should be.

***There were, of course, many factors outside the realm of provincial public policy that allowed this to happen. The collapse of the US economy, a higher Canadian dollar, an economic boom in the West, and the discovery of some oil in southwestern Manitoba all contributed to the strength of Manitoba's economy.

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