Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Manitoba election: Tories promise to bring back the Jets

Perhaps this is meant to gain some support in Winnipeg. The rural ridings held by the Tories for the most part would oppose funding a Winnipeg team using their tax money. It is hardly likely to help them much if at all. It could even lose them support.

Tue, May 8, 2007
A campaign gimmick and a dumb one at that


So now we've seen the dumbest election campaign promise from the PC Party of Manitoba.

The Tories announced yesterday they want to "bring back the Jets" by floating government bonds and dumping undisclosed amounts of taxpayer dollars into the operation and perhaps purchase of an NHL team.

They don't say how they might bring an NHL club back to Winnipeg, how much taxpayers would be expected to bankroll it, who would own the team or exactly what role government would play in this high-stakes proposition.

Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen would only say he would form a partnership with Winnipeg's "young Turks" who, presumably, might be interested in buying an NHL team.

I'm not sure if he's referring to a Rod Stewart clone band or an early 20th-century Turkish reformist group.
You dream it. We have it.

But whatever it is, McFadyen wants to join it. And if I'm reading his news release correctly, he wants to contribute taxpayers' dollars to this mysterious organization.

McFadyen says he "will join the partnership and provide both capital and operating support."

How much money? McFadyen doesn't say. Money for what? To buy a team? Underwrite losses?

It doesn't say.


What it does say is if the Tories won the election they would sell government bonds to help raise capital for a team.

They claim it would be fashioned after the successful Manitoba Hydro builder bonds.

I don't know how that could be. Hydro, a Crown corporation, floats bonds to finance capital, like building or upgrading turbines.

They can guarantee a return on investment because they sell electricity abroad at a handsome profit.

It's relatively low-risk.

Buying bonds to finance an NHL hockey team, by contrast, is more wobbly than a Crocus Investment Fund holding.

Nobody's going to buy a bond to raise money for a team that may or may not exist unless there's a guarantee they can get their money back.

And the only way that can happen is if government guarantees the bonds and ultimately pays them out.

Ergo, more taxpayer involvement. "If you want to spark imaginations, you've got to be imaginative," McFadyen is quoted as saying in a party release. "At the same time, we must ensure government support from bond proceeds will be prudently invested. Our goal is to ensure that any government investment sees a return in economic spinoffs and is protected by ensuring the province is a secured creditor."

Yeah, I remember how well that worked out in the 1990s.

I'll get behind any private-sector led effort to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg, as challenging and seemingly insurmountable of a task that may seem. Include me as one of those who still thinks it's possible -- but far from probable -- to get an NHL franchise in Winnipeg, given the new collective bargaining agreement, salary caps and revenue sharing.

But I draw the line at hare-brained schemes to use tax dollars and government bonds to underwrite team losses or to help buy a franchise. It's ludicrous.

Yesterday's bring-back-the-Jets pledge was a gimmick -- a campaign gimmick designed to woo politically disinterested potential voters who don't know or care what a government bond is.

They just want the Jets back at any cost.

The Tories may have won some favour yesterday with the free-spirit crowd of beer swiggin', bar-brawling sports nuts.

But they lost a little bit of credibility with the rest of us.

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